Over the last year I’ve done about two dozen speaking engagements and as much as I enjoy taking stage, contributing to thought leadership, and advancing the conversation on DEI, I have to admit how surprised I am at how little vetting is done to verify I know what the hell I’m talking about. This seems to happen in the DEI space as well. If you are planning on paying someone to help launch your DEI strategy or conduct training for your staff, you should want to know that what you’re getting is worth your time and money. I’ve been trained, educated, and mentored in the DEI space and consider myself a professional. Here are a few tips on the process you should take if you’re considering hiring a DEI consultant, whether it’s me or someone else:
Skin color is not credibility. Do your homework. Ask questions and treat this consultant like you would any other consultant. Ask for credentials and references. Admit to what you don’t know, but also make it clear that you expect this person to know what you don’t know.
Understand that bias works both ways: the consultants you’re hiring will train on unconscious bias, but they also have their own. You need to make sure that their bias is not going to influence the training or recommendations they make about your business. Ask them what their biases are. And don’t accept a BS answer. You wouldn’t if you were hiring a new controller or CFO, nor should you when you’re hiring a DEI consultant.
All consultants are not created equal. Period. To my earlier point: skin color is not credibility. I can definitely provide different experiences, therefore providing diversity of perspective, but that’s not the same as having experience in business strategy. And let’s be honest: most DEI consultants are not business people, they are on a mission to expand social justice, which can be muddy water. So before you hire someone make sure they are aligned with what you’re trying to accomplish with your business overall.
The only B at your organization should stand for business, not belonging. Attempting to create belonging in a company is an uphill battle and one you are not likely to win. So leave belonging to families, homes, communities, and organizations that are designed to create real belonging. Businesses are designed to solve problems and make money. As soon as you have to make that differentiation, belonging goes out the window. My advice is to focus on inclusion instead. Inclusion directly pertains to business and is achievable. Belonging is not.
True authenticity at work is a myth. If the consultant you’re considering uses phrases like “employees should be able to be their authentic selves at work,” get clarification and proceed with caution. You’re probably hearing this word over and over again: it’s the same way that we hear “organic” and we all know that it doesn’t necessarily mean organic. It’s the same with authenticity. The hard truth is most people cannot accept a 100% true version of a person in a work environment (and frankly there are some things that are just not appropriate in a work setting) so what we really mean by “authenticity” is a version of yourself that isn’t entirely corporate, but mostly corporate. No company really wants me to come in and speak the way that I do when I’m with my cousins and girlfriends at Sunday brunch. And the truth is that version of myself is just as “authentic” as the version that shows up to work. We all have many different sides to ourselves, and a DEI Consultant that doesn’t acknowledge this should be a big red flag.
Every DEI mission will not apply to your business. So ask for recommendations before you hire.
Where are they getting their information? Are they relying on social media or their favorite thought leader? Are they making recommendations off of their own goals to “right social justice wrongs”, or are they getting data from reliable, professional sources? Data and opinions are not the same. And most consultants (if you pay attention to what they say on LinkedIn), are glorified, self proclaimed DEI experts with no formal training, no hard data, and no understanding of how to run a business. So be very careful!
Realize that buy-in doesn’t just happen: Like everything else it needs to be sold. DEI needs to be sold too, and mainly to your employees. Make sure you choose a consultant that will be able to relate to your employees, speak their language, and meet them where they are otherwise you’re doomed from the start.
Align your Company with organizations that are serious about diversity, and can also provide reports and data on their success. Again, these are not all created equal. A lot of organizations popped up after the killing of George Floyd all claiming to be fighting for diversity. Unfortunately many of these were (and still are) just capitalizing on a movement, rather than interested in creating real, meaningful change.