3.5 min read

The ability to understand and navigate issues of identity, power, and privilege is a crucial skill that can make or break a person’s effectiveness at building relationships and getting results. While assessing this skill may be more complicated than testing for public speaking or Excel mastery, you can and should still test for racial equity & inclusion (REI) competency in your hiring process.

Here are three simple ways to do it:

1. Probe for past experiences and lessons learned.

Past behavior is the best predictor for future behavior (which is why some of us will probably never go to bed before 10 pm), so prompt the candidate to tell stories about their experiences and reflect on their takeaways.

Here are three questions and follow-ups you can ask:

  • Can you talk about a time you navigated tricky dynamics around race or other identities in your work? What did you do?
    • What do you think were the root causes of those dynamics?
    • What were some of your core challenges?
    • What lessons did you learn?
  • Can you tell me about a time when you worked to make sure your team/program was a place where everyone—particularly those who identify as Black, Indigenous, and/or People of Color (BIPOC)—could thrive?
    • What were the lines of difference and power that you were navigating?
    • How did your own identities impact how you approached the work?
    • How did you know when your attempts were working or not working?
  • Tell me about a time when you made assumptions about someone else’s performance or skills and you ended up being wrong. How did you come to realize you were wrong? What was the outcome?
    • Tell me about the power and identity dynamics—gender, age, class, and/or race.
    • Do you believe those dynamics impacted the situation?
    • What lessons did you take from that experience?

2. Use scenarios and simulations to see your candidate in action and observe their ability to spot and manage complex issues of identity.

Give them a chance to complete an exercise that’s similar to what they’d be doing on the job, and include an equity and inclusion component.

In many cases, you’ll want to test for the candidate’s ability to proactively spot and identify areas where a process, project, or product can be improved to be more equitable and inclusive. If so, you might ask them to do the exercise without a specific prompt about racial equity and inclusion.

Below are two examples:

  • For a technology manager position: “Through our various programs, we serve people of many different ages, backgrounds, and experiences, and our staff and interns reflect this diversity. Given this, how would you approach training and supporting our staff to meet their technology needs? What aspects of your identity might you need to be mindful of in approaching your work?”
  • For a communications role: “Here’s an older blog post we wrote about an issue that’s very important to our audience. What are 3-5 suggestions you’d make for how we could improve it?”
    • In this question, one of your “look-fors” might be their ability to spot places where the article is race-silent, or uses outdated or problematic language.

3. Intersperse opportunities to demonstrate REI competence throughout the process.

Testing someone’s ability to navigate issues of equity and identity shouldn’t just be relegated to an “equity section” of your interview process. It should be abundant and integrated throughout, like cantaloupe cubes in a Costco fruit salad.

One way to get insight into their competence without explicitly testing for it is by convening a diverse hiring team (across multiple lines of difference) and then simply observing. Do they treat the non-binary, queer, BIPOC administrative assistant who schedules their interviews with the same warmth and respect they offer to you, the hiring manager? Do they seem aware of the (perceived) identities of others, as well as their own?

You can also get your candidate to demonstrate their competence in the context of other topics by asking specific follow-up questions, like:

  • How did you keep racial equity at the center of your decision?
  • How did you check for bias?
  • How did you account for racial equity and inclusion when you set those goals?
  • Do you think there were any differences in race/gender/other identities that influenced how that played out?
  • How did your own identities influence how you approached that?

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