Question: I constantly read that companies are seeking
diversity in their senior ranks, but I’ve been told I shouldn’t
state my race on a resume. So how can you let an organization
know that you can contribute to its diversity needs? Is there a
way to do this without appearing to ask for special treatment?
— John M. Williams, Atlanta


John-¬†You’re right about this being an issue that requires sensitivity. Federal equal employment opportunity laws prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender and other preferences.

Assume you immediately tell recruiters on the phone that you’re a member of a minority or put it at the top of your resume. Some employers might take this as a sign that you’d make it an issue if you weren’t hired.

But since many employers do want to see women or people of color on the final slate of candidates for senior roles, it makes sense for minority executives to identify themselves as such when contacting recruiters about openings. If your skills and experience match the job’s requirements, they may want to submit you for consideration.

So how do you do this? By making your race, gender or other preference your primary qualification, recruiters may feel you don’t have much else to offer. “We would think that you don’t have anything else to push,” says Patrick M. Prout, president and chief executive officer of The Prout Group Inc., a New York recruiting firm that specializes in diversity.

Virginia Clarke, Chicago-based leader of the global diversity practice for recruiter Spencer Stuart, says she fears that candidates who mention their race immediately might be litigious. “It would make me really nervous,” she says. “I’d wonder why they feel they need to lead with that.”

Despite the advice of some career counselors to never mention race on a resume, this document is actually the place to make it known, say recruiters. But you must do so subtly.

One of the best ways is to mention academic connections or professional activities that are minority related. For instance, did you attend one of the traditionally black U.S. colleges? Are or were you a member of any minority-oriented fraternities or sororities? Do you currently belong to a professional association for minorities, such as the National Society of Hispanic MBAs or the National Society of Black Engineers?

Be sure to mention any and all of these identifiers, since recruiters seeking diversity candidates look for them on a resume, says Ms. Clarke. “You don’t have to be heavy handed or supply a photo,” she says. “There are so many ways it can be done subtly, and recruiters and human resources professionals can pick it up.”

If you lack such professional affiliations, mention any civic or employment-related committees you belong to that are minority related. Perhaps you are part of a community group helping to generate minority businesses in your area or have been on a diversity-related committee at one of your employers. Both would be good things to list because they offer hints about your background.

Mr. Prout says candidates also can give clues about their race during follow-up telephone conversations. Those who ask about an organization’s commitment to diversity or who say they are interested in working for companies that are strongly committed to diversity are telegraphing that they are members of minorities, he says.

During phone conversations, Ms. Clarke says she often tells candidates that a particular client has a real interest in diversity. “Then the person will say, ‘I’m African-American,’ or ‘I’m not a member of a minority, but let me recommend someone who is,'” she says. This is OK because the issue has come up in the course of a conversation.

Naturally, a minority candidate can’t expect to be considered or hired on the basis of race alone. Nor would most minority executives ever want that. But nowadays, companies believe that diversifying their employee ranks is good for business and seek ways to legally identify job hunters with diverse backgrounds, says Ms. Clarke.

She says she understands that some job seekers may fear that they’ll be screened out instead of screened in if they include minority affiliations on their resumes. However, she notes, “If a company screens someone out because of [a race-related affiliation on a resume], it’s probably a company that the person wouldn’t want to work for.”