The Ongoing Value of DEI Consulting
Although diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) consulting has experienced name changes and alternating periods of visibility, the fundamental principles of this work have always been a core part of organization progress. DEI practitioners and consultants provide expert guidance on strategy, facilitate learning and development of core skills, troubleshoot barriers to success, and help respond to internal and external resistance to change.
The Ongoing Need for DEI Consulting
Over the last two decades, a great deal of research has emerged indicating that DEI is good for business. In fact, considering current and future demographic and societal trends, DEI is ever more crucial for organizations to thrive. This work is deeply complex and can be challenging to implement considering the powerful pushback that often comes with efforts to disrupt the status quo. Thus, there continues to be a need for people with credible expertise in this field to equip leaders and organizations with well-tested strategies to ensure sustainable progress toward diversity, equity and inclusion.
Services Offered by DEI Consultants
DEI is not a “one size fits all” process. It is not a series of events or activities. DEI must be considered a strategic framework through which organizational leaders view all major decisions and a lived value that is modeled by all. Effective DEI consultants provide a holistic approach that help organizations embed this strategic framework and educate leaders, managers and employees on how to engage in behaviors that demonstrate dignity and respect for all.
Primarily, DEI consultants have expertise in three key areas to support organizational change for DEI – data gathering and assessment, learning and development, and strategic planning and implementation.
DEI Data Gathering and Assessment
Organizational change initiatives must begin with an honest and thorough assessment of the current landscape. DEI consultants have deep experience in gathering and analyzing data to identify trends in behaviors, uncover barriers to progress, and share needs and expectations of diverse groups. External consultants also lend a sense of objectivity and transparency to the data gathering and assessment process, which is important for ensuring that the analysis is reliable and can help build stakeholder buy-in and commitment to DEI efforts.
DEI Assessment Components
Collecting Data on DEI. DEI consultants can apply a variety of data gathering methods, including individual interviews, focus groups, policy and documents reviews, and surveys. A combined data gathering approach is beneficial in that it ensures that all constituents have ample opportunities to participate and share their input. It also allows the consultant to identify any divergent responses or experiences based on demographic differences of constituents.
Analyzing Organizational DEI. DEI consultants have experience in identifying common trends and patterns across data sets. They can also benchmark results from an organizations’ assessment with broader trends within and across industries and sectors. Based on their assessment, DEI consultants will offer recommendations to address gaps and develop strategies for improving DEI in key areas of need.
DEI Goal Setting and Metrics
Setting Measurable Goals. Based on assessment results, the DEI consultant can work with organizational leadership to determine high impact goals that will align with the organization’s overall mission, vision, values, and goals. The consultant can also advise on what metrics to use to gauge progress toward the DEI goals.
Creating a DEI Roadmap. DEI consultants can work with organizations to build a strategic roadmap laying out the short and long term path for organizational change. They can help prioritize and sequence actions that will support the achievement of the organization’s DEI goals.
DEI Learning and Development
People need knowledge, awareness and skills to contribute to a culture that fosters DEI. Ongoing, timely, and practical learning and development are crucial for organizational progress, and DEI consultants can provide custom training experiences to meet the needs of specific stakeholders across the organization.
DEI for Leaders
Training for Leadership Teams. Leaders must demonstrate a deep commitment to DEI and model practices that uphold an inclusive culture for all. Training for leaders should provide managers and executives with an understanding of their role and responsibilities in leading DEI and skills for carrying out the organization’s DEI strategy.
Executive Coaching. Senior leaders face particular scrutiny when it comes to DEI efforts. Coaching can be a powerful tool for skill development, troubleshooting, and crisis management when DEI-related conflicts or challenges arise that require a deliberate and nuanced response from executives.
DEI Training for Supervisors
Building Inclusive Teams. Supervisors play one of the most important roles in the organizational culture, as they have the most frequent interaction with the workforce and also serve as information gatekeepers between leadership and employees. DEI consultants can provide targeted training for supervisors for inclusive communication, cultural competence, conflict management, and employee engagement.
Mitigating Bias in Decision Making. DEI consultants can provide training to help supervisors uncover unconscious biases in decisions that impact diverse team members, from recruitment and hiring to professional development, promotions, and performance management.
DEI Training for Staff
A Workplace that Works for Everyone. DEI consultants can provide training for staff that offers shared understanding of core concepts across the workforce, language and practices for communicating respectfully and inclusively, and tactics for calling others “in” if they unintentionally cause harm.
Hands-on Learning for Inclusive Behaviors. DEI consultants can provide issue-specific learning for employees to explore various identity dimensions, such as race and ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, disability, and more. They can also provide focused behavior-based learning to continue to hone employees’ skills for fostering an inclusive workplace.
Strategic Implementation of DEI Initiatives
DEI consultants also play an important role in helping organizations and leaders develop and evolve their DEI efforts to ensure sustainability. This includes strategic consultation, facilitation, coaching, and support for key influencers across the organization.
Customized DEI Strategic Planning
Policy Development and Implementation. DEI consultants can guide organizations in the development and updates of organizational policies, including human resources, employee relations, equal employment and anti-discrimination and harassment, vendor and supplier diversity, and philanthropy and sustainability efforts.
Recruitment and Retention Resources. Consultants can provide specific expertise around embedding DEI into every inflection point of the employment process, from job descriptions to interviewing, selection, promotions and career development.
Strategic Communications. Consultants can advise communications and marketing teams on website content, marketing materials, editorial calendars, events, and internal and external communications to various constituencies. They can also provide valuable information and advice in the face of social events or crises that may impact the organization’s workforce, customers, and communities.
DEI Councils and Committees. DEI consultants can help stand up internal councils to guide and help implement DEI efforts. They can provide training, strategy, and expert consultation to the councils to gather and sustain momentum.
Employee Resource Groups. DEI consultants can support ERGs, which provide affinity spaces for employees from traditionally marginalized identity groups to gather, share information and support, and elevate their needs to organizational leadership.
Considerations for Selecting a DEI Consultant
DEI consultants vary widely in terms of their level of experience, areas of expertise, and philosophies. It is important to select a consultant that will meet the unique needs of the organization and its DEI goals.
Aligned Philosophy and Approach to DEI Work. In my book, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion for Trainers, I outline six unique philosophies for DEI: social justice, business results, compliance, advocacy and allyship, valuing differences, oneness and unity. It’s important to know what philosophy resonates most with the organization and its mission, and then find a consultant who will approach their work through a similar orientation.
Understanding of Organization’s DEI Goals. The DEI consultant should be able to accurately articulate the organization’s DEI needs and goals, and provide clear actions to make progress toward those goals. The most effective consultants are those who have a tried and true approach but also are willing and able to customize their approach to the specific needs of their client.
Experience with Similar Organizations or Industries. Find a DEI consultant that has worked with organizations of similar size, scope, mission, or industry. The consultant will likely be more comfortable with the language of the industry and the common strengths and challenges the organization faces in terms of DEI. The consultant can also provide benchmarking data and promising practices.
Capacty to Support the Scope of Work. Make sure the consultant has the expertise and the bandwidth to accomplish the work the organization needs. Some DEI consultants may be better suited for smaller or more narrowly focused projects, while others have teams with broad expertise to handle a larger scale initiative.
DEI consulting is increasingly important to organizational growth and sustainability. Experienced DEI consultants can provide invaluable guidance to help organizations recruit and retain top talent, institute fair and equitable policies and practices, support leadership in strategic planning and identify metrics for progress, and provide learning and development for the workforce. Yet not all DEI consultants are the same in terms of their institutional knowledge, subject matter expertise, or philosophy and approach to DEI work. It is important to know what kind of consulting is in the best interests of the organization and select a DEI consultant who can meet those needs.