5 things to consider when you’re hiring a Diversity & Inclusiveness Consultant

How to avoid doing more harm than good, avoid potential disasters, and minimize resistance from organization members!

Are you considering hiring a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusiveness (DEI) Consultant to help you manage the challenging conversations and discomfort that are affecting the productivity of your organization/campus/corporation? Before you do, consider these 5 questions that will help you figure out whom to choose.

After roughly 2 decades of consulting experience, these are the questions I find clients don’t know to ask, or don’t realize their potential DEI consultant should be asking:

Questions your potential DEI consultant should be asking:

1. Does your organization have a DEI Strategic Plan?

Hiring a potential DEI consultant should be considered part of a comprehensive approach to cultural change in your organization. If your potential consultant is not asking this question, it might mean they are more interested in earning a quick buck for a one-time diversity training. This is the difference between hiring a diversity trainer and a DEI consultant. You want more than this compliance-based approach; even though hiring a one-time diversity trainer allows you to check the box saying, “yes, we’ve done the diversity thing everyone seems to be saying we’re supposed to do,” it rarely leads to cultural shift. In fact, research shows that this kind of quick-fix training does more harm than good because participants tend to be resistant.

2. Is the workshop/training mandatory or voluntary?

Studies show that mandatory DEI workshops can cause backlash in your organization. You end up with participants who think they already know this stuff, don’t think they need it, and it’s a waste of time. And as it turns out, that’s exactly what they will get out of it! What’s worse, oftentimes, those who thought it was a waste of time tend to take it out on co-workers from traditionally marginalized identities, blaming them for the need to have the training at all! This can cause the unintended consequence of making the cultural climate of the organization even worse than it was before the training.

3. What is the level of understanding/practice of the organization around DEI issues?

In other words, what trainings/workshops/seminars have been made available before now, and how were they received? It is important for the consultant to meet participants where they are to be most effective in their DEI work. If not, they may be using a stale canned presentation they’ve been giving to all organizations, possibly for years. At best, this could lead to participants not being ready for what the consultant has to offer, and at worst, can lead to even more resistance to the consultant, and moreover, to the organization.

4. What kind of DEI education does your organization need?

Are you just beginning to delve into DEI topics in your organization and need more awareness-building than anything? Or perhaps your organization is ready for very specific skill-building strategies? Once again, the consultant should be asking about the context of the organization so they will be more successful in the work they do with organization members.

5. Is there a specific issue or concern in the organization that needs to be addressed because of an incident that occurred, or are you hoping to increase the overall cultural inclusiveness practiced in your organization?

It is critical for the consultant to understand the context and culture of the organization, or they might be ineffective because of very real issues organization members from traditionally marginalized identities might be dealing with on a daily basis. If some organization members feel like they are working in a “hostile” environment, the consultant needs to know what’s going on, or risk a potential disastrous situation.

If your DEI consultant asks these questions, it doesn’t guarantee they will be effective, but if they don’t, you are pretty much guaranteed to run into some very real problems. I hope these questions provide some information that will help you to find the best DEI consultant for your organization!

Dena Samuels, PhD

Author of: “The Culturally Inclusive Educator: Preparing for a Multicultural World”(Teachers College Press, 2014).

Dena Samuels Consulting


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