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Distinguishing the good, the bad, and the detrimental – selecting DEI consultants

Not all DEI consultants are good for your organization. And some are just bad.

A great consultant will empower your organization, helping to set and/or execute impactful DEI strategies that forever change your organization’s processes and behaviors to create more equitable, inclusive processes, culture, and infrastructure. A bad consultant can slide your organization backward, increasing tension, resistance, and negative reactions to DEI initiatives. Or they can spin the organization in never ending cycles of talk and planning and intention without ever inciting change.

Previously, we covered steps to assessing DEI consultants. The technique is the same as evaluating and selecting candidates:

  1. Identify what you need.

  2. Evaluate consultants against those needs.

  3. Select the best fit.

And just like evaluating candidates, part of the secret sauce is in the evaluation questions.

Secret Sauce starter recipe – basic DEI consultant questions

Great DEI consultant evaluation questions allow the consultants to demonstrate they can do the job, do it well for your organization, and obtain the desired results. While most of these questions should focus on the project/goals of your program, there are a few tricks to help separate the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Tip 1: “yes, I know that” is not an expertise validation.

Just because someone says they know something doesn’t make it true. Ask questions that allow them to prove their expertise.

Tip 2: Go beyond the comfort zone

We all have our comfort zone – those topics and situations that let us shine. These glorious moments are the perfect ways for consultants to sell themselves. However, unless your project is exactly like the examples they use, you need to assess outside the comfort zone.

For example, if you are looking for a DEI generalist, test the breadth of knowledge of the consultant. Pay attention to what demographics/examples they use most often. Then ask them about challenges or situations of a different demographic/pattern. So, if they speak consistently about women of color, ask about common challenges for people with disabilities or those over the age of 50.

For example, if you are looking for someone to facilitate a change in culture and the consultant is lingering on the importance of awareness training, ask what behavioral shifts they have achieved with their other clients and how they were able to measure the cultural change and the impact of that change on the business.

Tip 3: Review work samples

You wouldn’t hire a designer or writer or trainer without examples of their work, would you? Consultants are the same. Ask for relevant proof of their work (i.e. work that’s tied to the nature of consulting engagement).

For example, engaging a consultant for training – request a recording of training. Working with someone to revamp job descriptions – ask for a sample before/after job descriptions.

Tip 4: Evaluate Alignment

Just like with candidates, even if the consultant has the expertise and skill, it doesn’t mean they will be a good fit. Consultants must be able to do the job for you. That means engaging with your teams and enabling or leading change within your organization. Therefore, the consultants must have the style, tone, approach, and philosophy that resonates with your culture.

When speaking to the consultants and evaluating work samples, assess how the material is being presented, in what context and delivery method, and with what materials. Look at the style and language and word choice. How will the employees perceive the information?

For example, if your organization is highly interactive with short attention spans, look for someone with a shorter, conversational style. If your organization is highly structured and detailed oriented, look for someone with an academic style with detailed methodologies and/or curriculum. And, if your organization is change adverse, look for someone patient and oriented around change management and incremental change.

Watch for content that may increase or instigate tension.

For example, some DEI consultants use techniques that highlight disparity and discomfort to make a point such as public privilege walks and displays of bias. This could instigate or increase tension in organizations that already have heightened sensitivity or a population that is defensive or combative to the racial conversations.

Tip 4: Focus on results

More important than the consultant’s work is the result of that work. You are investing time and money and resources to engage with the consultant therefore you must receive something of measurable value in return. Focus on the results.

Ask for examples of ‘what happened’ due to their engagements and how did they prove success (i.e. what did they measure to show results).

Tip 5: Request references

You don’t need to take the consultants’ word for it when they tell you they are perfect for the job. Talk to their other clients. What worked, what would the client request differently if they were to engage again, would the client do another engagement with the consultant. Keep in mind, the consultant is picking their happiest clients.

Bringing it all together

The secret sauce for selecting the best DEI consultants, like selecting great candidates, is all in the questions. Ask questions to evaluate how the consultant will engage with your organization to meet your needs and succeed in your program. Stretch them beyond their comfort zone and what they want to tell you to get to what you need to know. Make sure they show, not just tell, that they are great with proof in work samples, measurable results, and references. And evaluate their approach and style and philosophy to ensure that the content is not just accurate but also engaging and empowering to your teams.

Disclosure: We at are not consultants. We offer inclusive, anonymous candidate screening technology and DEI in TA best practices training. For us, great consultants are fantastic partners and change agents helping us drive our mission of more equitable, inclusive hiring. Happy choosing!

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