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Conversations About Diversity in the Workplace: Communicating About DEI

As a recruiter, you know the importance of incorporating diversity and inclusion into your recruitment plans. But do you know how to talk to historically underrepresented candidates when they get through the door? Attracting diverse talent is not enough; you have to know how to talk to people from different backgrounds about their experience. These diversity conversations in the workplace are not easy, but they're necessary to truly embrace DEI at your organization. Continue reading for information on how you can effectively discuss diversity issues with candidates.

Why Are Diversity Conversations in the Workplace Important?   

The majority of job seekers, whether they come from untapped backgrounds or not, are interested in working for organizations that value diversity, equity, and inclusion. As a result, diversity conversations in the workplace have a huge significance, because you can't promote DEI unless you're able to understand the issues workers care about and the challenges they face. This will help distinguish your company as one that not only values DEI on paper when it’s time to promote the business, but one that actually practices it on a daily basis as part of its workplace culture.

Diversity and Inclusion Conversation Starters  

For many employees from underrepresented backgrounds, one of the reasons they don't feel included at work is because their experiences and concerns are not being considered, and they may feel like they have no voice compared to their overrepresented colleagues. Having tough conversations can help solve these issues, as well as create an environment that is more inclusive for underrepresented employees. And just as you can have these discussions with your current workforce, you can also speak to candidates about them during the recruiting process. 

Given how delicate these topics can be, diversity conversations must be handled with care. Using diversity and inclusion conversation starters can help you talk about the issues with candidates and make them feel comfortable enough to share their thoughts. The following are some examples of how recruiters can do this.

Get information about a candidate’s name

Candidates from historically overlooked backgrounds may have unique names that make it clear they're from another culture. One of the ways you can make them feel comfortable is by asking about their name, and giving them the opportunity to tell the story of what it means, and what cultural and familial significance it may have. This will help break the ice during the conversation and illustrate that you're genuinely interested in who candidates are and where they come from.

Another best practice, is to ask that individual how they properly pronounce their name. You don't want to make the assumption you know how to say their name correctly. It's most appropriate to ask before mispronouncing their name.

Ask about languages

Since many candidates from untapped backgrounds speak multiple languages, you can get to know about their background by asking what languages they speak, as well as what languages their families may speak. This not only opens a dialogue about their languages, but also gives them the opportunity to provide insight on their home life and their culture.

Discuss what diversity and inclusion in the workplace means to them

Ask candidates directly what organizations can do to make them feel included. This will give insight on what's important to them, as well as ideas on things your organization can do to become more inclusive.

What Are Some Common Diverse Topics of Conversation Recruiters Have? 

In addition to asking standard job interview questions, many recruiters specifically ask questions about candidates’ views on diversity and inclusion in the workplace—whether candidates are from underserved communities or not. This will help you gauge how prospective employees feel about working in an environment that values DEI, as well as give you insight on how diverse communities feel about these issues. The following are some examples of diverse topics of conversation that recruiters may bring up during interviews. 

Why diversity, equity, and inclusion are important

Asking about why candidates feel DE&I is important will give you a sense of how willing they will be to accepting coworkers from all backgrounds.

Work style

To find out how well someone can work with colleagues of all backgrounds, ask candidates their approach to understanding people from various backgrounds. Although candidates may not be familiar with the experiences of those from marginalized groups, they should be able to treat everyone fairly and connect with them to work together as a team.

Handling problematic behavior

A large part of having an inclusive work environment is the willingness to call out behavior that is racist, sexist, homophobic, and culturally insensitive. Recruiters can ask candidates what they would do if they witnessed a coworker behaving in these ways, which will give an idea of their readiness to foster an inclusive environment by not tolerating problematic behaviors.

Best Practices for Brave Diversity Conversations

Diversity conversations in the workplace can be challenging, so in order to effectively handle these brave conversations, keep the following best practices in mind.

Set a welcoming tone

One factor that will determine how comfortable candidates feel about discussing their experiences is the tone of the conversation. It's important for you to set a tone that makes people feel safe enough to open up. Let candidates know that their input is wanted, their experiences are valid, and they will be embraced and celebrated for who they are if they work for your organization.

Show empathy

Untapped candidates often deal with exclusion, discrimination, bias, and harassment. When they open up about these experiences, it's important that you show you're empathetic toward them. Also, let them know that these behaviors are not tolerated at your company and you have a culture that will lift them up for who they are, rather than tear them down.

Practice active listening

When discussing any sensitive topic, active listening is extremely important. Many people listen in order to respond, but if you actively listen, you're really considering what the other person is telling you so you can understand them. Don’t just wait for your turn to talk and give a rote response, really pay attention and give a thoughtful reply that shows you’re engaged in the conversation and interested in what the candidate has to say.

Diversity conversations in the workplace are not easy to have, however, in order to ensure that historically excluded talent feel comfortable working for your organization, they are necessary—even before a candidate is hired. By talking about diverse topics of conversation during the hiring process, you can learn what candidates from different backgrounds care about, as well as get an idea of how they will be able to promote equity and inclusion in the workplace.


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