Assess Workplace Diversity Plans Before Agreeing to a Job

Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal

Chantelle Streete hopes to find a finance job after she obtains her master's in business administration at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School in Philadelphia next spring. As an African-American and co-president of the Wharton Women in Business club, she says, it is important to her that her future employer is committed to workplace diversity.

So Ms. Streete has a few methods to explore a company's stance on workplace diversity. When she is interested in a company, she contacts Wharton alumni there to ask how well women and minorities are represented. In job interviews, she scans the office to see how many professional minorities are visible. She often asks outright about workplace diversity programs.

And she is not alone. Many women and minorities are making workplace diversity an important element in their job searches. Though most large companies have professed a commitment to workplace diversity, some programs have fallen by the wayside during the economic downturn.

It can be tricky discerning which employers are truly committed and which ones are interested only in window-dressing. Corporate Web sites commonly trumpet some form of a workplace diversity program, but it is best to approach the issue with a bit of skepticism. "All that is baseline. It's not proof of a real commitment," says Sondra Thiederman, a consultant on workplace diversity issues in San Diego. "It's a nice symbol, but symbols aren't worth much. You have to go further."

As you research, use the Internet to look for articles related to a company and its workplace diversity practices. See if you can track down any discrimination lawsuits or other complaints.

One place to check is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Though a spokesman says pending charges against specific companies are confidential, the EEOC Web site does list major lawsuits and settlements it has reached with employers. You can also call the EEOC and ask for public information about the number of lawsuits it has filed against a specific employer.

In the end, the most telling information will probably come from the company itself, as long as you are pointed and honest in your queries. The test begins when you arrive for an interview. Avoid being simply shuttled between the elevator and an office; instead, make sure you have time to take a good walk around. Do you see minorities and women? Does it look like people are interacting across racial, cultural and ethnic lines? Do you feel comfortable walking the hallways? "Take the gut test," advises Howard Ross, a workplace diversity consultant in Silver Spring, Md.

During an interview, don't be shy about telling a hiring manager that you care about workplace diversity and ask about the company's efforts and policies in that area. Ask how many senior officers are women and minorities, and how that figure has changed in the past five years. Find out if women and minorities are moving up at some kind of reasonable rate and whether they are interviewed for every opening. Ask about retention rates: High turnover among people of color is a bad sign.

"These are fair-game questions, just like if you're asking about what the hours are like," says Patricia Thomas, a career coach in East Elmhurst, N.Y.

But also ask industry-specific questions. At an investment bank, for instance, ask how many minorities and women hold the most coveted, highest-paid investment-banking jobs.

Don't be surprised, or necessarily turned off, if the numbers are less than you'd like. One reason you're asking at all is to take the measure of the company itself. You want someone to engage the question with interest and openness, even if the situation itself is disappointing. If the interviewer gives vague answers, goes pale or adopts evasive body language, consider that a red flag, says Atlanta-based Sharon Hall, co-leader of recruiter Spencer Stuart's global workplace diversity practice. "They ought to be comfortable talking about it, even if it's negative or about an effort that has failed," she says.

Though you might have tapped your own network to find women and minorities at the company beforehand, a hiring manager should be willing to supply you with names of people for you to contact. Many large companies also have affinity groups that can also provide some answers.

Finally, find out if there is leadership accountability for workplace diversity. It is meaningful, for instance, if it is one aspect of an executive's bonus plan. But a company that simply has designated one employee a "chief diversity officer" might not be doing much of substance.

Remember that few places likely will be perfect. Only 5% of Fortune 1000 companies have a "serious" involvement in workplace diversity, estimates Luke Visconti, partner and co-founder of DiversityInc, a New Brunswick, N.J., publisher and consultant on workplace diversity issues. He defines "serious" as a concerted, coordinated workplace diversity effort, with top management attentive, measured and accountable.

But even unsatisfactory answers needn't be a deal-breaker. Workplace diversity efforts, after all, are continuous. As Ms. Streete says: "Just knowing a company doesn't have many blacks will not necessarily turn me off, because if I can get in, then that's a start."

Source : CollegeJournal

1 comment:

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