Red Flags and Green Lights of Hiring a DEI Consultant

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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

When hiring a DEI consultancy or vendor, it might seem overwhelming when trying to decide how to select your partner. The last few years have seen a huge increase in the number of individuals and companies who have entered into this space. While there are many highly qualified consultants and shops out there, even the most popular and competent organization might not necessarily be the best fit for your unique needs. Here at SGO we know that while our offerings are great, we’re not always the best solution for every interested client that comes our way. We’ve pulled from our years of experience in going through selection processes on both sides of the table, to collect and share red flags (things that should lead you to pause or consider further) and green flags (signs that this could be a good partnership) when reviewing and selecting a DEI consultant. 

Red Flags

  1. Canned, out-of-the-box solutions with no customization
  2. Every industry, every company, and every team is different. The right facilitator should be able to make sure that the content and topics are relevant for your company and industry, and present or speak to scenarios that your group is likely to encounter.
  3. ‘Shame and blame’ approach
  4. When you take the step of bringing in a trusted DEI facilitator to work with your team, it’s with the intention of creating a space of learning and change. As Brené Brown says, “We cannot change and grow when we are in shame, and we can’t use shame to change ourselves or others.” Nothing shuts down the learning opportunity faster than shaming and blaming; while this used to be an accepted method for DEI work, we do not recommend this approach these days.
  5. Mandatory trainings
  6. You might think that mandatory training would be a good thing, but for the most part we recommend not requiring people to attend a DEI training. If someone is truly not interested in attending and learning, it does no one– the facilitator or consultant, the other participants, or the individual themselves– any good to have that person forced to sit through a session. The SGO take on this is the following: it’s not our job to change your mind. If you are not in a place where you are at least open to hearing alternative ways of considering a topic, then you’re not ready for the training.
  7. No diversity among the consultancy’s facilitation and/or coaching staff
  8. Depending on the size of the vendor or consultancy that you are interested in working with, this one might be a bit tricky to use as a measurement. However, if the consultancy is large enough to have more than one or two facilitators, look to see if the group is diverse– meaning, there are people who can speak to different identities, positionalities, and lived experiences. Certain DEI topics will land very differently for participants depending on the identities of the facilitator, so this may be a top-of-mind concern for you. 
  9. Compliance approach (a one-and-done approach), or promising that all of your problems will be solved with a single training
  10. We always open our training sessions with this thought: the work is not the workshop. Any issues you may have will not be solved simply by signing up for a single training. It takes sustained, long-term efforts, and committed leadership to make lasting change, and it’s worth it
  11. Consultant only offers one solution (e.g. just unconscious bias training) or takes a singular focus on a topic without an intersectional lens
  12. Similar to the above red flag, DEI work is vast and deep. Focus on one singular topic will likely not help you achieve your goals, unless it is intended to serve as a kickstart for additional work. Additionally, looking at a topic without naming intersectionality or using an intersectional lens, means that you are limiting the scope and impact of your work. 
  13. Content focuses solely on awareness and has little-to-no interaction or engagement built in
  14. We strongly believe that awareness and education are vital. However, if there is no action planning (for what could happen after the workshop or program) or if there is no engagement, participants will be disinterested and have no plan for sustaining the work. 
  15. Facilitators are delivering programming every day of the week
  16. Facilitating can use a lot of emotional labor. Facilitators need time to rest and regroup to give their best, and they also need time to create customized content for upcoming programming. 
  17. Consultant uses outdated terminology (for example, “D&I” as opposed to “DEI”, “DEIB” or “JEDI”)
  18. Language changes quickly, but being engaged in this work means constantly growing, learning, and adapting content to reflect new thoughts and ways of understanding. 
  19. Consultant will compromise on their values, process, content, and/or approach in order to win your business
  20. This red flag is not limited to DEI work, but in general we believe that organizations should stand up for their values and work to live those values as well. If the consultancy is willing to compromise on certain things to get you on board as a client, what else might they compromise on in the future?
  21. No post-engagement follow up or support built in for after the session or program concludes
  22. If your consultant does not offer any additional support beyond the training or program, this might be a mark of a ‘checkbox approach’. 
  23. Consultant is a self-confessed ‘expert’
  24. While there are many different certifications and ways of measuring ‘DEI expertise’ out there, DEI work is lifelong work. Someone who calls themselves an ‘expert’ may not have a deep enough understanding of the fact that this work is never truly done, and one can never truly be a full-fledged expert in this field.
  25. Consultant agrees with everything you posit, and offers no push-back or alternative options
  26. This is not easy work, and may involve some necessary pushback from the consultant in order to push you to where you need to go. If the consultant is always compromising or agreeing with you in order to bring you on as a client, will they be willing or able to move you further along your organizational learning journey? We’re not advocating for having an adversarial relationship with your consultant, but there should be some healthy back and forth on topics that you both are not necessarily in agreement on. 
  27. No proven track record
  28. The DEI practitioner field has exploded in the past few years, with many individuals and organizations entering into this space. While it’s very likely that you might be vetting a consultant or group that doesn’t have a long client list, you do want to make sure that if the vendor is newer to this work, that you’re vetting them on other factors in order to make sure that they are the right fit for you. While this is not true across the board, there are certain organizations that saw the increase in diversity demand during the summer of 2020 as a moment for them to capitalize on. 

Green Flags

  1. Consultant has experience working within your company’s industry, or is willing to tweak and tailor their materials, language, and/or approach to make sure that their content will be relevant for you and your organization
  2. Facilitators are involved in the discovery and planning process 
  3. Consultant recommends that the trainings should be voluntary and opt-in 
  4. Consultancy employs a diverse group of individuals 
  5. Consultant asks about your organization’s history of DEI work, as well as what the level of understanding and awareness is among participants and staff
  6. Consultant employs use of anonymous surveys as part of their discovery and prep process
  7. Content highlights not only awareness, but also action 
  8. Respectful pushback 
  9. Content is interactive, engaging, accessible, and supports various learning styles
  10. Content is refreshed on an ongoing basis
  11. Land acknowledgements are visible and shared on the webpage and/or in consultant’s materials
  12. Pronouns are used and shared 
  13. Consultancy practices the same approaches that they teach (transparent, anti-racist, equitable, intersectional, etc.)
  14. Facilitation skills are married with research and data (content is grounded)

This is a short compilation of what we’ve found to be either a cause for concern, or a reason to trust. At SGO, we endeavor to be open, transparent, and approach our work from a place of learning and curiosity.

Have you seen any other red or green flags in your experience when looking for a trusted partner? Let us know!