Stop Asking Diverse Candidates These Dreadful Interview Questions

Photo borrowed from https://elements.envato.com/

Job interviews are supposed to be exciting. The feeling you get when you know it is coming should be one of excitement. Unfortunately, this is not the case, especially for many underrepresented and marginalized populations, they can be a nightmare. The level of anxiety that hits us when we know it’s time to interview can be indescribable. A few reasons that we feel this way are as follows:

  • The interviewers, especially for executive and senior leader positions, are often not representative of our racial, ethnic, gender or any other underrepresented identity
  • We are often worried that our experiences won’t fit “the bar” of acceptance that has been created in your company that never includes our experience
  • Last but not least some of the standard interview questions are extremely dreadful

For example, two questions many of us dread are the “what do you need to be successful in this role?” and “what does success look and feel like to you?” The worst of them all is “tell us about your previous workplace experience.” This question leaves us deciding whether or not we want to tell you about how our previous workplace discriminated against us daily which led us apply for this job! Some people reading this are probably raising an eyebrow at those three questions. The reality of these awful questions requires a more in depth understanding. For clarity, let me show you some of the answers that go through our minds before we answer (broken down by identity):

BIPOC- I don’t want to face systemic racism. I need an anti racist culture where I don’t face racial microaggressions and macroaggressions daily. I want to see more people who look like me and don’t shit on me because I’m different. I need you to be able to tell me apart from other people in my racial group and not get us confused everytime you see us!

Black Women- I don’t want your curious non-Black employees to keep asking to touch my damn hair. I’d also like to wear my hair in as many styles as I want without having to explain them to your curious White employees. Make them understand I’m not a science experiment. I don’t want to be discriminated against because I’m Black! I want to live in my truth without being punished for it or rendered invisible because you see me as too aggressive. I need to be paid the same as White women, scratch that, qualified White men. Also, your dress code is not always inclusive of my different body types. Can you change this ASAP? Can you make sure your benefits include medical providers who respect and want the best for my health? That would be great!

Black Men- I need your workplace to NOT see me as a criminal and to racially profile me every chance you get. I want to be able to speak my truth without being reprimanded and I’d also like to be paid fairly. Also, can you make sure your Black populations are not over sexualized and under appreciated? I also need you to recognize my hair is a part of my body, don’t touch it or even ask to touch it. It would be extremely helpful if your non-Black employees know about racial micro and macroaggressions in the workplace and you have policies that protect us from racism. Pay equity is something I need and I shouldn’t have to tell you that.

Women- I want pay equity, a culture free of sexual harassment, to not have my gotdamn ideas stolen or to have a man be given credit for my gotdamn ideas. I’d also like a fair chance at larger projects. Also, can you make sure the men in the room don’t interrupt me every time I open my mouth!

Non gender binary- Can you just acknowledge my pronouns first? Consistently! Also, please make sure the inclusive language is communicated in all of your policies, marketing materials, and announcements and make it required across the entire company and our clients? Also, I need you to have all gender restrooms and if we’re allowed to identify our pronouns in our workplace signatures without judgement and discrimination, that’d be amazing!

LGBTQIA+- Can you acknowledge that I have a partner? I want your policies to be inclusive of same sex partnerships. The constant use of heteronormative language is something I need to be successful. Also, I’d appreciate it if you consistently acknowledged the importance of my gender and sexuality and not just during Pride month! Also, can you have policies that express your support of all of our communities? I’d also like for you to make sure your company is working to prevent hate crimes in our communities.

Transgender identities- Hold my gotdamn cup…. I need you to normalize that we exist. I also need you to include medical providers in your insurance benefits that don’t discriminate against my people. While you’re at it, about these hate crimes we face in the world, we’d like for you to take a sustainable stand and fight and help protect us. I need you to understand that I take a risk on a daily basis just coming into work. It helps to know that when I’m here I’m safe, and when I leave, I’m safe.

Boomers — Generation X — We would like to be seen as still credible. Can you make sure that anyone you hire who is born after 1980 doesn’t invalidate my experiences and what I have to offer?

Millennials — I’d like to be seen as credible and not just some young dumbass who doesn’t know anything. Also I’d like to be paid fairly so that I can afford to live in these outrageously priced studio apartments close to my job!!!

People living with disabilities — I need your company to understand that disabilities aren’t just physical. I need y’all to understand that a ramp and an elevator are not the only requirements to create inclusive workplaces for me. I need an accommodation form and your managers and HR departments to not hold that against me when it is requested or approved. Also, about this ableist ass language you’re using….I need you to stop! One more thing, can you ramp up your ADA policy and not use the basic ass statement all companies use in their handbook?

Parents — Don’t punish me for being a parent. Help with these expensive ass daycare fees would be great. I need you to normalize that I might have to leave work or need a flexible work schedule if necessary without punishing me. I need my parental status normalized and not held against me. Your parental/maternity leave policies are not as inclusive as you think, can you change those? Also, if I am working from home and my kid pops up in the camera I need you to normalize this ASAP! One last thing, don’t ever ask me questions about my ability to do a job because I have kids.

This list could go on and on and on and on, but I’ll stop here. There are many identities I did not speak to, but by now you should’ve gotten the point. If not, the point I’m trying to make is that if you ask underrepresented and marginalized populations what they need for support you need to be ready for the answer and not hold their honesty against them. Most of the time they/we/us may not have an answer. If you really want to know what we need to be successful ask these questions instead:

  • What are the things that you enjoy the most while at work?
  • What does inclusion feel like for you while you’re at work?

When you ask us questions like “what do we need for support or to be successful” we need you to understand that our honest answer may not meet your expectations. If and when our authentic self (which you supposedly love so much) shows up and answers, it could hurt our chances of securing the job. We need the space to speak openly, honestly, and freely and job interviews don’t always feel like welcoming spaces. Inclusive and strategic questioning matters and it’s necessary. We have to require more inclusive actions and equitable outcomes for everyone and do a better job of normalizing them in our interviews and workplaces.

Dr. Cheryl Ingram aka Dr. CI, is a very successful entrepreneur, blogger, content creator and expert of diversity, equity, and inclusion practices.

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