How to Work with Your Racial Equity Consultant

Picture of a boat hull aimed at a serene skyline with palm trees at sunset. Photo by Guduru Ajay bhargav on

Last week I updated/added to an old post about thing to think about as you hire a racial equity trainer. Heidi and CiKeithia, consultants from Equity Matters, shared additional thoughts which will hopefully help you and your organizations as you start or continue with racial equity work in your organization.

What will you stop doing?

Many organizations are really good at doing more. We’re trained for it, we see a need and we jump in and do it. We may even say we’ve got new money and we can hire new staff to do the new shiny thing. But at some point we’ll hit a saturation point or we’ll have mission drift (although racial equity work is never mission drift). Karen P., one of my favorite nonprofit professors in grad school, used the analogy of ice cream scoops – you can keep adding on but at some point if you add to many flavors you’ll end up with ice cream sludge in the bottom of the bowl.

If your organization is committed to racial equity work, Heidi asks – “what will you stop doing or do less of?” She doesn’t buy the answer of “we’re diversifying,” or other fluffy actions. In a boat or ship reference if you keep adding things without taking something off, eventually your ship will sink. As the captain of your ship/organization your job is to continually ‘right size’ the work and keep only essential things to moving the organization ahead.

Another way to think about this, is what will you ask staff to stop doing so they can commit to learning and shifting behaviors to do more of? Staff won’t magically have more time once they start this work, so some things need to stop to have new things happen. As an example, a few years ago my organization did a huge family engagement survey with several schools. When the principal of an elementary school saw how his families of color, especially non-English speaking families, preferred communications methods he had an ‘ah ha’ moment. The families said they prefer in-person (pre-COVID) or telephone calls. This principal stopping having his bilingual staff translating a written flier and instead asked them to spend the hour they would have spent translating material to instead make 10 calls. He had the same amount of staff time but re-deployed it in a way that met a racialized need and help to achieve more equitable outcomes.

Are you ready to take care of and invest in your POC staff?

POC staff are not the same as your white staff members. This may seem like a ‘duh’ statement, but it is worth saying out loud. POCs are not the same, are never treated the same as white people, and are not white.

Starting racial equity work can feel like both a burden and a relief for POC staff members, and it can feel like both at the same time. Many times, it is POC staff that push really hard for leaders and organizations to see the need for racial equity work. The pushing, identifying, calling in and calling out of organizational transgressions, microaggressions, or racism is often emotional and sometimes comes at a professional cost (e.g. being labeled as angry, not seen as a team player, called difficult to work with, etc.) to POC staff. It is taxing work and many times POCs are not given the authority or power to create the changes needed on their own which is emotionally draining.

Recognize your POC staff may have different needs or wants around racial equity trainings is important. I know of several Black and Indigenous friends and colleagues who decline to participate in their organization’s racial equity trainings. They don’t want to put themselves through the emotional experience of listening to their white colleagues learn about race. It is also important to recognize that POCs also need to learn about race, but they may want to do it outside of the organization in spaces that are healing or designed for POCs, especially Black and Indigenous people. This is where equal is not equitable (borrowing the phrase from Heidi), white staff should not be allowed to opt-out just because they are uncomfortable learning in the group.

If your POC staff do want to take leadership roles in the work, invest in their leadership. This means providing compensation, reassignment of other work so they can take this on, giving credit where it is due, and trusting their leadership. In CiKeithia’s words “Stop relying on the few BIPOC staff to be your unpaid consultant, it’s just wrong.”

Finally, Trust

Heidi and CiKeithia’s shared advice is to trust. Do you trust your consultant? If you don’t trust your consultant to work with you and steer you on the right path, then you don’t have the right consultant. Consultants work best when they can build a relationship with you and you trust them to get the work right. If you’re constantly nit-picking or questioning what they are doing then it isn’t a good relationship for either side.

In another boating or yachting reference – would you get on a boat if you didn’t know where it is going? No, you wouldn’t let the Captain of the boat leave port and take you into the Pacific or Atlantic ocean without a sense of where you’re going – that ocean is big and scary. You most likely would want to see an itinerary, have a sense of how many times the Captain or navigator has taken this route, do they understand where the rough waters are, how well do they know their boat and navigation tools. The same goes for working with a consultant, get a sense of what they know and how they plan on working with you. Once you hire them trust them. Trust their experience and work with them, not against them, it is a relationship that needs to feed each other.

When you can build trust with them the work will be better and hopefully that trust radiates out to others in the organization and community.

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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.