Diversity, equity, and inclusion work can transform organizations and help them do their work more effectively. This work can be most successful when people are fully invested and have a good idea what is involved. Without this, organizations sometimes set themselves up for failure and bring consultants in with unrealistic expectations. If you are thinking of launching into work around diversity, equity, and inclusion, this post may help you think about how to set yourself up for success. The questions below may serve as a useful checklist for assessing readiness, avoiding common pitfalls, and understanding the roles of consultants and people inside the organization.

  1. Do you have champions who have energy and passion for the work? You don’t need a commitment from the entire organization to start the process. You do need people inside the organization who will champion and hold the work, including people in positions of power. If most of the champions are people of color, it is important to honor their leadership without expecting them to carry the weight of the work. A consultant can work with champions in your organization, and can cheer them on, but cannot be your champion. Pitfalls: Over-reliance on consultants leaves the organization without people to champion the work and/or champions have no support from people in power, which limits their ability to make changes.
  1. Can you make a long-term commitment to doing the work? There are no quick fixes. The work is ongoing. If you bring a consultant on for a short-term gig, such as a workshop for staff, it is essential to think about how the work fits into an ongoing process and how you will sustain this process after the consultant leaves. A consultant can help you map out what that process might look like. It’s up to you to create the will and way to carry the process forward. Pitfall: Doing a one-time event raises expectations and has no meaningful results. This can leave people feeling unsafe and demoralized.
  1. Is your leadership team generally functional and willing to learn and grow? Work around diversity, equity, and inclusion often uncovers larger challenges in leadership function. If, for whatever reason, there isn’t room for healthy dialogue, learning, and change, the conditions for progress related to diversity, equity, and inclusion may not exist. A consultant can help point out areas where organizational growth can occur. Leaders must be able to function at a level that makes it possible for them to be proactive in the organization’s growth. Pitfall: Leaders become obstacles to change and the organization is unable to move beyond the status quo.
  1. Do your leaders see this work as part of their jobs? If leaders (people in both formal and informal leadership roles) see the work as peripheral to their jobs, they will not own this work as an essential part of their leadership role. Leaders play an important role in setting a tone for the organization, building readiness, moving the organization through resistance, and ups and downs. A consultant can help leaders understand their roles and responsibilities in leading multicultural organizational change. It’s up to your leaders to embrace these responsibilities. Pitfall: The work goes nowhere because leaders aren’t invested and are waiting for someone else to lead. A few people, often people of color, are expected to carry do the work.
  1. Are you willing to go through ups and downs? This work isn’t about perfectly executed plans and actions. It’s a human process involving human interactions. It can get messy and have ups and downs. If you expect difficult moments as a normal part of the process, it’s easier to keep moving forward. A consultant can help you understand what you can expect. It’s up to you to keep the process moving through those ups and downs. Pitfall: The organization hits a rough spot and commitment goes out the window.
  1. Are you willing to examine and address larger systemic issues? If you are dealing with a specific issue, such as hiring more staff of color, or a race-based conflict between individuals, it is likely that the issue is linked to larger systems. There may be basic assumptions operating, ways of communicating and patterns of doing things that need transforming in order to address these systemic issues. A consultant can help you uncover the larger systemic issues and design ways to address them. It’s up to you to insure that these issues get addressed. Pitfall: Meaningful change doesn’t happen, because issues are dealt with in isolation.
  1. Are you willing to acknowledge and address racism, power, and privilege? Dynamics of racism, power, and privilege always come into play in organizations, and usually aren’t discussed. They also surface during the process of working for change. Work around race is often fraught with defensiveness, micro-aggressions, and resistance. When there is a willingness to acknowledge these dynamics and work to transform them, trust can be built and the organization can become a place where everyone is valued and able to fully contribute. A consultant can help you understand the dynamics of power and privilege and develop awareness and skills to address them. It’s up to people inside the organization, particularly the leaders, to do the work on a day-to-day basis. Pitfall: Dynamics of power and privilege go unchecked, and the work cannot succeed. People of color continue to be negatively impacted by these dynamics.
  1. Are you willing to invest in communication and relationship building? A huge concern of nonprofits is that everyone is so busy that they don’t think they have time to stop to do the work it takes to really listen and dialogue with one another. This culture of busy-ness is part of the business-as-usual that needs to be interrupted. A consultant can help you develop your ability to communicate more effectively and facilitate activities to strengthen relationships. It’s up to you to make it a priority to carve out time for communication and building trusting relationships. Pitfall: The organization stays mired in tasks and fails to attend to building relationships.

If your answer to all of these questions is a solid “yes”, then you are probably in a good position to move ahead with diversity equity and inclusion work. If your answer to any of these questions is “no” or “not so much”, don’t despair. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start the work. The first phase of your effort might be putting the foundations in place so that you can do sustainable work. Starting where you are, even if it isn’t as far along as you’d like to be, will give you the best chances of success.

Thanks to my colleague Isoke Femi, Transformational Group Facilitator/Coach at Transformative Strategies who helped me get clearer on the focus for this post and reminded me of the importance of relationships.

Related posts:

Undoing Patterns of Privilege as we Learn

Seeing and Naming Racism in Nonprofit & Public Organizations

Diversity & Equity: Closing the Leadership Gap

#BlackLivesMatter:5 Tips and 25 Questions for Nonprofit & Public Organizations

Note to readers: I hope you enjoyed reading “Lessons from the Field.” If you find this information useful and want to share it with others for purposes of learning (not for profit), please feel free to do so. Thanks!