"More Than the FAQs, Please"
How the right questions can find you the right DEIB Consultant
By Willow J. Anderson and Tj Jones
Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging efforts in organizations are meant to ensure that programs and policies encourage equitable representation and participation of groups that are all too often under-represented and marginalized (because of their race, culture, ability, sexual and gender diversity, and/or socio-economic placement, for example). Research has shown that meaningful DEIB efforts can lead to financial and social returns in organizations, but when leaders want to turn their attention in that direction, they may not be sure what to look for in a consultant. Here are some key things to consider.
One of the first things you want to know about a diversity consultant is what draws them to this work. Exploring their motivation can tell you a number of things. First of all, asking about their connection to the work should tell you if the individual in question possesses enough self-awareness to be able to articulate that connection. For example, diversity consultants should be able to model self-reflection on their social location and whether they have been rewarded or punished for various parts of their identity (such as their race or gender expression). Second, it would be useful for you to know if the consultant you are considering has lived experiences that inform their understanding; these experiences have the potential to greatly enrich your company’s understanding of important issues in ways that pure “book learning” will not. Finally, by asking diversity consultants why they do what they do, you should learn more about the strength of their conviction. This strength will be something they can draw upon down the road, if the project they do for you becomes more difficult than anticipated.
Another important idea to explore when you are seeking a diversity consultant is which tools and resources they engage with in that work. What grounds their approach? That is, is their work informed by research and/or lived experience? (Both are preferable, in most cases.) It is also useful to know what methods they will use. That is, how do they plan to assess the current state of DEIB in your organization? And at the end of the project, how will they support their results and recommendations? Any diversity consultant worth their salt should be able to answer all the above questions.
Finally, feel free to ask the consultant you are considering for references. Ask those people: how does the consultant do what they do? Are they genuine about the scope of their knowledge and transparent about its limitations? Be wary of anyone who presumes to be able to speak on behalf of others; conversely, give special attention to those who responsibly engage with diverse employees, who practise and model humility, and who create authentic (not tokenized) collaborative relationships. Finally, you may want to explore whether the consultant in question has demonstrated a sense of community responsibility through corporate citizenship. The work they have done in the community will help you assess their credibility as well as their ability to practically apply their philosophy/knowledge in different environments.
Choosing the right DEIB consultant is important, whether the piece of work you need to have done is immense or relatively minor. Investing the time to ask good questions at the outset can give you confidence that the end results will be both tangible and impactful.
Willow J. Anderson
Mind the Gap Consulting™ assists organizations and individuals in navigating and optimizing diversity so that they might build their capacity to work more effectively within their organizations and externally with their clients and communities. Mind the Gap’s professional and customizable training, consulting, facilitation, and research help build diverse, effective, and collaborative workplaces where difference is a strength.
As a transmasculine genderqueer human, Tj has seen firsthand how perceptions of “employability” and balancing access with safety create extra barriers for queer and trans folks. With his newly launched consultancy, Full Picture Management, he aims to support decision makers in challenging these barriers through the development of organizational culture and practices that meaningfully include 2SLGBTIA+ members, workers, and customers. His eight years’ experience in 2SLGBTQIA+ advocacy includes time with St. John’s Pride, co-founding Trans Support NL, work for Canada’s LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce, and joining the City of St. John’s Inclusion Advisory Council as its current LGBTQ2S+ rep.
Tj is incredibly grateful for Willow’s support and mentorship, and looks forward to future opportunities for collaboration with Mind the Gap Consulting!