DEI – which stands for diversity, equity, and inclusion – describes policies and programs that help facilitate the representation and participation of diverse groups. Many people think of ethnicity when they hear the word “diversity,” but it also applies to gender, abilities, religion, culture, age, sexuality, and more. In a workplace setting, diversity comes with many benefits but only if equity and inclusion are part of the process. DEI consultants spearhead these efforts. What do they do exactly?
Who needs DEI?
Before talking about consultants, let’s talk a bit about organizations. Which ones need DEI policies and programs? Certain signs stand out:
#1. The organization’s current efforts aren’t improving the culture
Many organizations attempt DEI on their own before hiring a consultant. Sometimes it’s enough, but sometimes, it causes fracturing within the company. Employees may feel forced to do something they don’t want to do – like participating in a book club – and that creates resentment. Organizations may also have tried to build a more diverse workforce, but the applicant pool remains the same.
#2. The organization doesn’t understand updated language
Understanding the new vocabulary of diversity, equity, and inclusion is very important. If different parts within an organization don’t speak the same language or don’t understand the new terms accepted by society, it’s a good time to bring in a consultant.
#3. There’s been an incident
Many organizations don’t realize their efforts at DEI fall short until there’s a specific incident that rattles the company culture. It could happen within the organization itself (i.e. an employee uses a slur against a coworker) or there’s a major event in the area (i.e. a high-profile hate crime) that forces the organization to take a look in the mirror.
What does a DEI consultant do?
It’s become very common for organizations to seek out DEI consultants. These experts take an objective look at the organization, analyze the efforts they’re currently making, and suggest new strategies. They’re essential to an organization that wants a roadmap for success. Here are some examples of what a good DEI consultant does:
They do an intake
In the past, a DEI consultant might come in and give a few diversity trainings. Today, that’s not good enough. A good consultant will do an extensive intake to find out where the company is and how well (or how badly) their current efforts are going. They’ll ask lots of questions, talk to stakeholders, and review any relevant documents and data. If the organization is concerned about confidentiality and there’s no contract in place yet, it can ask the consultant to sign an NDA. That’s a better option than withholding information the consultant needs to give the most accurate assessment.
They help refine an organization’s goals
Organizations that hire DEI consultants know they want to improve, but how exactly? What areas need the most work? What does improvement look like? Figuring this out is a big part of a consultant’s role. They’ll ask questions like, “What is your biggest concern right now?” and “What does success look like?” The consultant will have strategies that address each of these concerns and present a plan of action that makes their work worth the effort. As an example, if an organization has done extensive training in the past, a good DEI consultant understands more training is most likely not the right strategy. The issue is that training isn’t translating to real change in the workplace. The DEI consultant should present other ideas that address this goal, such as adopting policies to ensure accountability among staff and leadership.
They help organizations evaluate and assess
How will an organization know if the DEI consultant was worth it? A good one will have methods that show their results. That means understanding and implementing quantitative and qualitative evaluation methods. These should be included in the contract. A good DEI consultant will also provide recommendations and specific next steps. If it’s a long-term contract, there should be evaluations and assessments along the way.
Becoming a DEI consultant
There isn’t a single educational pathway to becoming a DEI consultant. You will need at least an undergrad degree in a field like human rights, social justice, communication, gender studies, history, social science, psychology, or other interdisciplinary studies, though many organizations care less about the specific degree and more about your other experiences and qualifications. Some organizations require consultants to have a master’s degree in organizational development, instructional technology, or human resource management. Others accept professional certificates in DEI.
The best consultants regularly attend workshops, seminars, and classes to stay updated on the most current strategies and terminology. Knowing how to navigate difficult conversations while remaining professional is also essential. The best DEI consultants possess a high level of emotional intelligence and a commitment to being inclusive in their own lives. With these skills, a consultant helps an organization develop a strong, long-term DEI strategy that protects employees and sets the organization apart from the crowd.