Have a vision of your firm’s goals when hiring outside help


I receive a fair number of calls and emails asking for referrals to diversity consultants.

Some of these calls launch an interesting conversation about what are their organization’s diversity and inclusion goals and objectives, where the company is in its D&I efforts and what is being sought in the D&I consultant.

Frequently, it’s that last question that gives the caller pause.

“We want somebody good. But not too expensive. Someone who has a lot of experience working with firms/law departments/agencies like ours.”

OK, that’s a start. But it’s a bit like saying that you want a referral to a lawyer, one who’s good, not too expensive and has a lot of experience with similar clients. Get the picture? So, how does one choose among the myriad diversity consultants available? How do you find the right consultant for your organization?

It takes effort. It requires a clear vision and realistic expectations of what you want to accomplish. It needs self-awareness on your part: Awareness about your organization and what it wants vs. what it needs, and awareness about the individuals in your organization, and their readiness and willingness to engage in the process.

It necessitates a willingness to invest the time and effort to implement both organizational and individual change. However, it does not require that your organization do any diversity and inclusion work. That’s why you’re hiring a consultant. Allow he or she to help guide you through the process. The organizations with which consultants have the hardest time helping to move toward their diversity and inclusion goals are those who think they know what they need but really don’t.

Few organizations embark upon their work with a consultant meeting all that criteria. Many are ill-prepared and, not unsurprisingly, are dissatisfied with the results. How can you avoid a poor outcome with a diversity consultant?

1) Recognize that effective diversity training requires an investment of time.

“We allocated an hour for implicit bias training; it was fine, but it didn’t solve anything.” An hour? For something like implicit bias training, an hour is not sufficient. Unless you want someone to explain the concept of implicit bias in the broad strokes and you do not expect or desire that anyone’s mindset be changed, you are asking for failure. You should be skeptical about any diversity consultant who claims to provide meaningful implicit bias training in an hour, even two hours.

2) Understand that there are no shortcuts, part one.

The idea that diversity training can be conducted online is gaining in popularity. I am not convinced. I have yet to see anyone having any particular success with it. Effective diversity training requires moments of clarity and understanding that come from new insights and ideas.

It’s not like learning about a substantive area of law that can be communicated in a webinar. A diversity consultant who offers or is willing to conduct training this way is not interested in results.

3) Understand that there are no shortcuts, part two.

Achieving diversity and inclusion is a process. It takes time and requires commitment. You can’t rush it nor can you “skip to the end.” A good diversity consultant should be able to help you map out a long-term D&I strategy and protocol and give you clear ideas about how long different facets will likely take.

4) Acknowledge that experience is not the same as expertise.

A diversity consultant doesn’t have to have been a firm partner to provide valuable consulting services. But, by the same token, an effective consultant needs to have a keen understanding of the particular structures, pressures, politics and cultures with the practice settings about which the consultant is being asked to consult.

5) Realize the biggest “name” may not be what you or your organization needs.

There are some “celebrity” diversity consultants. They are often very good at what they do. But what they do may not be what your organization needs. Don’t retain a diversity consultant simply because that’s the person all the other organizations in your circle are using. Take the time to consider what your organization needs and seek that expertise.

6) Establish realistic goals.

Will everyone in your organization participate? Do they need to do so? What if they won’t? What would you consider a satisfactory outcome? What makes sense for your organization? Just as all large law firms or all law departments may have similar structures but can have very different cultures and personalities, establish goals that can be expected to be met at established intervals. If you or your organization is interested in hiring a diversity consultant, that’s commendable. But do your homework and due diligence to find the right consultant for your needs and objectives.CL

Sandra S. Yamate is the CEO of the Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession. The institute is a 501(c)3 organization dedicated to creating a more diverse and inclusive legal profession through its research and educational programming.