“What does diversity mean to you?”
This is an opinion question, and it’s not asked very often in interviews. It’s somewhat difficult to answer, particularly if you haven’t worked in an environment where diversity was talked about or acknowledged.
Don’t worry, though: After reading this article, you’ll know how to put together a well-thought-out answer to questions about diversity.
Variations of This Question
This question might be asked in several different formats.
Here are some of them:
- Why is diversity important?
- What do you think about diversity in the workplace?
- How do you feel about working in a diverse environment?
- What do diversity, equity, and inclusion mean to you?
- How do you feel about working with diverse clients or customers?
What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know
This question is really about your willingness to learn from others, so your interviewer wants to see that you’re empathetic and flexible.
This is vital in the workplace because, in most roles, you’ll need to work with people who may be different from you in terms of race, religion, ability, or socioeconomic background. You’ll be expected to collaborate with those from different backgrounds and who have different ideas.
The interviewer or hiring manager also wants to know that you have good interpersonal skills, including listening skills and intercultural competence.
Employers want team players that can overlook their differences in order to get the job done. Your ability to look at situations from someone else’s perspective and understand what they’re saying will help you relate to customers, clients, and coworkers.
Your answer to this question tells the interviewer that you not only know what diversity is but you also have the awareness needed to appreciate diversity in the workplace.
How to Answer: “What Does Diversity Mean to You?”
We broke this process down into 3 steps:
1. Start with Your Own Definition of Diversity
Begin your answer with your own understanding of what diversity means, particularly in the workplace.
The interviewer should know that you’ve put some thought into this and that you can apply definitions to real-life experience — a valuable skill in any type of workplace.
Explain that while diversity usually points to gender and race, it applies just as much to biases against ethnicity, nationality, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, religion, physical abilities, and so on.
You can also talk about the characteristics and skills you believe you should have when working in a diverse environment.
- Flexibility to see things from someone else’s point of view
- Teamwork skills that can incorporate everyone
- Compassion for others who may be different from you
- Eagerness to learn from others
If the variation asked includes the phrase, “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” you should touch upon all of those.
Discuss the importance of not only having the opportunity to work with a diverse team but also the importance of fairness and making everyone feel welcome.
Here’s an example:
“Diversity is when people of all races, languages, and creeds work together. It’s important to be open to understanding situations from other points of view and to be welcoming to all viewpoints.”
2. Explain Why You Value Diversity in the Workplace
Talk to your interviewer about why diversity is beneficial in the workplace.
Doing this will show you’re open to the challenges that diversity can present because you already understand how diversity can be helpful. You can paint yourself as an advocate of diversity by simply focusing on the benefits.
In terms of specific benefits, you can touch on things like:
- More creativity when different types of people are represented
- Better understanding from getting to know those who are different
- Greater cultural competence overall
- Stronger teams when everyone learns to work together
Also, if possible, try to relate what you’re saying to the particular job you’re interviewing for. This will give context and demonstrate those benefits in an environment that the interviewer is familiar with.
For instance, if you were applying to work at an independent restaurant, you might discuss the benefits of diversity when developing a varied and interesting menu.
Here’s an example:
“Diversity in the workplace is important because it breeds creativity when people of different backgrounds come together to share ideas. It can also make the team more culturally competent. In a marketing position, everyone can contribute their thoughts on the types of ads they prefer.”
3. Provide a Relevant Anecdote or Example
Finally, give a real or hypothetical example of a diverse team working together.
Bringing an example into the discussion will show your interviewer that you fully understand not only the theoretical benefits and challenges of diversity but also the real-life implications.
How do you go about doing this?
First, introduce a situation where people of different backgrounds are working together. If it’s something you’ve experienced, leave out any potentially identifying details.
Then about an issue that needs to be resolved. The issue could be a problem that the team solved together. Another option is to discuss an interpersonal issue that requires understanding from different people.
Finally, end with the resolution that encompasses a benefit of diversity. For instance, you might focus on someone being more understanding of a coworker after learning more about their cultural norms and expectations.
Here’s an example:
“Our team was frustrated when a member wouldn’t discuss projects during company lunches. We learned later that it’s customary in his home country to enjoy a quiet meal before business. It was eye-opening to learn something new and it made the team more culturally sensitive.”
Putting It All Together (Example Answers)
Let’s look at some full sample answers using the 3-step process we just outlined in the previous section:
Example #1: Medical Office
“To me, diversity presents the opportunity to collaborate with and care for people from all different walks of life, religions, and races. To work in a diverse environment, it’s important to be patient, flexible, and open-minded.
Working with patients and staff from various cultures and backgrounds gives medical professionals invaluable experience in understanding others. This helps us provide better care to everyone, regardless of where they came from, what color their skin is, or what language they speak.
When I’ve worked with patients who don’t speak English as a first language, I’ve always been careful to ask a translator for assistance, whether that’s a trusted family member they’ve brought with them or one of the medical translating services available. This is vital to ensure understanding.”
Example #2: Restaurant
“Diversity means being able to work well with everyone, no matter their race or where they come from. To succeed means you must be compassionate and have good listening skills.
In a restaurant, it’s important to have the ability and desire to include everyone on the team. A restaurant only runs well when everyone gets along and helps one another. Since many restaurants employ a diverse crew, we must be comfortable with people of all colors, religions, and native languages.
At the last restaurant I worked at, our crew included people of different races and abilities. It wasn’t hard to get to know each person and learn what they were all good at. It just took some communication and listening, along with the flexibility to change my ideas when thinking about different viewpoints.”
Example #3: Corporate Office
“The ability to work with a wide range of people with respect to their backgrounds, race, religion, and so on, is the key to success in a corporate office. Working with a diverse group requires mutual respect for others as well as good communication skills.
All of us have achieved our positions through both individual efforts and the collaborative efforts of those we’ve worked with. Knowing how to get along with all types of people without regard for their skin color, religion, or socioeconomic status is what keeps the company running successfully.
I’ve taken cultural sensitivity training and have learned a lot about how vital body language is when communicating with others. Certain cultures place more emphasis on body language than others, so I’ve been mindful of what I’m conveying without words. This training has been very helpful.”
How NOT to Answer
There are a few potential mistakes you can make when answering questions around diversity and inclusion. Here are the one’s to watch out for:
Don’t Confuse Diversity with Variety
While the definition of diversity is variety, you shouldn’t use that as your answer to this question.
Doing so can tell the interviewer that you aren’t able to connect the definition of diversity with the real-life implications. He or she might feel that you don’t think diversity is important or that you’ve never given it any thought.
If you aren’t sure where to begin, it’s okay to ask the interviewer for a moment to think about your response and reflect on how the question relates to the workplace and to the specific role you’re applying for.
Don’t Say Diversity Isn’t Important to You
Don’t tell the interviewer that you don’t think diversity is an important topic.
Diversity in teams and in the workplace carries many benefits, so this type of answer shows that you lack the awareness to acknowledge them. You might also come across as unobservant or unwilling to engage with others, which is a poor image to project as a potential employee.
Since diversity is an important topic in recent current events, try to convey interest in the idea. Also, stress your willingness to work with people who are different from you.
- Be ready for variations of the question
- Define “diversity” in your own words
- Demonstrate your knowledge of the importance of diversity
- Include a real or hypothetical example
- Don’t offer the literal definition of the word
- Don’t minimize the importance of diversity in the workplace