Championing Change: The Role of DEI Consultants

The sun beams in the sky behind a large cloud.

The term DEI has been discussed a lot lately, but many people aren’t sure what DEI entails or how a focus on DEI efforts can transform and enhance your organization. Here, we break down the role of a Diversity Equity and Inclusion consultant and why organizations should consider working with a DEI guide.


For this post, we spoke with Harold Gates, a DEI consultant and Share Collaborative Senior Consultant. Harold has decades of experience supporting organizations and systems to understand and improve their approach to an equitable workplace.


What is DEI?

DEI stands for “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.” It’s an independent journey that each person must embark on of their own accord and desire for positive change.


But for the purposes of our discussion today, DEI is a critical concept in organizational and societal contexts. Diversity refers to the differences within a given setting. These differences may include race, gender, age, ethnicity, religion, physical abilities, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and other attributes. Equity means ensuring fair, equal treatment, access, and opportunity for advancement. Equity recognizes that people have different needs and situations and thus may require different resources and approaches to achieve an equal outcome. Inclusion means creating safe environments where individuals and groups feel respected, supported, and welcomed. An inclusive culture means people’s participation is valued, and individuals are empowered to contribute with the truth of their whole selves.


So, why is DEI important and valuable in the workplace? Aside from the obvious reasons that all humans deserve equity, simply based on their humanity, embracing DEI in the workplace is helpful for many reasons, including:


  • Enhanced creativity and innovation.
  • Improved performance, engagement, and productivity.
  • Better decision-making from a broader range of perspectives.
  • Increased satisfaction leads to better retention and lower turnover.
  • Greater reflection of the market, customers, and community.
  • Enhanced reputation and social responsibility.


DEI is a moral imperative for business and organizational leaders, but it’s also strategically advantageous for many reasons. A dynamic, innovative, inclusive environment allows employees and team members to grow and thrive.


What do DEI consultants do? What can they offer your organization?

Diversity consultants can help leaders of an organization create and understand the “how-tos” of doing the work. Even with the best intentions, leaders can need assistance navigating the infrastructure and process for DEI.


A DEI consultant can also help with change management and the process of needed certification and implementation in certain types of organizations. For example, in healthcare, the National CLAS Standards are applied. CLAS stands for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services.


An organization may engage a DEI consultant to work with the governance and leadership or directly with the workforce in an organizational development capacity. DEI expert and author Lily Zheng has explored the history and purpose of DEI in their book, DEI Deconstructed. The book examines the differences between equity and equality and why it’s crucial that organizations don’t just “care about” diversity but take strategic steps to implement DEI learning and approaches within their work.


A DEI consultant may help an organization identify areas for improvement, help leadership set realistic DEI goals, and devise a strategic approach to meeting those goals and taking the next steps. They help create a workplace culture that values diversity and focuses on the strengths that can come from fostering a sense of belonging and respect for all employees, especially in regard to their self-described identity.


On the logistical side, a DEI consultant may help organizations comply with ethical and legal standards related to workplace diversity and inclusion. After assessing the organization’s strengths and identifying areas for improvement, they may evaluate current policies to identify gaps in inclusion efforts. They may also compare an organization’s DEI metrics with industry standards and similar organizations. When assisting an organization, they will examine factors like size, industry, and existing culture.


Diverse and inclusive workplaces are often more innovative and successful. People perform better, and the workplace can attract and retain top talent from various backgrounds. A great DEI strategy will evolve with an organization over time. It’s an ongoing process that will grow and change as the organization grows and develops.


Having the unbiased expertise of a DEI consultant can help reduce concerns about change and growth in an organization. Outsourcing DEI work can be more efficient than developing internal capacities from scratch, where blind spots can be overlooked. Employees may also feel more comfortable discussing sensitive issues with an external party, leading to honest feedback and input.


DEI consultants are up to date with the latest trends, research, and best practices, helping ensure that your workplace remains at the forefront of DEI initiatives. They play an integral role in helping organizations navigate the complexity of building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace that celebrates and honors individual strengths.


How Do DEI Consultants Assess Organizational DEI Health?

When you work with a DEI consultant, what should you expect? How will a DEI consultant assess your organizational DEI health? Harold Gates explains that his background is in Cultural Competence—an approach developed at Georgetown University.


Cultural Competence has assessment tools for personal and professional uses. When a consultant comes into the organization, they will often use these types of assessment tools to explore the temperature of your team. Often, unless upper management is focused on DEI and similar work, they may just assume that everything is okay until it becomes very obvious that there is a problem that goes beyond human resources.


A good DEI consultant will help get a pulse on the organization to offer perspective and meet your team where they are. They may provide resources and learning materials for DEI. They may also help your organization plan an equitable approach to implementation. Diversity training and diversity initiatives are helping starting points, but the best strategic plans focus on building a long-term inclusive workforce.


Unfortunately, without guidance, the work part of DEI can easily fall onto the POC and other marginalized groups within an organization. When this happens, it’s a sign that the organization isn’t taking DEI as seriously as it should. It’s often a strong indicator of more significant concerns to come.


How Do DEI Consultants Tailor their Strategies to Different Organizations?

Each organization has specific needs and starts from a different place. When a DEI consultant or facilitator comes into the organization, they will typically discuss the goals with leadership. For example, the organization may recognize that they need a more diverse workforce, leadership team, or Board. They may also realize that the organization has some underlying concerns, like employees facing stress, burnout, or higher levels of turnover. A lack of employee engagement often signals that real change is needed in an organization.


Many resources are available to help organizations figure out what they want and what type of DEI training will align with the organizational culture. Often, it takes a crisis or an issue for an organization to recognize the need for intervention. In an ideal scenario, though, leadership may realize they want to take better care of their employees and improve the workplace by honoring different backgrounds and implementing DEI strategies in their program development and current practices.


DEI consultants may work as independent contractors in the roles of coaches, mentors, or consultants with your organization. They may facilitate training and discussions to help you on your DEI journey. Many larger corporations may have a person in the role of DEI coordinator or several diversity officers; in that case, the consultant will often work closely with these internal stakeholders on inclusion initiatives. Smaller organizations may not have dedicated DEI specialists, but they can understand the importance of DEI and make it a high priority.


An external DEI consultant may also work with your team to bring new people in and focus on creating a more diverse workforce. They may also help your organization find someone to act as the internal DEI coordinator or point person for your team.


They may also help you dig deeper into your organizational infrastructure and culture to help you put the resources to work for a positive impact on staff members and constituents. The work often goes much deeper than surface-level training or professional development. When done well, a good DEI consultant can significantly improve the health and well-being of your organization and of everyone involved.


If you would like to learn more about working with DEI consultants through Share Collaborative, please reach out!

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