How to Choose: External Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Consultants or Hiring a Leader In-House?

Written by Avery Francis and Sarah Saska, PhD

Image via Tax Collection

Companies are waking up to the reality that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is a true driver of brand, sales, and employee engagement. When this happens, though, an unfortunate knee-jerk reaction from many executives is to hire a DEI leader in-house to “solve the problem.” While the intentions behind this statement might be noble, the reality is that hiring a DEI leader is not always the best first step for anyone — the company, the potential leader, or employees.

If you’re in a position where hiring a DEI leader is newly on the table, take a step back and assess whether you need consultants, an in-house leader, or both. At Bloom and Feminuity, we help leaders assess whether they’re ready for in-house DEI leaders frequently. In this article, we’ve laid out the framework we use with our clients to help them make the right call. So if you’re not sure about whether to hire a DEI leader or start with consultants, keep reading.

Image via Tax Collection

Are you ready for an in-house leader?

Before a hire is made, a company needs to know what the person will do, what they will be held accountable for, and what foundation they need for success. This required foundation is equally necessary when hiring a DEI leader.

Unfortunately, though, the knee-jerk reaction of “we need to hire a DEI leader” in response to a protest, pressure, or social awareness typically skips the preparation step. This leads to a new hire that isn’t supported, is likely to burn out, and is far less likely to accomplish any meaningful change. That’s a waste of time and money for everyone.

If you’re thinking about hiring a DEI leader, ask yourself these questions first.

  • Who will the person report to and where will the role “sit” in the organization?
  • What specific challenges is the role accountable for solving?
  • How will the role be supported in solving those challenges? Think in terms of budget, decision authority, and cross-functional work.
  • What blockers have stopped you from achieving this end in the past, and have you addressed the ones you can while documenting what you can’t (and why you can’t right now)? Think in terms of knowledge, buy-in, resourcing, and championship.
  • What data, resources, buy-in, or other factors are already in place to set up the new hire for success?

If you don’t have concrete answers to all these questions, chances are you are not ready to make the hire. And if your broad reaction is “we want to hire someone to help us figure out the answers to these questions,” then you should hire outside consultants to help you find those answers, because they’ll be more equipped to support you than an in-house leader (PS. We can help with that).

What consultants provide

If you’re not fully prepared to make an in-house hire but are committed to making changes to your inclusion practices, outside consultants can help you kickstart progress. Not only do they come with specific knowledge, but there are unique benefits to having a third party at the start.

Perspective: Outside consultants can take a bird’s eye view of your organization, help you validate your assumptions, and give you an honest scope of what needs to be done to start making inclusive changes. They can help you with what you didn’t know you didn’t know.

Transparency: When someone’s not on your payroll, they can be more direct and honest with you. Unfortunately, many in-house diversity leads find themselves staying silent on particularly difficult issues because they fear retribution. Consultants are likely to get more honesty from employees as well, since there’s less fear that speaking up will cost them their jobs.

In-house preparation: DEI consultants can work with you to set the stage for a successful DEI leader hire. Some DEI consultants even offer DEI leader recruitment services, which means they can help you source the right person to take over from the foundation they worked with you to build.

Inclusion infrastructure set up: Like any business initiative, you need project management structures, data collection, and feedback loops for DEI work to be successful. Consultants can help you build scalable infrastructure so an in-house leader is set up for success.

A marathon, not a sprint

Every major business change starts with outside pressure or an internal realization, and DEI leadership is no different. But the reality is that all change takes time and dedication — and DEI work is absolutely going to be a change for most organizations.

Once you’ve laid the foundation and built the right environment for a DEI leader to thrive, it’s time to make the hire. That’s what we’re talking about next: how to vet a DEI leadership candidate.

Keep blooming!

Avery

One more thing At Bloom, we support companies who aren’t ready to hire a full-time Diversity, Equity and Inclusion but need the leadership on an interim basis. We offer a holistic 4 part learning experience that will not only get your people talking more openly about race, power and privilege but feeling more comfortable with doing so. We’ve been offering this learning experience in partnership with Feminuity. Read this article and still need help? Bloom’s here for you. Book a no-obligation intro call with us to ask more questions and learn how we can help you out as much, or as little, as you need. Book a call with me, Avery, here.

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