Seeking to Hire an Equity Consultant? Here's What to Look For
When you’re working on an important project, you start with a vision, devise a plan, and get to work on the details. But somewhere along the way, you may find yourself focusing on one detail more than others, you may completely stall out on one portion of your plan, or you might lose sight of your vision altogether in the day-to-day struggle of putting it all together.
This is why you need a new set of eyes on your project. You need someone to come in with a fresh perspective–who doesn’t have any stake in the game–to help you refocus your efforts toward the end goal.
If you’re a DEI professional or a leader who is looking to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in your organization, here’s what you should know about yourself and a potential equity consultant before laying down that cash for outside help.
In Your Organization
Since I’m the founder and CEO of an equity consulting company, I’m sure you’ll be surprised by this line of thought–you and your company have to be ready for the equity consultant to come in, otherwise, don’t bother hiring one. Similarly to our own equity journeys, the journey with an equity consultant begins with inward reflection. Are you even ready to hire an outside consultant?
Even with the successes I’ve had in moving the needle for equity in companies and schools, I’ve helped organizations in the past where we end up spinning our wheels because they don’t have these three requirements in place:
Open Minds and Hearts
Think about what happens when you work with people who are new to conversations about race. Are you able to get anywhere with them when they’ve been forced into the conversation?
For an equity consultant to truly help, your organization’s leaders must be actively engaged in the project, champion it, and make themselves available to receive coaching—they cannot make a quick and passive check-the-box on it. Though efforts for change often begin with a bottom-up, grassroots approach from employees and managers at the lower levels of an organization, they will not gain real traction unless the folks with the real power get behind it with full force.
Not only do they have to be engaged, they have to be committed. Look at the state of our country at the moment–your leaders have to be ready for pushback from any and all stakeholders. They have to be ready for difficult conversations. An equity consultant will come in and hold leadership's feet to the fire. Will your CEO be able to handle the heat? If the answer is no, you need to work on steeling their resolve before hiring a consultant.
A Safe Space
Have you already built safe spaces in the company for staff to have difficult conversations? Even beginning with conversations about low-risk controversies like “is a hotdog a sandwich?” or “who will win the Super Bowl this year?” can get your employees used to open and possibly heated debate. They can practice sharing their opinions and feelings and learn from their mistakes with those low-risk topics before moving into the for-real-for-real topics.
Building a safe space includes providing materials to support employees on their individual journeys when they aren’t sitting in the office. Equity work is heart work. But office work is usually brain work. People need to be able to reflect and grow at home after attending a training session at work.
How much you prioritize equity in your budget says a lot about your commitment to change. When your leaders go all in, they have to go all in with their budget, too. Some people who are leading the charge for equity in their companies are doing so on top of their full-time jobs. Though they may be passionate enough to do it for free, this is not volunteer work. This is work that adds value to your company, so the people in charge of improving equity in your space must be allowed to focus solely on that work for 40 hours a week. Budget a salary for one role at the very least (because, in terms of the turnover rate for solo Chief Diversity Officers, the struggle is real, y’all). Can you make room in the budget for a team that will receive capacity building from the consultant who comes in?
You also have to look at your budget for the consultant you want to hire. Can you afford to pay them what they’re worth? This is not just a short-term investment. A consultant will need to work with you over a period of time, not just one day or one week. You’ll want them around when you do encounter pushback.
In the Consultant
Once you’ve completed your internal review, you’re ready to start hunting for a person or a firm to bring in to assist you. Look for these three characteristics:
Knowledge & Experience
Oh boy, are equity consultants coming out of the woodwork these days! This is great! It means that people are ready to make the changes that need to happen. But it also means that you have to look a little harder for someone who has a proven track record of success rather than just a passion for justice. If they don’t already provide metrics for their past successes on their website, make sure that you ask for proof in the numbers and in testimonials from people they’ve worked with when you interview them.
It’s probably a given that both you and the equity consultants you meet will share a passion for justice and making the world a better place. But, just as in dating or a job hunt, you are assessing them as much as they’re assessing you, and you have to dig a little below the surface to figure out if your values align. You don’t want to double down on the first equity consultant you find. Sit down and determine what your organization’s goals are. Maybe the consultant you find first only focuses on the broader spectrum of equity issues (i.e. sexism, racism, discrimination based on sexual orientation, etc.) but you want to focus your efforts on racial equity first.
Do you already share and agree upon a vision for where the organization can go? Or are they able to get on board and enhance what you’ve already mapped out?
Flexibility and Fortitude
The best equity consultants are like reeds in a river–they’re strong enough to handle what pushes against them but pliable enough not to snap.
You want someone who has a tried-and-true framework for making change but who understands that every organization and the people in it are different. Either the framework they use is flexible or they themselves are open enough to tweak their usual system to meet the particular needs of your organization. Their flexibility will catch on with the folks they work with, too.
Even though they’re flexible, they have to be just pushy enough to move people out of their comfort zones. That is not a job that just any person can do. You need someone who is empathetic, charismatic, confident, and humble. It’s quite a tall order, but we exist! I like to think of it as being recklessly optimistic. Sure, you’re going in and making some bold statements and holding some high expectations, but you’re doing it with an attitude that says, “we got this!” and “I got you!” Who can’t get behind that?
Gearing up to hire an equity consultant can be an exciting and nerve-racking endeavor. You’re about to make a pretty big commitment of time and money, but–what’s really important–you’re about to get some much-needed help to achieve some much-needed change.
To learn more about finding and working with an equity consultant, visit The Solution Consulting Co.