Since the murder of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin in 2020 and the subsequent global protests against police brutality, there’s been a dramatic increase in the number of individuals and companies working as DEI consultants. Choosing a highly qualified person or company that also fits your unique needs may seem overwhelming. 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, you’re vetting them on other factors to make sure that they’re the right fit for you.
We’ve collected the most helpful criteria from our years of experience selecting consultants and also serving in this role to share red flags (signs that should cause you to consider the relationship further) and green lights (signs that this could be a good partnership) when reviewing and selecting a DEI consultant.
🚩 Canned, Out-of-the-Box Solutions
The right DEI consultant will ensure that the content and topics are relevant to your industry, company, and team, including addressing scenarios and issues encountered within your specific context.
🚩 Blame and Shame Approach
Rather than engaging the team as a whole with learning opportunities for introspection, the blame and shame cycle is started, which often includes white guilt, picking apart current practices, and dismissing the intention of the meeting. Nothing shuts down the learning opportunity faster than shaming and blaming; while this used to be an accepted method for DEI work, we don’t recommend this approach.
🚩 Mandatory Training
Mandatory training may seem good, but they’re primarily unhelpful. If someone’s not interested in learning, no one – from the consultant and other participants to the individual – is served. Our take is the following: it’s not our job to change your mind. If you’re not in a place where you’re at least open to hearing alternative ways of considering a topic, then you’re not ready for the training.
🚩 Lack of Representation Among Staff
Depending on the size of the vendor or consultancy that you’re 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, the consultant, vendor, and team of facilitators should be diverse to speak to different identities and lived experiences. Certain DEI topics will land very differently for participants depending on the identities of the facilitator.
🚩 A One and Done Approach
Watch out for promises or statements that all of your DEI problems will be solved with a training or two. We believe that the work is not the workshop. DEI takes sustained, long-term efforts and committed leadership to make lasting change. DEI is also worth it- there’s an easy business case to be made for the benefits of inclusion.
🚩 No Action Plan in Training
Awareness and education, such as through workshops and meetings, can be vital starting points. However, if there’s no action planning for what will happen after the workshop or program or if there’s no engagement, participants will be disinterested and have no plan for sustaining the work.
🚩 Outdated Terminology
Language changes quickly (for example, “D&I” has evolved to “DEI,” “DEIB,” or “JEDI”), but being engaged in this work means constantly growing, learning, and adapting content to reflect new thoughts and ways of understanding.
🚩 Compromises on Integrity
If a consultant or vendor compromises on their values, process, content, or approach to win your business, what else might they compromise on in the future? We believe that organizations should stand up for their values and work to live those values as well.
🚩 Post-Engagement Abandonment
Does the consultant build a plan to follow up or support your organization after the session or program concludes? If your consultant doesn’t offer any additional support beyond the training or program, this might be a mark of a ‘checkbox approach.’
🚩 No Alternatives or Challenges
Suppose the consultant is always compromising or agreeing with you to bring you on as a client. Will they be willing or able to move you further along your organizational learning journey? There should be some healthy back and forth on topics you don't necessarily agree on.
When consultants practice the same approach they teach (transparent, anti-racist, equitable, intersectional, etc.), they can be trusted to support your DEI goals because they understand the challenges and paths to get there.
🟢 Research-Based Knowledge
When content in trainings and discussions is grounded in sound research, you know the consultant cares deeply about doing the work of DEI rather than simply securing your business.
🟢 Thoughtful Approach
The consultant tailors everything from the language, materials, and facilitation services to your organization. For example, the use of acronyms like JEIB instead of DEI indicates that the consultant cares about your messaging and communicating effectively with your team.
🟢 Industry Awareness
The consultant has experience working within your industry or is willing to tweak and tailor materials, language, and facilitation services relevant to you and your organization.
🟢 Collaboration and Consistency
Facilitators should be involved in the discovery and planning process, including asking about your organization’s history of DEI work and the level of understanding and awareness of staff at all levels. An effective facilitator will also conduct anonymous surveys as part of their discovery and prep process.
Creating a space of learning and change is essential because training should be voluntary with an opt-in approach. The takeaway also highlights action, not just awareness.
Respectful pushback is a necessary part of the process. It also becomes apparent when a facilitator is deeply knowledgeable in DEI work instead of sharing trendy jargon or examples. Respect extends to various learning styles, including interactive, engaging, and accessible, and supports various learning styles.
🟢 Land acknowledgments
Visible land acknowledgments shared on the webpage and/or in consultant’s materials and conducted before meetings reflect the commitment to DEI work and a marker of respect to the continuing goal of empowering Indigenous people in particular.
🟢 Pronouns are used and shared
While not every person feels safe or comfortable sharing their pronouns in every setting, an invitation for pronoun sharing may help participants feel more welcome and valid. Since there are many ways to parse gender fluidity, it’s equally important to understand the different terminology that people may use to describe themselves.
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 flags or green lights in your experience when looking to partner with a trusted DEI consultant? Let us know!