Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has, understandably, become an increasingly important topic to address both in and out of the workplace. As more and more systemic inequalities have been brought to light over the past two years, many companies are prioritizing interview questions about DEI to make sure candidates understand the necessity of creating an inclusive workplace and feel capable of upholding their values.
There are many ways to approach the topic of diversity and how it positively affects our workplaces. Need an example to ground your understanding of DEI before you prepare your interview responses? University of Michigan’s chief diversity officer Robert Sellers compares DEI to attending a dance: Diversity means that everyone is invited to the dance party, inclusion means that everyone gets to contribute to the playlist, and equity means that everyone has the opportunity to dance.
Here, we’ll dive into nine workplace diversity questions, why they’re asked, and how to answer them properly in an interview.
9 workplace diversity questions and answers you could be asked during an interview and how to respond
1. What does diversity, equity, and inclusion mean to you, and why do you think it’s important?
If an employer is committed to addressing DEI in their workplace, they’ll want to know that you both understand the meaning of each word and are committed to promoting the ideals in the workplace. In your answer, discuss the importance of learning about and making space for diverse cultures and experiences.
“In a nutshell, I believe prioritizing DEI is about empowering all people by respecting and appreciating what makes them different, in terms of their age, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, education, and other identity aspects. When we connect and engage with coworkers with different perspectives than our own, we can better achieve our goals since employees in inclusive workplaces feel more comfortable sharing their unique ideas and opinions.”
“In the workplace, diversity means employees are celebrated for bringing new perspectives and backgrounds to the table. Equity means that we work to remove barriers, such as bias, harassment, and discrimination, in all processes so everyone can have access to the same opportunities. Finally, inclusion means that everyone feels involved, respected, and embedded in the culture, like they belong and can be their whole self. It’s very important to me that everyone I work with feels safe, accepted, and valued and has an equal opportunity to grow and succeed.”
2. How would you react if you heard a coworker say something racist, ageist, ableist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise inappropriate?
Here, the interviewer wants to learn about your approach to dealing with conflict. Microaggressions and discrimination are, unfortunately, very common in the workplace, and your interviewer wants to ensure that you won’t be a passive bystander if you witness an inappropriate incident.
This is your opportunity to share any personal anecdotes you might have about calling out racist, ageist, sexist language and behavior using the STAR method. If you don’t have a real story, offer a response that outlines what you would really do if an incident occurred in your presence at work.
"In a previous position, I met with a contractor who was new to our company. After an introductory meeting, they made a racially insensitive remark about another coworker in front of me and an intern. I asked them to refrain from using that language again because it’s unprofessional, offensive, and unacceptable in our office. The contractor was taken aback by being called out, but they pulled me aside later and apologized and thanked me for bringing the issue to their attention. I believe the only way to create real change is to be an ally and call out mistakes, whether big or small."
“If I saw a coworker speaking or acting offensively, I would take it upon myself to stop and educate them about their behavior. I would clarify how the insensitive statement or action doesn’t reflect the company’s values or my own. I might say, ‘That is a sexist comment. We don’t talk like that here, so please don’t use that terminology again.’ If the behavior continued, I would inform the company’s human resources team so they’d be aware of the issue and could address it according to the company’s anti-discrimination policies.”
3. Have you received any kind of diversity, inclusion, and or cultural competence training? If so, how have you applied what you learned?
The interviewer wants to hear how well-versed you are in the topic of DEI through training, classes, or workshops, whether you sought them out yourself or they were provided through a previous job. Your answer will also give insight into how you manage a team if you’re interviewing for a leadership position. If you haven’t received any training, express your interest in learning, and you can even politely turn the question back around to them.
“In my last position, every employee was required to take a diversity, equity, and inclusion training course when they were onboarded. The training was very comprehensive, and we learned about topics like unconscious and implicit bias, marginalization, tokenism, microaggressions, and so forth. As a result, I formed a DEI employee resource group to discuss cultural awareness, belonging, and anti-harassment.”
“I haven’t yet received any DEI training at work, but I’m very keen to learn more about my own biases and prejudices, and it’s become an integral part of my job search. I saw on your website that you offer corporate training on challenging structural inequalities. Can you tell me more about that?”
4. In your role, how will you keep your biases in check when hiring for new team members?
This is definitely a diversity question you can expect if you’re interviewing for a recruitment position. We all have unconscious biases, and your interviewer wants to know how you’ll avoid falling victim to biases like “cultural fit” hiring, for example.
“Biases are all around us, and unfortunately, they get in the way of even the most well-intentioned hiring teams. In order to minimize bias in my hiring process, I begin by ensuring that the job post gets broadcast to as many diverse networks as possible. Then, I look at applicants objectively, sometimes removing identifiers like universities and names, to compare their actual qualifications. Having systems like this in place are crucial for hiring great talent and increasing diversity in the workplace.”
“In my last role, one thing I always tried to think about was how a candidate would add value to our team, not just fit in. I used a structured interview process to make sure I was asking every candidate the same questions, all relevant to the position at hand, so that I was able to evaluate them on the same set of criteria. When possible, I ignored employment gaps and educational backgrounds since those factors normally disadvantage otherwise qualified candidates.”
5. How do you approach understanding the point of view of coworkers with different backgrounds from you?
Employers are always searching for team players who can work successfully in a group setting, so you should describe here how you’re able to combine teamwork and inclusivity. Talk about how you interact and communicate with coworkers who come from different backgrounds and how you’re able to be open-minded.
“I always take the time to get to know everyone I’m working with on a personal basis through virtual coffee chats. I like to know what matters to people outside of work, what drives their engagement at work, and the values they hold. In my experience, this creates a relationship built on trust, so if we disagree on something at work, it’s easier to understand one another and work through conflict.”
"It's very important to me to get to know all of my coworkers on a deep level. It’s a top priority of mine to make my place of work more welcoming, and I’m always seeking to make space for the personal experiences of my coworkers in daily conversations. At the same time, I recognize that expecting others to explain topics I'm not familiar with can burden them with extra emotional labor, so I make an effort to do my own research on concepts and cultures I'm curious about."
6. Tell me about a time when you personally advocated for diversity, equity, or inclusion in the workplace.
Employers want to gauge if your actions align with your words and beliefs on diversity, equity, and inclusion. It's important to be authentic here, so give an example where your action had specific results. If you don’t yet have a story about personally advocating for DEI, be honest and walk them through how you would go about approaching a hypothetical situation.
"At my last company, I was tasked with planning an advertising initiative where the target audience was women of all ethnicities. I didn’t feel comfortable that our team was mostly white women and men, so I initiated a conversation with our hiring team about our lack of diversity. As a result, they hired several women who reflected the communities we were trying to serve. By advocating for more diversity, we were able to add more perspectives to our team and project, which led to a better outcome."
“One of my coworkers in a previous position was nonbinary, and I noticed that a different coworker accidentally used incorrect pronouns in an email chain when referring to our nonbinary peer. I messaged them separately to point out the mistake, and then I advocated for a company-wide encouragement to include pronouns in our email signatures. It was a simple way to send a message of inclusivity and ensure that every person in the office was treated with respect in terms of their identity.”
7. What is the most common mistake organizations make in their approaches to diversity, equity, and inclusion?
If you’re not expecting it, this diversity question could throw you for a loop. Prepare your answer by thinking about what companies usually get wrong when addressing diversity in the workplace, whether it be releasing performative blanket statements with no measurable, actionable steps or companies not allocating proper funding to their DEI efforts. At the end, tie your response back to the company you’re applying for and what they do well.
“Lack of transparency and communication. Many companies have written or verbal stances on discrimination and diversity in place, but they fail to communicate specific opportunities for growth and the ways they plan to address those areas. No company is perfect, but being upfront about where you’re at and where you’re going is a huge win for me. That’s why I was drawn to your company: because of your active stance on DEI and your contributions to the Equal Justice Initiative.”
“A common mistake organizations make is to focus solely on the diversity aspect of DEI. No matter how diligent the recruiting efforts are, people from underrepresented groups can’t thrive in company cultures that aren’t prepared to embrace change. Companies need to do the internal work of creating an equitable and inclusive workplace that fosters a sense of belonging for all employees in order to be successful. That’s why I appreciate that your company offers quarterly team-building retreats that focus on equity and inclusion.”
8. How would you approach a conversation with a colleague who doesn’t understand the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion?
Your interviewer may ask you this question to see how you would respond to someone with opposing views from you. When answering this question, talk through how you have respectful, constructive conversations about challenging topics.
“When discussing the importance of DEI, I like to lean on data. People who don’t inherently grasp the benefits of working in a diverse environment might be more convinced by the business case and how these values are statistically proven to affect a company’s bottom line. So, for example, I’d talk about how companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams are 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability.”
“If I interact with a colleague who’s still unconvinced about the positive research on DEI, I’d explain that it’s worth seeking out a diverse team in order to push ourselves to think beyond our own experiences and assumptions, and I’d talk about what diversity could do specifically for our company. For example, if we were struggling to bring in new audiences for a product within certain demographics, I might mention that a more diverse internal team with people belonging to those demographics could help us better achieve our goals.”
9. How do you ensure that your direct reports feel a sense of inclusion and belonging on a daily basis?
When interviewing for a managerial position, this question gives you an opportunity to show how you’ll reflect the values of diversity as a leader. Talk about how you handle 1:1s or team meetings, hand out work assignments, respond to complaints and concerns, and so on. Give examples of how you’ve made team members with different backgrounds feel included, uplifted, and welcomed.
“One way I help employees feel included is through the way I run meetings. I always send out an agenda in advance and allow everyone to go around at the beginning and add any topics they see fit. This ensures that everyone is able to voice their ideas and concerns, and in the meeting itself, I’m mindful of who is speaking up and whose ideas are getting heard. When necessary, I redirect the conversation to make sure each person is included and feels good about next steps.”
"As a manager, it’s my job to make sure my direct reports feel included and psychologically safe. In 1:1s, I like to ask my reports questions like: Does my leadership style uplift you? Do you feel comfortable voicing your concerns, even when they stray from the majority? How can I better support you? I find that it’s more effective to lend the floor to my reports and listen to their feedback directly.”