6 Things to Know about Working with a Diversity Consultant

There seems to be little doubt that diversity and inclusion are hot topics in the corporate world today. Study after study has shown that companies with diverse workforces perform better, are more innovative, have higher rates of employee engagement, and yield greater financial returns than their less diverse counterparts. In short, creating a company culture of diversity offers clear, tangible benefits that any business would want to take advantage of.

However, while a majority of employers agree that diversity and inclusion are critical issues, many struggle with the question of what exactly they should do about it. Concrete steps such as identifying areas for improvement and implementing diversity-based changes can be a challenge for organizations who are perhaps confronting these issues seriously for the first time.

For this reason, many companies and business leaders are turning to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) consultants. These specialists can offer specific knowledge and experience that organizations may not have readily available in-house, and can help businesses create DEI strategies and initiatives that will lead to measureable, long-term change.

To make the most of your first experience working with a DEI consultant, it can be helpful to know more about what to expect from both the consultant and the process. Read on for a look at some of the most important things you need to know about working with a DEI consultant.

They are not there to provide a quick, one-size-fits-all solution.

If you’re turning to a DEI consultant in the hopes of getting a quick fix for the diversity challenges your organization may be facing, you’ll need to adjust your expectations. Instead, think of working with a DEI consultant as one element in a comprehensive approach to cultural change in your company: many consultants compare the process to a marathon rather than a sprint. Remember that sustainable, systemic change takes time and effort, and doesn’t simply happen after a one-time diversity training session.

They will need to gather a lot of background.

In keeping with the marathon theme, expect that the process of working with a DEI consultant will begin with a thorough assessment of your company’s existing culture, pain points, and desired goals. Just as an ethical, highly competent physician takes a detailed patient history, orders necessary tests, and makes an informed diagnosis before writing a prescription, so will a reputable DEI consultant review your company’s data, ask plenty of thought-provoking questions, and talk to key stakeholders before recommending what steps to take. In other words, don’t expect your consultant to go straight to a solution: the first and most important step is to accurately identify the problem.

They will want to work with senior executives.

An effective DEI strategy will require buy-in from your entire company, but it’s particularly important for senior executives to be on board with the process and accessible to the DEI consultant. For a DEI consultant, it’s frustrating to work with people at a company who may be open and receptive to ideas, but who don’t actually have the power to make key decisions or to implement real changes. You therefore shouldn’t be surprised if a consultant you’re considering stipulates that access to the C-suite is a necessary part of their work.

There may be times when you find the process uncomfortable.

Working with a DEI consultant is all about helping your organization build a more robust culture of diversity and inclusiveness, and for most companies, this involves taking a long, hard, and sometimes uncomfortable look at how existing practices and assumptions have contributed to present problems. It’s not uncommon for business leaders to feel defensive when a DEI consultant questions actions, policies, or decisions that are not serving the company’s DEI goals. However, it’s important to remember that the main objective is not to feel comfortable, it’s to acknowledge issues on the way to solving them.

They will not necessarily have specific qualifications.

At the moment, there are no official certifications or degrees in the field of DEI consulting. Some DEI consultants come from a human resources background, but many others bring expertise and experiences from very different sectors to the table. This means that it’s important to do your due diligence when looking for a DEI consultant that fits your company. Reputable and knowledgeable DEI consultants should be able to provide you with testimonials about their previous work, as well as references you can speak to directly.

They are very busy right now.

In response to the growth of movements such as Black Lives Matter and greatly increased media and public attention on diversity issues in the workplace, more organizations than ever are seeking out DEI consultants to guide and advise them. In other words, today’s DEI consultants are not exactly sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. You should be prepared for the fact that it may take some time to find a consultant who is both a good fit for your company and has the availability to work with you.