How to Hire a Racial Equity Consultant – Updated

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Several years ago, I wrote a blog post about how to hire a racial equity consultant. It is time to update and add more to that first post, especially since many organizations are continuing to bring in consultants to help them with their racial equity work.

Have a purpose, vision, and reason for your racial equity work

Be clear about what you want to do with your ‘equity’ work and be honest about your starting place. Before you even think about calling a consultant to see if they will work with you, spend some time soul searching why your organization wants to undertake racial equity work. This purpose and vision is important to figuring out who you want to work with and why. The answer can’t be “because everyone else is doing it,” “it will look good to a funder,” “we’re all white so it seems like the woke thing to do,” those may be honest to yourself answers, but if they are your reason for wanting to bring in a consultant, save your organization the time and start by doing some self-education (e.g. reading books, attending public lectures, practice listening, etc.). This will help you understand why you want to undertake racial equity work.

Heidi, Principal/Founder of Equity Matters, tells her clients her role as a consultant is to help with the process of learning and discovery, but as a consultant she will leave at some point and there needs to be internal champions and leaders ready to pick up the work. This is why she wants her clients to have a purpose and vision for their racial equity journey. Articulating the vision and purpose will help both the client and consultant have clearer understanding and set up the organization for longer term success.

She’s also listening for what is the world you want to see, not anti-[fill in the blank]. Anti-racism has become a catch-all phrase for light racial equity work – learning, listening, but not changing beliefs, policies, practices, etc. Saying what you want the world to be is a more meaningful purpose statement and one you can work on together.

Is your Organization Ready

A few months ago, I had a conversation with an organization I was about to do a training with around family engagement. In our prep conversation I asked how much their staff understood about race. The organization said their staff understood race because they were majority POC, worked in POC communities, etc. During the presentation it became clear the staff, while POC, didn’t understand the basics of racial equity. I did a quick pivot in my presentation to talk about the basics of race so we could move forward together. Just being POC doesn’t mean people understand race and racial equity.

Many racial equity trainers can also talk about how they have walked into organizations and met open hostility to their being there. One friend told me about how a white male in her training crossed out the word equity and wrote in Trump. Many other friends have told me how they are openly challenged during trainings, by both POCs (who want to test the consultant and flaunt their POC-ness) and white people. If the staff of your organization isn’t fully on board you owe it to the consultant to be honest with them.

If your staff will be openly hostile, you need to do some housekeeping before bringing in a consultant. Brining in a racial equity consultant to ‘fix’ personnel problems around race isn’t the answer. Racial equity consultants do not want to deal with your problem employees or be treated rudely, harassed, or abused by staff. If you witness your staff harass or bully a consultant, especially consultants of color, it is your job to step in and speak up. As staff, especially white leaders, it is your job to set the tone and model how others will be treated. Don’t think that the consultant has to prove themselves or spend their time dealing with your problematic staff, that isn’t their job as a consultant. As CiKeithia, also with Equity Matters, said no contract is worth taking abuse.

Be Ready to Clean up

Racial equity consultants will leave at some point. They are not the captains of the plan or part of the staff, they are there to help guide you until it is time to part ways. A friend told me about how much work the leaders of her organization did after the organization started racial equity work. The consultant helped them put together a plan and when it was time to execute the CEO had some hard work ahead of him. He had to re-organize the staff, work with the board and other volunteers, make changes to programs, etc. This organization and leader re-organized out several staff people who clearly were not on-board with the new racial equity focused direction of the organization. My friend was relieved the changes were made and is now willing to stay with the organization because the boss made changes in-line with the new vision and is executing on the racial equity plans.

Another Word on RFPs

As I wrote in the first “How to and How not to hire a Racial Equity Consultant” post, many of my favorite and go-to consultants will not bid on RFPs. It isn’t worth their time, especially when they are turning away clients, as many of the experienced and senior consultants are.

If you are in a place that requires you to have an RFP process (government – really the only ones legally required to), remove as many barriers as possible and slim down the process. Remember you want to make this attractive to bid on. Many of the experienced consultants will pass if they thing it is too much work to bid, which means the bids you do get will not be the best people out there.

Nonprofits and other organizations do not need an RFP process. CiKeithia said “Remember I’m interviewing you the same as you are interviewing me,” as a consultant she wants to look for a partnership with an organization.

Thank you to Heidi and CiKeithia for sharing their thoughts. They shared a lot more wisdom which I will share in a future post. I owe you both beverages and some ‘talk-story’ time.

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I am writing from the ancestral lands of the 29 federally recognized and non-federally recognized tribes in now Washington State, including the Coast Salish people — Duwamish, Muckleshoot, Suquamish, Snoqualmie, and Native American organizations that have treaty rights and have been here since time immemorial. I give my thanks to the elders, Native and Indigenous colleagues and relations, and the land itself. Fakequity pays “rent” to Native organizations in Washington and Hawaii; a small action to hopefully repair and work to be in more justice based relations.