Back in the day, when very few people knew anything about DEI, those who wanted diversity training inside their organizations often hired outside consultants. In many instances, the HR managers didn’t have the specific skills or backgrounds to address specific diversity challenges that were unique to that particular organization. So, they hired consultants who did have the necessary skills and background.
Today, DEI training is much more common and many HR directors indeed have extensive backgrounds and training in diversity and inclusion. Where 20 years ago they might have hired a consultant, today they likely may have the training and credentials to do the work themselves.
And, yet, even in such a scenario, hiring an outside consultant to do DEI work may still be a smart decision. There are several reasons why.
First, HR managers and DEI officers may not have the qualitative research skills to provide a thorough assessment of the organization and what it needs to meet its DEI goals. Those very DEI goals themselves may not even be clear. A consultant, or team of them, will have the specific qualitative and quantitative assessment skills to come in, ask the relevant questions of the employees & clients, review the company documents and other material assets, assess the policies and procedures, and present a data-based assessment of the state of DEI in the company. Outside consultants can often detect and assess DEI-related issues more quickly and clearly than those inside the organization, if for no other reason than this type of assessment is what consultants do all day every day, for all kinds of companies.
Second, the results of DEI assessments may be shocking and/or controversial to some employees, and consultants are often in a better position to handle employee reactions to the assessments. Rarely do assessments show that organizations are as far along in their DEI goals as employees or leadership might think they are, or would like to be. When confronted with the “facts on the ground” of their own company, some employees – including managers and executives – may feel threatened or defensive. In these instances, the consultants can take the heat of any strong reactions employees might have to an assessment or proposed initiative, instead of the HR director or DEI officer having to bear the brunt of it. Consultants are accustomed to these types of reactions and can work creatively through the process with employees and teams.
Third, while it’s true that those inside a company see, know and understand things that outsiders cannot know, the opposite is also certainly true. Outsiders can “see” some things more clearly and objectively than those inside it precisely because they are coming at it from the outside. As outsiders, they don’t have the history, memory and attachments that can plague insiders and interfere with their ability to really see what’s going on in a company. A good DEI consultant can ask questions that insiders may be afraid to ask, or may not even think to ask, because “that’s just not how we think here.” Exactly; and, yet, the questions need to be asked. Moreover, outside consultants aren’t entangled in the company’s history, so they cannot be as easily accused of favoritism, meting out payback, or other such actions rooted in the psycho-social dynamics of an organization. Here, an HR director or DEI officer is sometimes setting themselves up for failure by not hiring outside consultants.
Finally, hiring DEI consultants may expand a company’s options for change and innovation beyond the limits of the full time staff. Good DEI consultants work with all kinds of companies facing myriad sorts of challenges in today’s complex markets and industries. As a result, they’ve got ideas and solutions to bring to the table that may elude company employees who, naturally and necessarily, may focus their energies more narrowly on one sector, one company, or even one division within a company. Consultants, in this case, can open the doors to new ideas, options and possibilities that may never have occurred to full time employees, but yet be just the thing a company needs to grow into and beyond its goals in DEI.
The bottom line is this: DEI consultants may still provide very valuable services to a company even if the company’s current HR staff are proficient in diversity, equity and inclusion issues. Don’t assume that hiring consultants would be redundant or a waste of money simply because your company already has a DEI officer. On the contrary, consultants may be best positioned to deliver the exact services your company, and your DEI officers, need to be successful in advancing your specific DEI initiatives, and in treating all your people better.
About The Author:
Jill Carroll (she/her/hers) is a scholar, writer, speaker and consultant who earned her Ph.D. in philosophy of religion from Rice University in 1994. She has published numerous books and articles in her field of specialty as well as in world religions, and religion and public life. She worked for many years as a lecturer and adjunct associate professor at Rice University and at several campuses of the University of Houston. She has taught continuing education classes in philosophy, world religions, and humanities at The Women’s Institute of Houston for over 25 years.
If you’re interested in hiring a DEI consultant and advancing your company’s DEI initiatives, you can reach out to Diversity Crew at LetsGo@DiversityCrew.com