So you’re ready to invest in DEI?

Small and medium-sized business guide to investing in long-term change.

The resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd, in the midst of a global pandemic, has created an explosion of consciousness among leaders across all sectors — and for the first time, small and medium-sized companies are considering making an investment in diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Across the board, consultants are getting slammed with requests for information and proposals. My company, Moving Beyond, has had dozens of conversations with leaders who are making first-time investments in DEI. In these, I see a clear trend among the well-intentioned.

Persona 1: Training. Right now. In 2 hours or less.

Despite the preponderance of data and studies that say otherwise, the single biggest request at the moment is for all-staff training. One time training sessions don’t work (NYT) to create the culture shifts necessary to make the organization work for diverse individuals. In fact, they often cause more harm to people of color. Stop asking for it, folks!

DEI practitioners are not SWAT teams who can parachute into organizations to create change in two hours and zip back out.

Training and facilitated conversations can be a powerful way to build shared vocabulary and new skills. Invest in quarterly half-day sessions, and ensure they happen across the organization — leadership teams, people managers, and individual contributors/employees.

Persona 2: Can you do this in $10,000 or less?

Please make a real investment. When organizations with budgets in excess of $20M tell me they can’t spend more than $10,000 on DEI efforts, it’s a red flag.

If your DEI budgets are smaller than your snack budget, you will not be successful. Period.

The average day-rates for consultants is $3500–5000, and hourly rates vary between $175-$350. You’re paying for someone with cross-disciplinary skills, that are honed over a decade or more of work (not a 4-year bachelor degree program).

Persona 3: My CEO doesn’t support Black Lives Matter

I’ve fielded more than a dozen calls from HR managers, DEI-committees, and other leaders in organizations where the senior leadership is not ready and actively pushing back on #BLM. Organizations where there’s been an exodus of POC staff. Ones where there’s a grassroots demand for change.

[Most] DEI consultants are not your crisis support or SWAT team. The work of DEI is organizational development and change management. If this moment has created friction, crisis, and other organization trauma — you need a specialist. Someone who has experience with crisis response, to mitigate short term harm.

While there are no easy answers or cookie-cutter solutions to solving DEI-challenges, there are best practice recommendations to create organizations where POC thrive.

  1. Start with data, and ground your efforts in data. Gut instincts will not serve you in solving complex organizational issues. Have robust data on your employees and build solutions that are right-sized and right-fit for your company’s needs. Gender Equity Now led by Sara Sanford, and Inclusology led by Cheryl Ingram both over tools to collect DEI-data.
  2. Create time for learning. Weekly, monthly, quarterly. Resource individuals to learn together. Invest in differentiated resources because everyone is in a different place. While some folks are ready for Ibram X. Kendi, others might need to start with some episodes of the Hidden Brain.
  3. Resource affinity groups, and DEI committees. Yes, time and money both, as well as autonomy to make decisions.
  4. Build buy-in and accountability at all levels. This only works if everyone is all-in and thinking strategically about how to integrate DEI across the organization.
  5. Take small steps every day towards a paradigm shift. Get rid of the language of ‘project’ or ‘initiative’. You’re working towards creating a #futureofwork that helps everyone thrive. It’s a continuous process without an end date in sight.

Finally, work with empathy, grace, and compassion. There are pieces you’ll get wrong, really really wrong. And moments where things will magically click into place. Learn to recover quickly from failures and double down/scale what’s working well.

Onward. Together.

Dreamer, Do-er, Dissent-er // All things women and girls, equity and innovation Co-Founder @futurefor_us & Moving Beyond

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