How to Know Where a Company is in its Equity Journey, with Mark Kajitani

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Too often, job seekers work to secure a position without thinking about how they will be treated within the company structure. If equity is important to you, Find Your Dream Job guest Mark Kajitani says you can do pertinent research to find out how the employer handles DEI within the company culture. Once you’re clear on which aspects of equity matter most to you, prepare relevant questions for your interview and research the company to discover how they address those issues. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you would like to see in company diversity.

About Our Guest:

Mark Kajitani is a nonprofit human resources consultant, a speaker, and the director of people and culture at  Oregon Public Broadcasting

Resources in This Episode:


Find Your Dream Job, Episode 380:

How to Know Where a Company Is in Its Equity Journey, with Mark Kajitani

Airdate: January 4, 2023

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life. 

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Equity at work involves issues like equal pay, opportunities for promotion, and fairness in the workplace.

So before you say yes to a job offer, you want to understand how an employer approaches equity. 

Mark Kajitani is here to talk about how to know where a company is in its equity journey and why it matters in your job search.

He’s a nonprofit human resources consultant, a speaker, and the director of people and culture at Oregon Public Broadcasting. 

He joins us from Portland, Oregon. 

Well, let’s get started, Mark. Let’s start with a definition. What is equity in the workplace? 

Mark Kajitani:

I believe that equity in the workplace is how you are cared for. How you bring your whole self, and how the structures and all the parts of work, work to make and support you, the individual, and groups of folks so that they can really thrive. 

Mac Prichard:

We hear a lot about equity in the workplace, especially in the last few years. Is this a new idea, Mark? 

Mark Kajitani:

No. I think that it’s not new. But the thinking around equity has changed. I think also the expectation of people when they’re searching, and coming into a job place has changed. People want a space where they can bring their whole selves to work. Where they can feel comfortable, and they feel like they’re being measured against a level playing field, and so, I think it’s become most imperative for people in culture departments and human resource teams, and as a real indicator for a business’s wellness and success. 

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned examples of equity in the workplace. What about in your job search, Mark? Why does workplace equity matter when you’re looking for work? 

Mark Kajitani:

Yeah, so, I think that, especially when you’re looking for work, you can often, or I could often get caught up in this idea of trying to find the next position, trying to get my foot in the door, trying to secure it. But equity in the workplace really takes you from that moment of being hired all the way through the rest of your journey, your life cycle, as an employee with that company. 

And so, if you take some time to spend some time to investigate, to understand how a company approaches equity in the workplace, you’ll be taking the time to understand how you will be treated during your time there, and so, it is so important that individuals take that opportunity to see, well, how will I be able to thrive? How will I be able to live my life in a way that works for me and my identity? 

Mac Prichard:

You have long experience in the human resources sector, not only in your current job but in past positions. What difference have you seen in the careers of the people that you’ve talked to as candidates make when they think about equity in the workplace when both pursuing that next job and considering offers, and as they move through their career? 

Mark Kajitani:

I think that people who are searching for new opportunities are really trying to figure out, will they fit in, will the company change and grow with how my identity would change. And so, I’ve seen lots and lots of change over time. From people expecting different rules and guidelines and, like you had mentioned, pay equity, sort of support to ensure that they work in a workplace that is fair and equitable and treats people with respect and dignity. If conversations are about them, they involve them. 

And so, I have seen people who are job-seeking request more, want to learn more, want to know what they’re getting themselves into. 

Mac Prichard:

Mark, what about companies that have only started their equity journey? What concerns might you have as a job seeker about an organization like that? And how can you be clear about where they are in their journey? 

Mark Kajitani:

Sure, I think just like every individual, every organization, every institution, and even systems, larger systems- whether you’re like me, who is currently involved in public media or, before that, social services- those systems are evolving. They’re learning. They’re growing in their equity journey, and some are, you know, many steps down the road, and some are just beginning. That is okay, and you and individuals can find themselves very successfully in organizations all across that spectrum. 

And so I wouldn’t count out organizations that are new or just beginning to come to terms with some of these concepts. For me, some of that time is the most exciting, energetic self-discovery opportunities, and I personally love to be involved with organizations that are starting out. That are learning how to grow. That are learning how to make those mistakes and how to improve their care for individual employees. Others who are way down the line and have some amazing systems, those are great, too. 

And so, trying to understand what kind of place you thrive in from an equities perspective is really important. But all across the board, the spectrum is wide, and people can thrive in all sorts of different levels.  

Mac Prichard:

Can you paint a picture of what that spectrum of a company on its equity journey might look like? Are there distinct phases? Are they limited to numbers? And does the journey ever end? 

Mark Kajitani:

I don’t think the journey ever ends. So, let me start there. But I do think that there are distinct phases. I think that, for many organizations, we talk about this idea of DEI. So, diversity, equity, and inclusion. I’ve also heard justice and accessibility included in those. 

And so, some organizations are very focused on diversifying. They want more people from different backgrounds, and it’s about bringing folks in from different walks of life and different lived experiences. Others are very focused on inclusion. Right? Making those people who are already there feel included. 

So, I can give you an example. I worked at a recent social services nonprofit called IRCO, the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, and it was one of the most diverse workplaces you could ever find in our community, and for them, the journey was really about inclusion. It was about equity. It was about justice, and it was less about trying to be on a journey of bringing more people of diverse backgrounds together. But it was more about how to get those individuals to work together collaboratively for the success of the mission or the purpose of the nonprofit. 

Mac Prichard:

And how do you recommend a job seeker get an understanding of where the company is on its equity journey? How can they paint that picture for themselves, Mark? What kind of research do you recommend? 

Mark Kajitani:

Absolutely. So, first of all, there’s so much great information at a job seeker’s fingertips. Right? Or looking at it. So, just when you’re looking at their websites. Right? Look at the images that they’re choosing to put out there. Same as their social media accounts. Who are the people that are reflected in their brochures and their websites, and their social media posts? Do they look and feel like you? Do they have that diversity in their projection? 

If you get to the stage of being able to interview for an organization, you get to ask all sorts of great questions. You get to ask questions about their policies; could be how they address holidays or how they’re addressing pay equity within their organization. You can see right there from the job posting, as well, transparency around wages, as well as essential responsibilities, knowledge, and understand how they’re approaching bringing in people from different walks of life. From looking at how they might rate or value life experience or education. 

So there’s lots and lots of ways to sort of measure and look at an organization, and if you get the opportunity to interview with an organization, you get an even more in-depth opportunity to talk with those individuals who have been part of that journey, their equity journey. And if it’s in person, you get to walk around and see how their buildings and how their facilities speak to that equity journey as well. 

Mac Prichard:

Well, hold that thought, Mark, because I want to take a break, and when we come back, I want to talk more about the interview tips you shared and dig into those, as well as, let’s talk about hiring practices that- equitable hiring practices that reflect where a company is in its equity journey. 

So stay with us. When we return, Mark Kajitani will continue to share his advice on how to know where a company is in its equity journey and why it matters in your job search. 

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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 Mark Kajitani.

He’s a nonprofit human resources consultant, a speaker, and the director of people and culture at Oregon Public Broadcasting. 

He joins us from Portland, Oregon. 

Now, Mark, before the break, we were talking about how to know where a company is in its equity journey and why it matters in your job search, and you were sharing some great tips for job seekers about things you might do in an interview, the kind of research that you might do beforehand. 

What advice would you have, Mark, for somebody who is not sure how to ask those questions about a company’s equity journey in an interview? What have you seen to be effective? 

Mark Kajitani:

Yeah, so I really see every interview you get to that point where they say, do you have any questions? And that is one of those amazing opportunities to ask a couple of these equity questions or to find out a little bit more about where they’re at in their equity journey. I, personally, love to find out, as a job seeker, about two real things. One is affinity groups, and I’ll explain what those are in just a moment. But the second is about holidays and a company’s offering of what holidays they have. 

And so, affinity groups, as you may know, they’re sort of employee-sponsored groups that bring people together who have shared common experiences. Maybe they’re caregivers for parents or children. Maybe they’re for members of the LGBTQ+ communities, or maybe they’re based around learning, or the black, indigenous people of color groups, where they can find solidarity of people, where they can be in safe spaces. Where they can understand and have spaces where they can connect with others who are going through those, sort of, same experiences that they might be in their general lives and their identities. But also in that workplace. 

And so, you can always ask, like, does this company, does this organization have any affinity groups? And are employees encouraged to be a part of that? Some organizations are taking tremendous steps to not only put on and have these affinity groups but to support them, and I see that in every way, from a once-a-month sort of meal that they organize to actually paying people and expecting people to be part of these groups and building that into their workflow. 

Another thing, like I mentioned earlier, about holidays. You know, we live in a very, very incredibly diverse community and country, and the holidays that people celebrate are vast, and we all know the typical standard banking holidays. But many organizations have moved toward a floating holiday policy where maybe one, two, or more holidays each year, you’re allowed to choose for yourself what works best for you and your identity. Some people take that as their birthday, others take it as their religious celebrations. If it’s your high holiday, if it’s your eve, you can celebrate that. Take that time off. Take the rest, and have that space and respect that is guaranteed to everybody with all the other generalized holidays. 

You can always ask about their holiday policies, and that will teach you a little bit about what they’re thinking. Are they even thinking about these things? And it’s not a super threatening way to ask those sorts of questions in an interview. 

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned affinity groups. So many employers might have just a handful of workers, about three to five employees, for example. How have you seen smaller employers on their equity journey approach affinity groups? Is there something? If they don’t have a large number of workers, what can they do instead or in addition to? 

Mark Kajitani:

Right. I think the size of an employer is not always like a barrier to that. Affinity groups can be very successful in small numbers. It’s really about providing that space and time for those folks to gather and to have conversations. Right? 

So, let’s say, I have mentioned, if you’re part of a group and you want to think about how that affects your work-life, and maybe ideas bubble up out of that, and they come forth, and they change a company’s benefits package. Maybe the benefits need to work better for people who are in transition or people who are experiencing caregiving needs. And so these are great spaces, and organizations sometimes approach them very formally. They want them to, you know, talk about central ideas around those identities; they might have facilitations, they might structure them with some training series to go along with them. So that people could grow in their understanding of accessibility or disability. 

Other times, it’s just very open and kind of self-directed and lets that group sort of identify what their needs are to find those safe spaces where people can find solidarity with others. 

Mac Prichard:

Are there fundamental best practices a company should follow in its equity journey that job seekers should pay attention to? Is there a short list, Mark, of three must-haves that you should always keep in mind? 

Mark Kajitani:

I think every organization starts out with some sort of needs assessment. Right? They always are reviewing. They’re reviewing what’s working, what’s not working, and sometimes that review happens because employees have requested it. Sometimes, it’s because the organization has identified it. But it really starts with that review. 

Second off, it comes up with a plan. Right? Typically, there’s, at many organizations, an equity plan, and it’s built into many organizations’ strategic frameworks, strategic plans. They want to see progress in actionable deliverable steps. They want to increase diversity. They want to better retain their staff who come from different backgrounds. But that plan is where those ideas begin to formulate into action steps that actually apply to folks. 

And lastly, it really is about communication. It’s that two-way communication, both up and down within organizations, that need to be fostered. Like I said at the beginning, if a decision is about people, it should involve people. And so, there is no equity journey that is like top-down that can only be implemented from a higher-up, from an HR team, or from a CEO on down. It has to be a blend of feedback, communication, and conversation, to move forward. 

Mac Prichard:

You’ve mentioned several examples of concrete deliverables a company on its equity journey might produce, the holidays, for example, affinity groups, and effective communication throughout the organization. What other deliverables should a job seeker who cares about a company’s equity journey pay attention to and look for? 

Mark Kajitani:

I mean, I think that that really depends on the job seeker. Right? At some organizations, at my last organization, we had a very large Muslim community that worked at our organization. So, for that organization, it was imperative that the work day flowed around breaks for people to take and spaces for people to do their prayers. But also they updated and improved their facilities. 

So, for example, people do absolutions, which is the washing of their hands and feet before prayers. And so, they went in, and they installed in their restrooms special wash basins and tools. So that those individuals could prepare for their needs in ways that was respectful to them and worked for the facilities. 

So, it can look all sorts of different ways. It can look like physical, structural improvements. And so, I would say that when you, as a job seeker, are searching out an organization, it’s important to do some self-reflection to understand what your identity is. See that as a strength. 

Organizations want you. The more diverse you are, the more different lived experiences you bring’ you bring that to an organization that’s new ideas, that’s new energies, that’s new trains of thought, and that results in better productivity. A more diverse and understanding organization and better outcomes across the board. And so, really understanding yourself is probably a great starting point. 

Mac Prichard:

Well, it’s been a terrific conversation, Mark. Now, tell us, what’s next for you? 

Mark Kajitani:

Yeah. So, I’m excited about a couple of things. With my work at the Oregon Public Broadcasting, I am super excited about bringing forth and shepherding a new format of how the organization will adopt its policies and procedures and so, in a way that engages with staff, gets feedback, and builds very much into the design and development of policies and procedures. Those equity values that we hold so dear. 

Beyond that, I do some HR consulting for a number of small nonprofits around town, and I’m always excited to sort of help each of them on their journeys, whether that be equity or HR, to help them from their training to finding the right folks and making sure those right people are cared for and supported throughout their journey. 

Mac Prichard:

Well, terrific. I know, Mark, that listeners can learn more about you and your work in your HR practice and at Oregon Public Broadcasting by connecting with you on LinkedIn, and if they do reach out to you, as always, I hope they’ll mention they heard you on the show. 

Now, Mark, given all the great advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about where a company is in its equity journey and why it matters in your job search? 

Mark Kajitani:

So, I believe that where a company is at in its equity journey speaks to how you will be treated while you’re there. And so, don’t overlook that. It’s so important. That’s about staying. It’s about thriving in your next opportunity and making sure that all the work that you did in finding this opportunity pays off because you can find a space where you can bring and be your best self. 

Mac Prichard:

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Next week, our guest will be Scott Jacobs.

He’s a career coach who runs the Jacobs Strategic Group. Scott has helped hundreds of clients with career transitions and job searches. 

Ageism in hiring happens every day and discourages countless older applicants. 

Join us next Wednesday when Scott Jacobs and I talk about how older workers can project confidence in a job search.

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

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Our sound engineer is Matt Fiorillo.  Ryan Morrison at Podfly Productions edits the show. Dawn Mole creates our transcripts. And our music is by Freddy Trujillo.

This is Mac Prichard. See you next week.