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Are You Diversity-Minded?

You've just heard about the job of your dreams, which happens to be at a company known for its inclusion policy and rich diversity initiatives. Then you look in the mirror at your white, male, 50-something face and realize you'd better seriously position yourself as a diversity-conscious employee. (Of course, your race or sex does not automatically indicate your inclusiveness, although many employers assume people of color and women are more sensitive to diversity issues.)

Stop right there, says Kathleen Allen, associate professor of educational leadership at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis. "If you try marketing yourself as someone who cares about diversity issues just to get a job, you'll come across as not authentic, not genuine." She says you might be able to fool some people, perhaps even enough to ace the interview, but eventually you'll be found out, and your dream job will turn into your worst nightmare.

Here's a novel idea: Don't wait for the dream job to come along and wake you up to the benefits of having a cross-cultural approach to your career. "The best way to position yourself is to prepare how you work and how you think about people who come from different backgrounds and ethnicities in advance," says Allen.

Of course, this isn't as easy as stepping into your office one day and deciding that from now on you'll be diversity-minded. Even so, there are a few steps you can take to become better in tune with these changing times:  

  • Take Another Look in the Mirror: "People need to become more aware of themselves before they become aware of others," says Laura Berman Fortgang, an executive coach based in Montclair, New Jersey, and author of Take Yourself to the Top: The Secrets of America's #1 Career Coach. What sorts of jokes do you tell? How do you interpret the news? What are your prejudices? In what ways do you demonstrate you are accepting of other cultures? What sort of image do your clothes project?
  • Broaden Your Views: Stop viewing those of other ethnic backgrounds from a framework of deficiencies, and instead begin to view them in terms of the strengths they can bring to the table. Allen recalls coming up against this while working at a predominately Hispanic college. "My students were very connected to their families and went home on weekends," she recalls. "From my Midwest, white, middle-class perspective, I thought they weren't working autonomously enough. But then something extraordinary happened. I stopped thinking about what they didn't have and instead started thinking about what they might be able to teach me in terms of family and community."
  • Pay Inclusion More than Just Lip Service: Make inclusion a priority, both at work and in the rest of your life. Include people you haven't included before in meetings. Study a second language. Volunteer for things you've considered before.
  • Open Your Eyes to the World: Keep yourself open to feedback and different ways of seeing the world. At first, you may be driven by self-interest, but Allen says that once you start down this path, your entire life is enriched by it.

So you've done all this, and to your surprise your life is fuller both at home and work. Now you're ready to go for that dream job. But you look in the mirror and you're still that 50-something white guy. How do you demonstrate your commitment to diversity in an interview?

If you have made a real effort to reach out to all different types of people, this should come across loud and clear. You'll be able to say that you have worked with a broad variety of people and will be able to give work examples that back up that statement. And you'll have something else in your favor, perhaps subtler but even more crucial: You will be able to project a demeanor that says, "I'm open. I'm listening to your needs. I'm trying to put myself in your shoes."

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