Breaking the Cycle and Identifying New Pathways to Change There is a call to action…
7 Things I Wish I’d Known as a DEI Consultant
A Special Skillset for Delicate Work
DEI consultancy is a career choice often inspired by passion and an internal drive to facilitate change for the better in the interest of all. Once employed a new DEI consultant may find themselves overwhelmed and underprepared to support the institutions they serve. Mistakes abound in the spaces where the wisdom of seasoned DEI professionals is lacking. The success of the newly anointed is far more than just a single training session away. Below are seven things every new DEI consultant wishes they had known.
1. Passion isn’t enough
Compelling a business to change and operate differently takes more than dedication and drive. People and institutions don’t change overnight, as such the approach to facilitating that change must include more than a day in the presence of a passionate resolve. Best practice entails a comprehensive approach supported by an evidence-based theory of change and a clear picture of what, how, and why DEI professionals can be of assistance. This should include objective methods of assessment and measurable results. A top consultant will do well staying up to date on best practice via continuing education opportunities online or in person.
2. Start with open minds
The real work of change begins with ready and willing participants. DEI initiatives are not for the closed minded bigot. One can cover the most ground with people who choose to participate on their own volition. A prejudiced person forced into attending mandatory training can become a distraction from the person who is truly open to doing the work. An open invitation generally results in an atmosphere conducive to learning and personal growth. Try to make it a safe space.
3. Do the work in the correct order
Organizations frequently address DEI internally including diversity committees, who make plans for DEI, followed by organization and participation in training. The training though is ideally just one step in the sequence. Measurement and a strategy must come first to offer a framework for building a shared goal. Following up with training affords everyone at the table an opportunity to get on the same page, speak the same language and collaborate with a professional on what is acceptable and achievable in today’s world. Measurement should come first, strategy second, training next as-needed, not last on the DEI continuum.
4. More training is not a goal
Training is definitely part of the journey, but it is hardly the end goal. When training has not produced the desired result, it is unlikely that more training is the solution. Ideally, a successful training initiative will result in real change by way of action. Training should not be one size fits all. A good DEI consultant will use assessment results to personalize training based on an organization’s needs. And once complete, productive training will include clear directions in promotion of action oriented applications, and accountability policy that reinforces lasting change.
5. Provide direction for continued learning
Much the way successful training should include a clear path to action and measurable change, a consultant’s ongoing relationship with an organization should afford them reinforcements to sustain the momentum of newly inspired participants. DEI related change is a lifelong commitment. It may challenge long standing belief systems within the individual and the organizations they serve. It may contribute to the dismantling of community relationships and redefine what is considered acceptable behavior and what constitutes realistic expectations. It is a massive undertaking which once introduced should be accompanied by support and company specific guidance as they navigate the next steps with a new and enlightened world view.
6. Keep a broad focus. It’s not just black and white
DEI work is all about the appreciation and representation of diverse groups. However, frequently people equate the word diversity with ethnicity, and more specifically the systemic racism suffered by Black people. In reality diversity concerns “gender, abilities, religion, culture, age, sexuality and more (Soken-Huberty).” A strong DEI consultant makes clear the impact that racism has on all communities of color as well as the myriad of “-ism” hurdles to be overcome by members of various other diverse groups.
7. Leave it to the professionals
DEI consultancy work is best led by skilled and knowledgeable professionals. Being a “woke liberal” isn’t enough. And being Black, or an ethnic minority does not automatically make one qualified for social justice leadership. Furthermore it is not the job of ethnic minorities to teach White people about racism. All too often an organization will approach a Black person on staff to head up diversity efforts, and take the lead on facilitating change. While minorities may have life experiences that support an ease in understanding the existence of racism, many lack the theoretical understanding of systemic racism, race as a historical construct and the history of oppression in this country.
DEI training that calls upon persons from diverse groups to share their trauma as a means to teach and motivate White people is a disservice to the profession. The only person in the room that should be burdened with sharing their struggles as an illustration of injustice and need for change is the person hired to do so on their own accord. DEI consultants are professionals who have done the work of understanding the systems they are being tasked with retooling. They possess a strong grasp of adult learning styles as well as the structure and sequence best suited in guiding willing participants along a continuum of not knowing to know-how. They wield an unflinching ability to ignite a fire of change within an organization and to provide what is needed to keep it burning bright. A DEI professional must know their worth and lead the charge despite what any one super passionate participant brings to the table, no matter how tempting the testimony of others might be in driving a point home.
Bonus: Consultancies should be diverse too
The very best training will take into consideration the audience, ensuring that recipients of the message feel connected to the messengers. Diverse DEI consultancy teams increase the chances of the audience connecting with the objectives which might be the difference between actionable change and defensive rejection. At Spectra Diversity our community of authorized facilitators represent an array of diverse groups allowing for a tailor made fit in service of a company’s DEI needs. Building and or partnering with a diverse team maximizes the likelihood that DEI goals can be met. Contact Spectra Diversity for more information.
Source: Korn Ferry, “5 classic (and overlooked) D&I mistakes. What 5 global D&I diagnostics have taught us,” Andres Tapia and Fayruz Kirtzman, 2019
Source: Human Rights Careers, “What do DEI consultants Do?” Emmaline Soken-Huberty
Source: Medium, “Where diversity training goes wrong,” Shayla R Griffin, PhD MSW, Feb. 6, 2021