When you are interviewing with a potential employer, one of the underlying questions you may ask yourself is: “Am I going to be able to thrive or just survive in this environment if I am fully myself?”
For too many LGBTQ+ professionals, the answer is disappointing. In a May Harris Poll and Glassdoor survey of more than 6,000 U.S. LGBTQ+ professionals, nearly half (45%) said they believe being out at work could hurt their careers and result in getting fired, not getting a promotion or not being selected for a certain assignment.
Finding a truly inclusive environment that values all employees’ lived experiences means not only looking at which employers are changing their logos for Pride Month but also those who are doing the work to make LGBTQ+ hires feel welcomed.
“No company’s going to come out and say we love you or we hate you,” said Andrew McCaskill, a marketing executive and LinkedIn career expert. “I think that there’s some really good cues that they’re being intentional about queer inclusivity.”
Here are some questions job seekers can ask during interviews to determine whether a company actually welcomes LGBTQ+ professionals at their company:
‘What are the LGBTQ+ friendly benefits you offer?’
McCaskill said this question was “really big for me when I was looking for a role,” adding that as a gay man he has experienced “trepidation around asking whether or not our health care plan would cover PrEP.”
“Oftentimes [their answer will] give you a really good idea around how much of an investment that companies have made in inclusive environments,” he said.
Look out for the tone and body language of how the interviewer reacts to being asked about benefits for LGBTQ+ employees.
“A person who’s shut down by that question is a red flag for me,” McCaskill said. “A person who opens up and says, even if they don’t know or if the answer is no, but they open up to make sure that they offer some modicum of a response that honors the question, that to me is still potentially a conversation that you want to continue to have.”
‘Is there an LGBTQ+ Employee Resource Group? Who sponsors it? What type of events have they done?’
“Employee Resource Groups are often an effective way to provide additional support to employees that are members of historically marginalized groups,” said A.C. Fowlkes, a clinical psychologist and the CEO of Fowlkes Consulting, an LGBTQ+ sensitivity and transgender inclusion consulting firm.
He said it helps to ask not only if an LGBTQ+ ERG exists but also what level of support with programming are they given.
These questions can include: “Is it provided the necessary funding to not only host internal events but to bring in external subject matter experts, and does it have a member of the executive team serving as the sponsor to ensure that LGBTQ+ employees have a voice in the room at the highest levels?” he said.
‘What are some of the success stories of LGBTQ+ employees here?’
To understand if you will be promoted and supported as an LGBTQ+ employee, it can help to find out the career paths of LGBTQ+ employees who currently work on the team you are interviewing for.
To this end, Josh Torres, a leadership coach focused on equity and inclusion and CEO of BE/volved Coaching, said it can be helpful for job seekers to ask hiring managers: “What are some of the success stories of LGBTQ+ employees that work at the company now or have worked at the company in the past?”
Torres, who uses he/they pronouns, said the goal with asking these questions is you want to see if the hiring manager answers with corporate speak or if they are able to talk from direct experiences.
“Can the hiring manager actually speak to collaborating with someone from this community and really showcase when they’re answering that question the success stories of an employee who’s thrived and say, like, ‘This is why, this is how I saw them, this is how I supported them, or how I saw them be supported in this way,’” they said.
They added that “the more detailed responses are really a green flag and where someone’s energy in answering that question is really excited and they feel... open to answering it as opposed to kind of fumbling over their words or not really giving a real answer.”
‘How is professionalism defined at this company? What’s the dress code?’
How companies define professional standards can be code for how they expect gendered conformity for which there could be adverse consequences if you prefer to deviate from them.
“If someone is a member of the LGBTQ+ community and is nonbinary or trans, that’s a really poignant question for them to understand how accepted they’ll be in showing up into the office space or even on Zoom, right? How is it going to be received if you know their gender expression is different than what the expectation is,” Torres said, adding that this is a question they have asked themselves when talking with prospective employers.
“No one answers that question well, but what I do find is that the ways in which people think through the question really help me to understand again if it’s a big deal and especially in terms of dress code,” they said.
Beyond directly asking this question to get answers, Torres looks for who is on an interview panel for clues about the workplace’s culture.
“I’ve been shifting my gender expression and identity. I use he/they pronouns and I paint my nails,” Torres said. “When I see people like with hair that is dyed and just like defying kind of these traditional definitions of professionalism already working at an organization that I’m partnering with, it feels like there is like a sense of safety and a sense of just acceptance for people to show up and still be bringing the value of themselves and being able to have impact through their work. So then it helps me feel less anxious about the way that I’m showing up.“
Torres said that if no one is from the LGBTQ+ community in your interview panel, you can request an additional interview to speak with someone who is and use the reaction to that request as a way to gauge the employer’s culture, too.
“That’s a really great red flag if they can’t get someone to have a conversation with you,” he said.
‘Are there gender-inclusive bathrooms?’
Torres said asking about how accommodating the facilities are is a way for job seekers to find out if there are “places in which they’re going to feel comfortable walking into and just being able to kind of choose, or again, are there going to be these gendered facilities that are going to make them uncomfortable on a day-to-day basis?”
Torres said if the interviewer does not know the answer but is doing the work of getting back to you, that can still be a green flag.
“If they’re like, ’Hey, I don’t know,′ or, ‘You know, you might be the first transgender person that we’re considering hiring on into this role, and we want to create those accommodations,’ ... That’s different than just saying, like, ‘We don’t have any facilities for you.’”
Research the employer’s website and use your network to understand the real deal about a company.
Before you get to the interview stage, you can suss out signals to help you determine if an employer is even worth investing the time and effort.
“See what their statement on diversity, equity and inclusion is on their website. Do they have one? ... Is there something on their website where they say that they’re welcoming and inclusive or not?” Torres said. “Signals like that before you even apply can really help you navigate to understand what the environment is going to be like.”
Ultimately, it helps to have someone on the inside who can be real with you about how LGBTQ+ workers are treated.
“Your best line of defense ... is always to ask somebody who works there that you feel like you can trust,” McCaskill said.
To get those honest answers, McCaskill said you can call upon your personal board of directors or your group chat and ask them for help with a message like: “Hey, y’all, I’m thinking about this particular company. Who do we know that either works there or used to work there? I’d love to get an idea of what that workplace culture is really like.”
Asking these interview questions and networking with people who would know about a potential company’s stances take careful strategizing and planning, but they can save you from joining a company that doesn’t align with your values.
“Just like I think it’s great to not wait until the very end of a long interview process to talk about money, I don’t think you should wait until the end of a long interview process to talk about culture,” McCaskill said. “You’re going to spend just as much time on being influenced by culture as you’re going to spend being influenced by compensation.”