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Hiring a DEI Consultant

By Dr. Shawn S. Edwards, Chief Diversity Officer – The Citadel


No matter where you are in the diversity, equity, and inclusion journey, you may decide that a consultant would be valuable to advance your organizational efforts.

Choosing a consultant, no matter the service is no easy feat. The need to engage with the right person most efficiently and strategically is often difficult to determine, especially when it is unclear what your needs are. When engaging with a consultant, here are four questions you should ask to help guide your decision.

What are our primary areas of focus?

You do not have to know the answer to this question. Many companies and organizations are in a position of wanting to do something but not really understanding what that this, and that’s okay. If you know the answer to this question, that will help narrow down the focus area of the consultant you seek. There is a range of specialty areas in this space, social justice, diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI), equality, belonging, anti-racist, culture, human resources management, leadership development, board development.

You should give some thought to what direction you are leaning towards. Again, if you are not sure, begin engaging with consultants and share where you are as an organization. Based on their assessment of your needs, they will point you in the right direction or point you in the direction of another who can better assist you.

Do we have this ability in-house?

Is there someone currently on your staff with the experience and expertise necessary to lead in this area?

Like anything else, we should look internally for the skills we seek before looking externally. If there is someone who has the capability and passion but not the experience, perhaps that person can work with the consultant you hire to develop them. This can be an awesome opportunity for the right person. If you have someone with the experience, passion, and desire to lead in this area, explore the possibility of allowing them to do so while also redistributing some of their other responsibilities.

Do we need external support to advance our efforts?

Depending on your goals and focus, you may find great value in an external review. A consultant will analyze your efforts and compare them to best practices and help you evolve, without limits. Someone internally may be too familiar with the organization and its processes, which could limit their creativity. Sometimes it is hard to imagine something different when you’ve seen the same for so long. Also, bias could make for an imbalanced outcome that results in an unintentional disparate impact.

How do I find a consultant?

Word of mouth is one of the best options. Sharing with your colleagues what services you are looking for will cause them to share with you who they have worked with or heard about. This will give you a first or secondhand account of the services the consultant offers and their work. There are also many organizations, the Chamber of Commerce in your area, lists from your local municipality, or small business organizations that could serve you well in your search. Lastly, a search on LinkedIn or the web may lead you to several consulting practices or individuals in your area.

Asking these four questions will aid in jumpstarting your decision to hire a consultant. These questions will also generate more questions specific to your needs and help you be thoughtful about your diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy. While you will not know all of the answers, a good consultant will help you discover the answers and be your guide on the DEI journey.

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