How to Ask if a Company Supports Women of Color (Before You Take the Job)

20 Questions to ask in a job interview to figure out how inclusive a company really is.

2020 has been an awakening. This year, the coronavirus pandemic has forced us to examine healthcare, essential workers, civil rights, and more in ways we never have before.

We’ve seen companies with record-breaking profits being scrutinized for their conduct toward frontline employees. We’ve seen companies previously praised for treating employees well, such as Starbucks, attempt to silence workers speaking out in support of Black lives (note: Starbucks later reversed their decision, but, in some ways, the damage had been done). And we’ve seen employers threaten to fire non-essential employees for refusing to come back to the office in the middle of a pandemic.

But we’ve also seen employers who demonstrate they value their employees and bettering their communities.

As a company in the travel industry, Airbnb understandably had to lay off 25% its workforce when leadership realized how seriously the pandemic would affect business. However, laid off employees were given at least 3.5 months severance pay, job placement support, and general help with their transition from Airbnb. Apple continues to monitor local coronavirus trends to reopen stores — or sometimes reclose them — to protect the safety of their employees, who continue to be paid despite store closures. And Dagne Dover, a women-owned bagware company, continues to donate a portion of its sales to organizations dedicated to supporting food security for vulnerable populations during this pandemic and the fight for justice and equality for Black and marginalized lives.

image of a dagne dover checkout page with option to select a charity to donate to with your purchase

But how do you know which one of these categories your prospective employer falls into?

Are they a company like Amazon where the CEO’s net worth has increased by $63.8 billion since 2020’s coronavirus outbreak started but fires employees for speaking out about their working conditions?

Or are they a Dagne Dover that continues to put its money where its mouth is, despite selling travel-based products in a time when few of us are travelling and sales may be impacted?

If you are searching for a new job in this climate, you have the green light to ask the hard questions you might need to to find out if you’ll be supported in your workplace. With companies touting their new workers’ rights policies and anti-racism pledges across the internet, it makes sense to vet a potential employer before you take a job — so you’re not surprised to later learn you’re working for a company where your health, sanity, and growth don’t factor into their decision-making process.

If you’re a woman of color, this may be the first time you’ve gotten this kind of space to ask how supportive you can expect a prospective employer to be. It’s understandable if you need a little help gathering the audacity to ask if you’ll be treated with respect and allowed to thrive in your next work environment.

In this article we’ll cover:

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What tools do you have as a woman of color to determine if a company will support you before you accept a new job?

As a woman of color, figuring out if a company will be inclusive to you is a big part of the job hunting process. Although you’ll never know for sure how supported you will be in a role until you are actually working at the company, there are tools you can use to make a more informed decision. Doing some research and combing through the information that’s readily accessible online can tell you a lot.

So, where should you begin? When you’re starting the job hunting process, figure out what’s important to you beyond your actual job duties. Maybe you want to be hired as a Front End Developer, but what else will be important to you in a few years (or the amount of time you hope to stay at the company)? If working with a diverse and inclusive team, pay equality for women of color, parental leave, and working remotely during the pandemic (and hopefully after) are important to you, start your research by looking for signs of those ethics, benefits, and perks.

📌 Related: How to Figure Out if a Company is Actually Inclusive of Women of Color

A general Google search is a great place to start your research, but also look more specifically at the information companies publish on their hiring or team culture pages.

Netflix vacation policy stating unlimited paid vacation

This snippet from Netflix’s culture page describes generous (read: unlimited and unmonitored) vacation and parental leave policies.

Joyce Gutierrez, a Creative Business Coach and former ad tech employee, suggests digging into Glassdoor reviews and searching LinkedIn pages and profiles to learn more about potential employers. Glassdoor is a resource for sharing how employees (and interviewees) feel about the success of the company and honest opinions on company culture. You can search LinkedIn for current and past employees of the company to get a sense of how diverse the team is. And you can always check a brand or business’s social media accounts to see if they have shared any commentary on social changes, and to determine if they measure up to the ethical standards you want to see.

Be sure to note any red flags to bring up later on in the interview process. If something you see while researching a company “doesn’t feel right,” don’t ignore it and just hope for the best. Even though it may be difficult to bring some of these topics up, the reaction HR or a future manager has to your question can sometimes be more telling than the actual answer.

Are they defensive when you ask about employee diversity and blame it on a pipeline issue? Do they balk when you ask about remote work or parental leave (like this impressive policy recently released by Salesforce)? Then there might not be any improvements in these policies if you actually take the job.

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Job Interviews: What questions can you ask to tell if a company supports women of color?

Standard questions to ask in interviews

Once you’ve done some of the research to figure out where your prospective company publicly stands, the next step is to address any questions you have directly with a hiring manager, most likely during the interview process.

There are some questions that you should already have been asking in interviews as a woman of color. If you haven’t been asking them, whether because you felt too timid or because you just didn’t know that you should, it’s not too late to add to your interview notes.

With more remote interviews happening right now, it’s all the more convenient to have a doc with talking points open while you’re in an interview — so you don’t even have to remember these off the top of your head.

  1. What are the typical working hours?
  2. Am I regularly expected to be on call for nights and weekends?
  3. How do team members typically communicate?
  4. How will I be the most successful in this role?
  5. What would growth look like for me if I were a new employee in this role?
  6. How many internal employees are promoted?
  7. How much vacation time do employees at my level typically take per year?**
  8. What is your parental leave policy? Do employees typically take full advantage of it?

** This question is especially important if the vacation policy is unlimited.

Questions to start asking in 2020

The pandemic and racial injustice protests have changed the ways a lot of people in the United States (and across the globe) approach work. It’s not business as usual, and although you’ll want to ask a lot of the same questions in a job interview as you would in “normal” times, you will see many of them through a different lens as a woman of color. From increased caregiver needs, reduced access to healthcare, increased mental health stress, and higher unemployment rates, women of color are disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

CARE, a global non-profit dedicated to defeating poverty and achieving social justice, recently published a report that determined:

Structural realities and biases in the United States put Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities, particularly women in those communities, at higher exposure to infection and greater vulnerability to the harmful health, social and economic impacts of COVID-19.

(Rapid Gender Analysis: COVID-19 in the United States)

As a woman — especially a woman of color — asking questions about accommodations made for parents might not have always felt comfortable. During the pandemic, it’s necessary. CNN Business reports that women are making choices between their jobs and caring for their families. The unemployment rate is skewing in favor of men at 9.2% unemployment rate for men versus 14% for women, largely because women are more responsible for childcare in the home.

So if you’re looking for a new role, there are must-ask questions to help you avoid having to walk away from a job because of lack of balance as a full-time employee and full-time caregiver.

As a woman of color, TeLisa Daughtry, Founder & CEO of FlyTechnista has learned over her 10-year career in tech that it’s not enough to ask questions about job responsibilities and work-life balance. She’s realized that in order to survive and thrive in a new work environment, you have to ask specific questions about how you will be treated as a woman of color. Will you be respected? Promoted at the same rate as your coworker? Paid at the same rate as your coworker?

Fortunately, these questions are even easier to ask in 2020, as a civil rights reckoning compels more and more companies to address systemic racism and police violence against Black people. So if the company started the conversation by addressing the civil unrest publicly, it makes sense to continue the conversation in your interview.

If the company you’re interviewing with hasn’t started the conversation publicly by publishing content on social media or their website, you can try to learn more by asking directly. Challenge them and see if they rise to the occasion with these questions that address your probable day-to-day treatment should you join the company as a woman of color:

  1. Do you provide flexible schedules for remote employees?
  2. Is there additional support for parents/caregivers?
  3. How many internal women of color employees are promoted to senior levels?
  4. What would growth look like for me if I were a new employee in this role?
  5. What was your response to anti-racist protests this year?
  6. How did you respond internally?
  7. How did you support Black employees at this time?
  8. How are you upholding or working towards the anti-racism pledge that you put out earlier this year?
  9. Do you have employee resource groups or affinity groups at your company?

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How to ask a future teammate if a company supports women of color (and why you should)

One thing you’ll learn about tech interviews is that they are long. You’ll go through multiple interviews and get grilled on everything from how you would accomplish specific job tasks to your after-work hobbies — but it’s important not to miss the opportunity to speak with a teammate ( preferably a teammate of color) before you say yes to the job. Once you’ve gotten the job offer, ask if it’s possible to speak to a current team member to get an idea of the team culture.

Daughtry believes that teams always look for culture adds instead of culture fits and that talking to current team members can help you figure out exactly what kind of team you’re considering joining. If you’re especially concerned about fitting in as a woman or woman of color, try to arrange a sit down or call with a woman or woman of color if possible, and start with these questions.

  1. Do you feel supported on this team?
  2. Do you feel like your professional development goals are supported by your manager?
  3. Who do you go to when there is conflict on the team?
  4. Do women/women of color last on this team?
  5. Would you recommend a woman or a woman of color join this team?

All of these questions are great indicators of what it will be like on a new job. None of these questions are going to tell you exactly how you’ll be treated at the job as a woman of color. The only way to know for sure is to take the job. My suggestion? Ask these hard questions and trust your gut.

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Adda Birnir

Adda Birnir is the founder and CEO of Skillcrush. She was named one of 20 Women to Watch in technology by the Columbia Journalism Review, has been featured by Fast Company and the BBC, and serves as a member of the New York City Workforce Development Board. Adda is a graduate of Yale and lives in Queens with her husband and two sons.