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Dr. Debra Willis, PhD, is the senior program lead of the University of Michigan’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) certificate program through which she helps participants promote diverse environments that foster a sense of belonging. And as you prepare to enter the workforce or make a change mid-career, Willis notes that today’s employers are looking for candidates who demonstrate DEI through their openness and ability to interact respectfully with others.
What does diversity and inclusion look like in the workplace? Willis explains that diversity isn’t restricted to race and gender. Rather, it encompasses a lot of things from political perspectives, social economic status, and sexual orientation to citizenship, religion, parental status, and even body size. Inclusion at work takes the form of an equitable environment were all people feel comfortable and accepted.
Want to stand out in the job pool as a candidate worth hiring? Dr. Willis outlines three areas where your commitment to DEI can make a difference:
- The Job Application: First, research the company’s mission statement, website, and staff bios, which can tell you a lot about the causes and issues the leadership team care about. Think about how you can contribute to the organization’s values and DEI vision. Make sure to represent your commitment to diversity and inclusion throughout your job application in a consistent, personal way. You could dedicate a paragraph in your cover letter to DEI or outline examples in your resume bullets.
- The Interview: Before your interview, arm yourself with a personal narrative that aligns with and supports your application materials and social media. “Personal perspectives and self-awareness are so important,” Willis notes. Your “story” is best when it’s supported by tangible, real-world examples. Perhaps you’re a TA for a course where you use inclusive strategies in your student sessions. Or maybe you volunteer to deliver food to underprivileged children who can’t rely on school lunches during the pandemic. Whatever your story is, don’t generalize diversity—or position yourself as the hero who sweeps in and saves the day.
- Social Media: Ninety percent of employers (some say that it’s closer to 100 percent) will search for you on social media. What you portray on accounts like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn says a lot about who you are and what you believe in. It’s important to be professional on these platforms and have your activity represent the value you place on DEI. Ask yourself: What tweets am I putting out? What issues and topics do I talk about? What posts do I share? Also make sure to stay abreast of social issues and current events and reflect your views on today’s topics in your social media feed.
“You can’t fake a commitment to DEI,” Willis says. So, the questions you ask at the end of the interview—and even your thank you note afterwards—should support your “DEI job portfolio.” This will also help increase your credibility and value to the company or organization. Being sensitive to DEI in the workplace also indicates that you’re not only in tune with today’s issues, but also someone who can work well with all kinds of people, which is a quality anyone would want in a potential hire.
This blog is based on the Wiley webinar, “Demonstrating Your Commitment and Contribution to Diversity.” To watch the webinar featuring Dr. Deborah Willis, click the link above.
Deborah Willis earned a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Michigan.
She’s the senior program lead for the University of Michigan Rackham Professional Development Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Certificate, a program she designed to prepare participants to work in a diverse environment while fostering a climate of inclusivity.
Dr. Willis has provided vision and advocacy for faculty, students and staff in the areas of leadership development, career development, and DEI professional development.