Hiring outside the organization can bring intentional focus to DEI efforts.
As the business world catches on to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) and more consultants are hired, people are realizing there is much more strategy and guidance needed for successful and sustainable outcomes to occur. The working relationship between an organization and consultant can’t be left to chance. To achieve desired outcomes, organizations must know exactly how to engage a DEI consultant, what the relationship looks like, and what strategic steps to expect. But why is it beneficial to specifically hire an external DEI consultant?
There are a multitude of reasons why, but many in-house DEI leaders share that hearing from an outside voice helps to move the work forward in a more intentional way and with greater confidence. DEI is both a specialized skill set and a broad discipline. People can forget that there is an extremely large volume of work to be done and that there are various types of specialists within the field. Given these factors, there are many ways to engage with your hired consultant to get the best outcome for your organization.
Understand the differences in expertise
This is vital for leaders making the hiring and vetting decisions. Many people lump DEI into a giant category of diversity consulting, but there are many different divisions. You must be clear about what specific needs or areas of focus you’re trying to address—whether you need someone involved in HR, career development, board leadership, and so forth. At least have a general understanding of what the internal problems are, what perceived needs are, and then secure accurate proposals and quotes from consultants.
Allow the DEI consultant to do an evaluation
Often, an organization will call a DEI consultant for a specific need but in reality, the needs of that organization can be very different. Leave room for the DEI consultant to do some of their own evaluation so they can help uncover deeper needs. Create a dialogue so the consultant can spend time with your primary contacts, ask questions, dig into your organization’s culture, and be able to ascertain how to best go about the assessment.
Do the preliminary internal work
As a client, you should already have done some preliminary internal work, especially within leadership. One of my earlier blogs shares various steps and ways this can be done. With this relationship, there needs to be some level of “buy in” to address the internal opportunities or solve the potential problems. Create an internal dialogue with stakeholders and leaders around the problems you’re trying to address with DEI. This intel can then be shared with the consultant so they can be as informed as possible.
Review your budget
What type of budget can you allocate to solve this problem or opportunity? Assessing budget can be difficult. The business often wants the consultant to tell them what the budget is. The conversation is valuable to have both ways, since there needs to be initial analysis and allocation of the internal budget, and then the consultant can share proposals for different projects.
Remember a DEI consultant is not necessarily a ‘diversity trainer’
Just because you consult with a certain DEI consultant around areas that need to be focused on, it does not mean that consultant is necessarily the diversity trainer to develop those specific curriculums. There are many types of consultants, advisors, specialists and trainers—and there is a difference between all of them. Each one is somewhat nuanced so make sure you are asking questions for exactly what you’re looking for before hiring.
Look for specific skill sets or certifications
When vetting consultants, check their academic background and what they’ve executed and accomplished in the DEI space. Review their competence and involvement on various topics including organizational leadership, change management, labor relationships, and talent management and development. Sometimes a certification is preferable, particularly from entities that train at a high level.
Gauge the value of a long-term retainer relationship
An ongoing consultant relationship often leads to the best institutional, interpersonal, and knowledge base outcomes for clients. Longer work creates the ability to build upon the initial foundation laid. Working on a recurring basis also tends to be more cost-effective—instead of varying and additional project fees for multiple scopes of work. With any change management process, long-term trust and buy-in are critical to effective change. It lets DEI consultants intimately know the organization’s culture.