By Shea Ki
"Some great places to work are still racist".
I recently read this observation of a chief operating officer who was featured recently in a CNBC article. He was discussing a question that his "anti-racist company asks job applicants." The question turned out to be,
"Without using the word 'different', what is your definition of diversity?"
That's it? I was disappointed.
Although this question asked of candidates is better than many others I've come across, the term "diversity" has never been fully effective in addressing systemic racism in the workplace.
Fortunately, as this article went on, the company explains how this question actually helps them screen candidates to confirm initial fit with their company's stance on promoting equity, sensitivity, and inclusion. As the candidate becomes more likely to be hired, they use other questions aimed to see how the interviewee has "worked to break down systems of oppression or even acknowledge its existence, whether through their job history or in their own personal lives."
This statement made me start wondering, what happens when we flip this situation of who is doing the asking around?
What questions can job applicants consider asking to determine what a company is doing to address equity and inclusion BEFORE they commit to coming on board?
We can not assume from a company's mission, values statements or even inspiring posts on social media that they are walking their talk. Performance allyship is all too common, but can be spotted when you know what to look for.
When questions around diversity and inclusion arise from a job candidate, many company or HR representatives often first start pointing to their initiatives on "unconscious bias", "racial sensitivity" or other trainings and workshops. These approaches often have been found to be wildly ineffective in creating lasting change.
Historic and current events of racial injustice and insightful conversations with clients are leading me to a new exploration both internally and within the world of work. I have also been deep diving into learning what steps an interviewee can take to determine if a business or organization invests time and resources to do their part in dismantling systemic racism.
From this blog post, you will be equipped with questions that encourage an honest sharing of measurable initiatives from the people interviewing you or a disclosure from them that this necessary work is not taking place.
Making Anti-racism A Personal and Professional Priority
I didn't always know how essential conversations about equity and inclusion are to have with employers before choosing where to work.
I first read about white privilege in graduate school. It is still incredibly disturbing to me that it was not until I was in a higher learning program that the topic was even focused on in a safe, educational environment.
I dug deep in that class and it was one of the most emotionally challenging times in my life. I was fortunate to have professors leading the way that would not allow us to pass the class without authentically doing the inner work. I had to digest many hard realities that my light skin color, upbringing and inner self at the time had ignorantly either not addressed or only touched the surface on.
The class brought me to a new and sickening understanding about systemic racism, including white privilege, oppression, and much more.
I am grateful that the class did wake me up to realize that ACTIONS are needed far more than sharing words and feelings to make real progress towards an end of white supremacy.
But then 2020 came along.
As a former social worker and co-creator of a multi-cultural family, I thought I knew a lot about the Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality against people of color, and the traumatic burdens our white supremacist society puts on so many.
Not. Even. Close.
Each day I am absorbing more knowledge and hearing stories that turn what I thought I knew about racism and how I thought I was helping be part of the solution on its head.
Although much of the news is heartbreaking more than usual lately, I also keep seeing grace in action. Many are stepping up to say what is NOT working and staying in the arena to do the hard work to determine what IS bringing real healing and change.
Want to view an example of this vulnerability and courage in action? I challenge you to take 50 minutes to watch and actively listen to an authentic and stirring conversation between women who are willing to risk so much to get the real issues on the table during the Black Lives Matter movement. Their relationships and emotional intelligence are evidence to me that there are necessary lessons being learned by well intentioned, but often off the mark, anti-racism initiatives. These women model staying open, being real, and getting past egos and errors to create lasting change.
Staying willing to actively listen, acknowledging how my ancestors and family have let racism continue, and keeping focused on doing better NOW is a commitment I am making with other friends and colleagues.
There is much more to learn, unlearn, and actions that I need to take. As I keep evolving and expanding my consciousness about what needs to be done and doing it, I am continuing to include my children on my journey.
It will not be so late in their development that they first start taking a deep look at how systemic racism plays out in our daily life. They will not be waiting until they are in their twenties for someone to clue them into reading "White Fragility" or exploring other content that requires a deep self-examination that often can be painful, but leads to necessary healing and growth.
Today and every day ahead, my family will keep anti-racism actions on top of our priority list.
Some of our work involves setting aside time to have more talks about current events and how most of history has been taught in a way that does not serve anyone's greater good.
Some of our growth involves falling flat on our face while making mistakes. This occurs as we navigate conversations with relatives, friends, and co-workers who have been experiencing the current traumas of racism or others in our networks who seem to resist the idea that they are benefiting every day from white supremacy.
"Awkwardness and personal discomfort shouldn’t be a roadblock on a path towards anti-racism." -Jenni Avins
Some of our activism involves donating to causes we know need more resourcing for an anti-racist society to ever become a reality within our community, schools, state and across the country.
And some of our journey will be continuing to figure things out along the way. This includes doing more inner work and outer actions.
I am grateful for access to incredible resources, including the powerful exercises in "Me And White Supremacy". It is more than a book. The 28 Day Challenge is revealing more of my unconscious bias, "good intentions" that can still cause a hurtful impact, and other issues that I will unpack and often need to unlearn to be of more substantial help.
I appreciate beyond what words can express the learning offered from creators who share illustrative, educational content on the intense psychological and emotional labor it takes to be a minority in any privileged space. Phenomenal examples include Danielle Cook (who you can find @ohhappydani on Instagram) and the legacy of knowledge and graphics offered at Dismantling Racism Works. It helps so much to have clear and powerful definitions of many terms and phrases that are too often confused or intentionally misused by media or other platforms.
Questions To Consider Asking To Address Racial Equity & Inclusion At Your Interview
Some companies will welcome an authentic discussion about racial equity and inclusion during the hiring process. Unfortunately, a few will resist or give little evidence of solutions and WAY too many will be somewhere in between.
"True racial equity and inclusion work in the workplace must look unlike anything we’ve done in past decades, because we’ve consistently failed to tackle racial inequity at its deepest roots." - Ben Hecht, President & CEO of Living Cities, author of "Moving Beyond Diversity Toward Racial Equity"
As a potential applicant, consider first asking two or three questions on this topic during informational interviews with warm contacts BEFORE you apply to a company. If you choose to proceed to apply and get selected to formally interview, use what you have discovered in the informational interviews as a reference to follow up on in conversations during the interviewing and hiring process.
The following 6 questions I found being discussed in Moving Beyond Diversity Toward Racial Equity and 5 Questions An Anti-Racist Organization Should Be Able To Answer. Take a few minutes to determine which ones you might consider asking at different stages in the interviewing process:
Keep up your quest to determining how far along the company or organization you are aiming to work for is in becoming part of the solution to racial equity and inclusion. If you are committed to doing the work of recognizing and sharing your voice about power, oppression and privilege, then aligning with organizations and companies that are willing to do the same becomes a non-negotiable for a satisfying career journey.
Your turn: What other questions would you add to this list?
Most of all, believe in you.