As we continue to have conversations with and learn from students and candidates of color, we’ve heard echoes of similar concerns from those hoping to enter the financial services and legal industries. Many students wonder how they are to accurately gauge a firm’s commitment to diversity, who is paying lip service, and how inclusion will manifest in the workplace should they choose to accept an offer.
This is a difficult task, especially in industries that have been slow to adapt and are still largely non-diverse. Some analysts or associates of color may be the only person of a particular race on a team or in the room. There exists a gap between what firms desire to have — materially diverse teams, people of color at management and C-suite levels, and a sense of belonging among historically underrepresented employees — and the current reality.
Besides scoping out those blue-sky symptoms of inclusion, what else can candidates of color look for to feel confident about a firm’s culture during the interview process, and what clues can serve as red flags that diversity, equity, and inclusion are not a priority?
Everyone knows how the firm champions DE&I
During one of our recent webinars with the Mid-Atlantic Black Law Student Association, Bess Sully from the law firm Sheppard Mullin offered a very practical way to gauge a firm’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
If a firm takes its responsibility towards DE&I seriously enough, their entire workforce will be able to share some details around their collective goals and commitments. You should be able to ask anyone you speak with during your interview how they are implementing strategies to effect change, and if they can’t, you should take it as a signal that leadership has not provided enough guidance, training, or incentive on how to accomplish them.
If they bring up or inquire about hobbies too much
For an interviewer, it is natural to want to lighten the mood of an inherently tense situation by bringing up interests outside of the workplace. And as a potential employee, it may feel good to know that a potential coworker wants to get to know you on a personal level. But this may not be the case for everyone, and interviewers who belong to a truly inclusive environment should be aware of this dynamic.
For example, bringing up a sport like golf, which has a high cost to entry, may make some candidates feel excluded. Directing the conversation heavily towards sports can also feel discriminatory towards those with disabilities or medical conditions.
If you are okay with sharing your hobbies and feel confident doing so will not affect your job prospects, then do whatever makes you comfortable! However, you can also use this as a sign that the culture leans in a direction that may not be right for you.
Mentorship is taken seriously
Mentorship is a reliable method to ensure employees of color feel like there are growth opportunities available to them. You can read more about our recommendations for choosing a mentor here, but the key takeaway regarding inclusion is that mentorship pairings do not necessarily need to be based on things like gender, race, or ethnicity. In fact, it may be more beneficial for a protégé of color to be paired with a mentor of a different race/gender who is highly successful in the organization and shares similar goals, interests, and values as them. This is something that Angela Vallot, longtime attorney, cofounder of VallotKarp Consulting, and Suited board member mentioned during the BLSA x Suited webinar.
“During your interview, be sure to ask how mentorship works at the firm, and specifically how they pair new associates with senior employees,” she noted.
If diversity and inclusion is important to the firm, everyone will know what programs the firm hosts to attract, develop, and elevate underrepresented talent.