DEI Consulting is not training, and what you can do this week to support staff of color
I've been trying to find the right words to address the horrible acts of violence that happened on January 6th across the nation. It's 14 days later and I still can't. The fear and pain are too much. Still, there is a story to tell, so here it goes.
A couple of months ago a friend connected me with a company looking for a DEI consultant. I have been intentional in not offering this type of service and referring friends who only focus on this work but I agreed to hop on a call with the leadership at the company.
When I joined the Zoom call I was welcomed by 9 white people. They were members of a sub-committee responsible for the D&I training at the company. I asked them if they included the word Equity in the name of the council and they said no. "It's implied in Diversity and Inclusion".
The group shared they had started to organize after the "Summer of 2020" and after the few staff of color working at the company asked the leadership to take a public and internal stance on their anti-racist work.
I asked them if they included the word Equity in the name of the council and they said no. "It's implied in Diversity and Inclusion".
I asked, "what is the biggest issue you are facing at the moment?". The committee chair said they needed help creating D&I training for the staff and they had a list of the training needed. The focus was on anti-bias and discrimination. They explained the committee had interviewed staff of color and they were surprised about the recommendations and issues they were facing and this didn’t match the sentiments of their white peers.
I explained that my method of work includes doing a deep dive of the issues the company is facing, their hiring policies, employee retention, growth pathways, onboarding and offboarding, and doing focus groups to provide objective recommendations aligned with the specific needs of their company. By taking this approach I would be able to create a scope and sequence that addressed the immediate challenges and launch a training series they can include in their onboarding process so the new staff was able to acclimate to the new company culture.
They were appalled.
"Don't you have the training you can sell to us? That's really what we want." My response was no. I told them I was a consultant and not just a trainer, but that I would be happy to recommend several experts in the field for them to talk to. I asked again "what is the biggest issue you are facing at the moment?" Someone responded: "Black people don't want to join the D&I Council until we do some work, so we need that training STAT".
They explained the committee had interviewed staff of color and they were surprised about the recommendations and issues they were facing and this didn’t match the sentiments of their white peers.
I knew this was the real issue from the beginning and it took me 45 minutes to make them say it. I explained that taking that approach would not only cost more in the long run, and that approach was not something I was willing to do. One of the men unmuted himself and said "I know, that's what I've been trying to say. What we are doing is not allyship".
The meeting had been done 10 minutes into the conversation, and I knew they were trying to get free advice from me. What they didn't know is that I was aware of that and that I was trying to get them to see the hypocrisy of what they were asking me to do.
I asked again "what is the biggest issue you are facing at the moment?" Someone responded: "Black people don't want to join the D&I Council until we do some work, so we need that training STAT".
I told them I wouldn't be the right fit for this project based on their needs and approach and that I had several people I could recommend for them to talk to. The man that spoke a couple of minutes before asked me to please submit a proposal so they could talk about it.
As we were wrapping up our call, one HR representative unmuted herself and said "before we leave I need to respond to Paulette's question. We pride ourselves on recruiting the best talent. By not investing in this work we are not giving our clients the best services we could offer. If we don't invest in doing this the right way, we are losing money to companies that are willing to do the right thing." I agreed and told them I would send more information about my services but would not submit a proposal. I emailed the group 2 days later with several contacts and never got a response.
Leaders and executives this week is not the week to talk about what the DEI Council has done.
This is not the week to announce that you are FINALLY hiring a consultant to support the work that your employees of color have done for FREE for months (or years).
This is not the week to post heartfelt messages saying "this is not what this country is about" and "those people don't represent the values of how our country was founded". What happened this week is exactly what the systems in this country are all about.
BIPOC folks were not surprised about what happened. We are surprised that white folks were surprised.
If you are not doing life-saving work, this is the week to take a pause. This is the week to invest that money you had for the consultants of color you never hired in losses for your business so you and the people that work with you can take care of themselves. To give folks of color a respite from the white supremacy culture at the office and around them.
This is the last chance you have to show that you are or want to become an ally. White leaders… if you don't take a REAL stance now, you don't have the right to ask for change later.
--- Paulette Piñero is the owner of LEAD Media LLC, a leadership coaching and management consulting firm that helps professionals of color get the confidence and skills they need to take the next step in their careers.