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Avoid Discrimination in Interviews

After a string of bad job experiences in which your ethnic or racial background seemed to impede your advancement, you are once again in search of employment. This time, you want to find an employer that is inclusive of all its employees.

When you're interviewing what should you do?

A. Keep your fingers crossed that this time will be different.
B. Ask the interviewer about the company's diversity.
C. Do your homework before, during and after your interview.

If you answered C, you're on your way to finding the right job.

Prepare for the Interview

By the time you arrive for your interview, you should be a regular walking encyclopedia about the prospective employer. Go online, read newspapers, and talk to people who've worked for the company. Look for these indicators of whether or not a company is a good fit:

  • Company Nondiscrimination Statement: If it doesn't include anything about sexual orientation or racial discrimination, it's a red flag.
  • Benefits Plan: A company that offers a domestic partner benefits plan to life partners regardless of sexual orientation is inclusive in its practices, not just on paper. Good news: According to one survey, a steadily rising number of employers are offering these benefits.
  • Diversity Initiatives: Is there evidence of diversity initiatives in the company literature? How extensive does it seem to be? "Many people understand that a diversity initiative is often a precursor to career opportunities that await them," says Todd Campbell, manager of the diversity initiative at the Society for Human Resource Management in Alexandria, Va.
  • Litigation History: Has the company been in the news lately because of discrimination lawsuits? If so, you might not want to waste the cab fare or gas needed for getting to the interview.
  • Media References: Many publications offer annual roundups of the most employee-friendly companies. Fortune, for example, publishes a list of the 50 best companies for minorities. Don't worry too much if your prospective employer doesn't make the list. But if the company does appear, shine those shoes and get a good night's rest so you get the best possible shot at the job.
  • Company Awards: "If a company has won awards for things such as the promotion of women in the workplace or community service, that's a good indicator that the company is probably inclusive," says Campbell.
During the Interview

In addition to presenting yourself as the best thing to walk through those doors since takeout was invented, the interview is a good time for you to fill in as many blanks as possible. Here's how.

  • Ask Questions: If your research hasn't turned up any information about the company's diversity initiative or domestic-partner benefits plan, now's the time to ask. But don't ask questions about whether people of diverse backgrounds and sexual orientation hold positions of authority within the company. "The interview needs to be job-related," says Campbell. "The sexual orientation of employees is not job-related."
  • Look Around When You Walk Through the Hallways: Who's sitting in the fancy offices? Whose pictures are hanging on the walls? If those depicted are all white males, this might not be the most diversity-minded office.
After the Interview

If after all that research you're still not sure about a company, you need to take a hard look at the reasons for your hesitation. Have previous bad experiences left you gun-shy, or have you spotted some red flags along the way?

  • Know Your Rights: No matter what the circumstances of your new employment are, it's always best to start with a clear picture of your rights. While no federal law currently exists prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, several states have enacted such laws, including California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.
  • Get to Know People: The minute you start the job, make lots of connections, including with the company's human resource manager. The more allies you have now, the easier it will be to combat on-the-job discrimination down the road.

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