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Published on September 21st, 2020 | by Millennium Magazine Staff

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5 Things DEI Practitioners Need You to Know

By Dr. Nika White; President and CEO, Nika White Consulting, Best Selling Author of “The Intentional Inclusionist®” and “Next-Level Inclusionist: Transform Your Work and Yourself for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Success”

Right now, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) practitioners are working non-stop. The demand for their work has never been higher, and requests continue to pile up. With the hecticness of the business, fellow practitioners and I have noticed some things that have made our work a bit more complicated.  

Here are the 5 things DEI practitioners need for you to know: 

1. Stop Overcomplicating the RFP Process   

If you’ve submitted an RFP for DEI work to a consultant or firm recently, chances are, you may not hear back any time soon or at all. The current climate has created a surge of interest to bring DEI into the workplace. As a result, practitioners are inundated with a high-volume of work. Existing clients are requesting additional services, and new clients are steadily being onboarded. The expertise is in high demand, and the need to reply to RFPs is decreasing for many consultancies. 

So, why is your RFP getting overlooked? Plain and simple: it is probably a complicated process with several deliverables that DEI practitioners do not have time for during this heavy service season. Sure, the RFP process is critically important, but given that fact that many DEI consulting firms are responding to prospective clients that are not requiring a lengthy and complicated RFP process and routinely getting new business, why should they consider investing the time and energy to engage in a daunting exercise that is likely more competitive?

For a practitioner, sometimes an RFP process can mean an organization has not fully invested in assessing organizational readiness and needs to be persuaded of DEI’s importance. In this instance, organizations are merely vetting the possibilities, and if they are convinced they are strong enough, they might proceed. These RFPs are often very comprehensive and ask for a breadth of data to sell the need, including methodology and approach. From a business perspective, it does not make sense to use time and resources investing in something that may never come to fruition. Especially considering at this juncture, there are more than enough organizations that have already bought in, and in that case, an RFP is spam in a sea of thoughtful outreach.  

Let me be clear, there is a value to an RFP process in that it helps to ensure better equity of opportunity and a way to evaluate different vendors. However, how the RFP is structured must be considered, given the current climate. If your RFP asks suppliers to do the work before being hired, chances are, you may not get a look from partners that are more in demand. And, typically those who are more in demand are worth the consideration.  

2. Assess Your Level of Readiness Before Reaching Out

As practitioners, we have noticed a lack of alignment among organizational leaders regarding what they are ready to commit to. Too often, organizations reach out to quickly realize everyone, especially senior leadership, is not on the same page. Some leaders look to scratch the surface level of DEI, while others look for more in-depth conversations – the nitty-gritty of systemic racism and racial inequities. As a result, the lack of alignment causes severe growing pains. 

Organizations looking to hire DEI practitioners need to put in the preliminary work, as pointed out in an earlier blog. Sit down, assess the overall readiness, and discern where there is progress to be made. What goals are you working towards? What issues have you been experiencing? With the baseline outlined, the process of implementation will be far more effective.

Assessing leader and organizational readiness may not be something in-house talent can confidently do. In this regard, it is appropriate to consider hiring an external DEI consultant partner to help assess organizational readiness. There are tools and strategies for such that, if enacted, can save organizations a lot of time and energy in the long run.   

3. Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable 

Be prepared to be uncomfortable. Tackling the issues systemic racism has embedded into our society is not a quick fix. Addressing the history, educating the effects of the problem, and equipping employees with the tools to fight racism is hard work; there is no easy button. Committing to this work is committing to the process, no matter how uncomfortable. When participants recognize this ahead of time, it helps set realistic expectations for the journey ahead. 

Because DEI work is a journey, organizations need to realize the problems cannot be solved with a training or singular program. While training is essential, recognizing the difference between activity and impact is equally essential. Activities have a start and end date; impact is peeling back the layers and identifying the root cause of issues that compromise equity, inclusion, and belonging. Acknowledging that DEI can be complex to solve for at the onset is necessary. Strap in, commit, and the changes will enhance the entire culture.  

One approach that can assist with the process’s discomfort is to identify and call out all the potential barriers and hurdles. Doing so puts you in the driver seat to solve for those obstacles because you know to expect them.

4. DEI Fatigue is Real 

Doing the work of a DEI consultant or practitioner is vital, but it can be emotionally taxing. As I mentioned back in May, this work can lead to loneliness and isolation. Practitioners are regularly asked to put on others’ masks first and it wears on those doing the work. The work’s weight needs to be evenly distributed throughout the organization, particularly in the C-suite, to prevent this fatigue. The influence of senior leaders echoes throughout an organization, making it critical for them to own the responsibility and carry the DEI banner.

In many cases, DEI work is in the hands of POC who are dealing with plenty of their own emotional triggers. Almost every day, something new pops up, whether it be the shooting of Jacob Blake or the passing of Chadwick Boseman. (If you don’t know these two names and their relevance, a quick Google search is all it takes). It is never-ending. For DEI leaders (often POC) to manage up and continue to show up at their best, they need help. Join in and alleviate the pressures of your DEI staff, including your ERG leaders. 

5. This Role is Specialized

You wouldn’t ask a person who spent a day in law school to be your lawyer or someone who can use a calculator to be your CFO. The parallel of this in the DEI field is saying, hey, you’re a part of a marginalized community, can you lead our DEI work? The work we do, as practitioners, is a specialized skill. When companies assume their Black, Asian, Latinx, LGBTQ+, disabled, and/or female employees can do the work because they have experienced oppression, it hurts the discipline. 

Another familiar hit to the profession is that organizations often expect an employee or consultant to solve their DEI issues for free or at price points that do not come near commensurate to the value of the work. Even Chief Diversity Officers who receive income for their work still end up being wildly underpaid “because it’s looked at as overhead and it’s not looked at as a strategic position,” says Tiffany Warren, CDO at Omnicom Group (CNBC, July 2020). There are certificate courses, master’s programs, and higher education for a reason, for growth and professional development for those in the space. Be prepared to pay the stakeholders and individuals doing the work. The same rigor and vigilance that goes into every other business aspect needs to be upheld relevant to the DEI discipline. Respect the craft, respect the work.

Now that you have been provided with the practitioner mindset, think about how you can adapt or alter your DEI approach as we advance. We are all in this together so, let’s make the most of our journey! 

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