Find Your Dream Job, Episode 304:
How to Find an Inclusive Workplace, with Victor Cato
Airdate: July 14, 2021
This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.
I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.
Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to get the work you want.
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When you work for a diverse and inclusive organization, you get exposed to different ideas.
You’re also encouraged to share your own opinions. And you’re more likely to learn new skills.
But how do you find an employer like this? Victor Cato is here to talk about how to find an inclusive workplace.
He’s the talent acquisition and retention manager for the Northwest Regional Education Service District. Victor has also worked as a classroom teacher, higher education professional, and a state administrator.
He joins us from Portland, Oregon.
Well, let’s get started, Victor. What do you mean when you talk about an inclusive workspace?
Yeah, an inclusive workspace, my own personal description is one where an employee can thrive, one where they feel like they’re a part of the culture, they feel well supported, they see people who look like them, there’s opportunity, and they feel included, and fulfilled. To me, that is what an inclusive workspace represents.
Well, are most workplaces inclusive, Victor?
In large, I think most organizations try to be inclusive, or at least they will say that publicly.
That’s where, as far as the job search goes, where it becomes really critical for the prospective applicant to really do their research and to do the digging to know, really, how sincere is this organization about their equity work?
There are a lot of organizations in the past year that came out with these bold equity and inclusion statements, but the work was really superficial, and there’s a lot more to that search from the applicant’s side that they need to be looking for.
Do you think that more and more employers are making inclusivity a priority?
I do think so, yes. Absolutely.
Diversity, we know it’s good for business; it brings a lot of benefits to an organization, but it isn’t just about hiring diverse hires; it’s really about changing the culture of an organization, making sure that folks feel supported and fulfilled.
What does a supportive and fulfilling culture look like?
Yeah, it’s one where the employee has an opportunity. I’ll start there, an opportunity to keep growing as an individual, for who they are and what they represent. Their unique talents and background is appreciated, and respected, and valued. I think that piece is probably the most important aspect of an inclusive workplace for an employee.
So what are the barriers that prevent this from happening? These are admirable goals, Victor, a supportive workplace; why doesn’t it happen?
Yeah, DEI work, Mac, is a marathon and not a sprint. It’s hard culture-shifting work, and I think a lot of organizations often kind of default to, “What’s the ten-step program?” or the magic elixir that’s gonna make us more inclusive? But it doesn’t happen that way. It’s really a transformation in the culture, and it takes time and a lot of effort to really get there. So I think that’s probably the biggest barrier for a lot of organizations.
It’s not that they’re not interested, most of the time, but it’s because it’s hard, and they just don’t know where to start or how to do it.
I want to talk about how you find an inclusive workspace, but before we jump into that, is it hard to find those employers, Victor?
You know, I’m not gonna say it’s difficult, but I will say from the applicant’s side, it is a critical piece to actually look at each organization individually and review critically what you can find out about them.
Are there warning signs as you begin this search that an employer might not be inclusive that you should pay attention to?
I think the way an applicant is treated during the recruitment process absolutely indicates what their employee experience is going to be.
We’re beginning to see an infusion of culturally responsive practice in the recruitment process, and so I think from the applicant piece looking for some of those cues and how they navigate the space could be a good indication of where this organization falls on that line.
Can you share an example or two of what one of those cues might look like, a negative experience that might signal an employer’s not inclusive?
Yeah, one of the things that we’ve started to do over the years, or at least I learned of this practice a while back and have tried to implement it in all the organizations I work at, and it’s the notion of giving an applicant the questions before the interview. And the idea behind it is, for me, it’s really the diversity of thought, knowing that not all of us think the same way. Some of us are not linear thinkers.
And an interview is really a performance, but it’s based on this linear model; you ask the question and the response and answers, the interviewer listens to the response based on what they think they should be hearing.
That’s to me a very linear process and doesn’t leave a lot of room for the folks who kind of think out of the box, who may have a different approach, or who maybe are a better storyteller, so we feel like giving folks the questions gives them a better opportunity to prepare for the interview.
And in my observation, I’ve seen the performance in the interview dramatically improves. The dialogue between the panel and the applicant are much more rich when folks have a moment to prepare and gather their thoughts.
Well, let’s talk about how to find an inclusive workplace, and I know one of the first steps you recommend for job seekers is to know yourself. Why is this important, Victor?
Yeah, this is the most critical part of the search is knowing yourself; you need to know your why.
Why is finding an inclusive workplace important to you as an individual, what do you believe in, what do you value, what are your non-negotiables? All these questions get to, what is your authenticity?
And for organizations who are really truly committed to inclusion, this is going to be a priority for them, and it’s definitely going to be a part of their hiring decisions, so candidates really need to know. Do their self-exploration, why does this matter to them in the long run?
What are some exercises you might suggest to get the answers to those questions?
I feel like it’s really kind of an introspective opportunity for folks, and I don’t know if there is a prescribed way, but it is definitely something that folks need to spend the time asking themselves those couple of questions that I just named prior to saying that an inclusive workplace is their priority.
Well, let’s pause here Victor, I want to take a break, and when we come back, I’d like to dig in more about ways to get to know yourself better in order to prepare to find that inclusive workplace, and I know there are some other steps you recommend as well.
So stay with us. When we come back, Victor Cato will continue to share his advice on how to find an inclusive workplace.
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Now, let’s get back to the show.
We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Victor Cato.
He’s the talent acquisition and retention manager for the Northwest Regional Education Service District.
Victor joins us from Portland, Oregon.
Now Victor, before the break, we were talking about the first step you need to take to find an inclusive workplace; knowing yourself, and we had talked about some questions you should ask yourself. Any other steps you recommend to get clearer about knowing yourself as you get ready to look for that inclusive workplace?
Yeah, a lot of DEI work is so relational, and so I would recommend to someone also is to perhaps consider doing those emotional intelligence assessments.
When you’re in an inclusive space, you’re going to have a lot of different diverse cultures, so cultural intelligence and emotional intelligence are going to be really important in an applicant and how they navigate that space.
And so those are two tools that I think could help getting to know yourself a little bit better.
Well, the second step you recommend a job seeker take is to know the organizations where you want to work. What do you need to know exactly, Victor?
Oh my goodness, Mac. You need to know almost everything about them.
But particularly, you want to know what DEI work the organization has already done, what they are doing, and their commitment?
You do not want to work at an organization that has only done superficial work, they’ve only passed out a statement, or they’ve used diverse doc photos on the website. You’ve got to look for more; all that’s smoke and mirrors.
I always recommend folks critically review the mission, their vision, the values, the strategic plan, and ask yourself, “Do these align with my values and beliefs?” That’s why I suggest that in that first step, it’s really getting to know yourself. Who you are authentically, because that way, when you get to know the organization, you’re better prepared at determining whether or not you align.
A couple of look-for’s I think are; does the organization have an ERG or an Employee Resource Group? Who are their partners? Who does the organization traditionally partner with? Then, how does the company or organization serve? Who is its target audience or target population?
And another piece, which might not be so easy to locate, but it’s worth the dig, is to look at some of the companies policies. Policy is the codification of DEI work; that’s how we operationalize it, and so being able to see what policies are already on the books for them gives you an indication of how really dialed in this organization is on this area, prior even to being employed there.
Additionally, I think you can talk to BIPOC employees.
Some of this information you can get from looking at a website, mission statement, visions and values often.
What about – and you can certainly find employees by looking at LinkedIn – what are some other research methods you would recommend to get the answers to these questions?
Yeah, the LinkedIn one is definitely a good one; again, talking to employees, current employees and former employees, is always a good strategy.
But the other thing too is remembering interviews are a two-way street; it’s not just about the applicant, about the company getting to know the applicant, but also the applicant getting to know the company.
So here’s an opportunity for an applicant to really ask questions about the organization’s DEI work, especially if it’s not obvious. They need to be comfortable seeking that information.
What kinds of questions do you recommend asking in the interview process?
Exactly what those look-fors are. Tell me about your employee resource groups; how, as an employee who’s committed to inclusion, how will I feel supported in the organization? What are our strategic priorities if those aren’t clear? Asking about those sorts of things.
Do you have suggestions about the timing for asking these questions? Is this something you might bring up in a phone screener, or should you wait until further along in the process?
Typically, with a phone screener, those are a more brief, a kind of a get-to-know-you opportunity, so I don’t know if that’s necessarily the appropriate space. I think you’d want to wait until probably a first-round, maybe an in-person interview, where you have a little bit more time, and traditionally, interviews typically close with an opportunity for the applicant to ask questions, and that’s where you’d want to do that.
As you listen to the answers, Victor, what kind of information might signal to you that this is indeed an inclusive workplace? And what kind of answers might signal to you there’s a lot of work to be done?
Yeah, I think that the second one is probably easier. If you sense that the panel is stumbling through these questions and reaching, that’s probably a good indication that the work may not be in place as well as we’d like for it to be, or at least there’s an opportunity to grow there.
And is that a dealbreaker if you’re an applicant? Or does this go back to your earlier points about getting clear on your values and what matters to you?
I think it could be a dealbreaker for folks. I can be transparent and say that I have left an organization before because I didn’t feel like our values aligned.
And it’s not an easy decision for any person. That’s why I strongly encourage folks to really do their research on the front end and get to know who you’re about to engage with at that level. You spend a lot of time at work; you want to be fulfilled, you want to be passionate about it, and you want to be supported.
And so, if as soon as you get any indication that those, that none of that’s going to happen for you, then you need to ask, “ Do I really want to proceed with this?”.
You mentioned earlier that you’re reaching out to BIPOC employees at an organization or employees in general, as well as former employees. What’s the best way to approach people to explore this question?
Yeah, that’s a tricky part, and it’s so situational. I truly believe LinkedIn is a great opportunity for folks to kind of explore and get to know the folks that work at a company, not necessarily the company but the folks that work there, and so making those connections are a good easy way and efficient way to do it.
If you have more familiarity or access (I’ll say access) to staff, either former or current, then it’s just a matter of sending a message and making the request; it’s a coffee conversation, it’s not a formal interview. I don’t think it’s necessarily a formal informational interview or anything like that, but it’s just a conversation with folks because you really want their honest reflection.
So, you found an inclusive workplace, and you get a job there. Is your journey over, Victor?
Oh no. It’s really kind of just beginning in some ways. I think it’s important for the applicant to be, at this point, they’re a new employee, to be open to what they might experience. Even though we can do a lot of research and find out a lot about these companies before we actually work for them, it’s still not the same as actually being entrenched in their culture. And experiencing the organization from the inside on a daily basis, and it’s important that applicants be able to acknowledge that there might be a disconnect there, the organization might not be quite as far along as they thought, there is a continuum which I think I’ll mention a little bit later.
But you have to understand that equity work is a journey, and again, it takes a lot of time and effort for an organization to transform its culture, so you’ve got to afford some grace there. And the same way we do with our colleagues who may not be as far along on their equity journey.
As an employee, what does that grace look like? What kind of behavior form does it take?
Well, when you know your own purpose and your values, it becomes much easier for you to navigate that space, and it depends on kind of what the observation is, if it’s something grossly out of alignment with you, as a new employee, your values, then that could be problematic. But if it’s something worse all around, like professional development, you’re not pleased with their professional development options or a specific policy you might feel has an unfair impact to some employees, that could be something that may have just been. And so here’s where, when you know yourself, your authentic self, you could have an opportunity to lead in this space.
That’s I think another piece of that is the employee needs to feel comfortable actually going on this journey and then sometimes not just being a team member but a team leader in some of these, in some of this work.
What can, particularly a new employee, but every worker do to contribute to that inclusivity?
You know we really, I think one of the biggest barriers I think to diverse hiring that I’ve seen over the years when we bring a new hire in, is the microaggression sometimes that they experience, and you know, a microaggression isn’t something that’s always intentional; often it’s very unintentional, but it’s those small things. It’s the unawareness, and I fully acknowledge you don’t know what you don’t know, so that’s why it’s important for the individual employee to really read a book, read a study, like watch a documentary, do something to educate yourself around this work if it’s really important to you.
And when you have an opportunity to engage professionally, take it.
You talked about reading books, but as a new employee and someone inside the organization, what are other steps you can take as you make this journey?
As a new employee, you need to take advantage of whatever offerings are already out there, and so a lot of companies now are really invested in professional learning in DEI, and so they’re making a part of kind of their required training or at least that’s what we’re seeing in the education space.
For the new employee, they need to actually take advantage of those opportunities to continue growing and developing.
Again, thinking about what has led up to this placement at this organization. They were already on a reflective journey, they’ve already asked themselves these hard questions, but it doesn’t stop there. You’ve got to keep growing, so if there’s any piece of advice in that area, I would tell them to keep growing and take advantage of every opportunity afforded to you in that area.
Well, it’s been a terrific conversation, Victor; now tell us what’s next for you?
Yeah, Northwest Regional has invested a lot of resources in recruiting a diverse workforce because we realized that to leverage our strategic plan and our strategic goals and really living up to being a multi-cultural, anti-racist organization, we’ve got to have a diverse workforce for that, and so I would love to encourage our listeners to consider applying for us. Give Northwest Regional a look; we have way more jobs than just education.
Terrific. I know people can learn more about your organization and your work by visiting your website but also I know you encourage listeners to connect with you on LinkedIn, and I hope when they do so, they’ll mention they heard you on the show.
Now Victor, given all the useful tips you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about how to find an inclusive workplace?
It’s not necessarily about the workplace as much as it is about you. So I’ll go back to where we started, know yourself, know your why. Why is this important to you? If there’s any takeaway from today, that’s what I want the job seeker to think about.
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