So You Want to Hire an Equity Consultant – Part 2

Mar 20, 2019 | Woke @ Work

By Kerrien Suarez with the support of Ericka Hines

This is the second in a series of recommendations designed to help nonprofit and philanthropic organizations engage consultants to build a Race Equity Culture. You can read the first post in the series here.


Leaders find the process of hiring a race equity consultant to be fraught with challenges. So many organizations make critical missteps in the process that Fakequity wrote a blog about how not to screw it up. The increasing number of training and capacity building options available, the complexity of assessing organizational readiness, the question of when and with whom to begin the work: Individually and collectively, these issues can lead to months (sometimes years) of delays. This leads to a type of “analysis paralysis” that practitioners recognize as a means of tactically avoiding beginning the work itself.

Building on themes from the “What Would an Equity Consultant Do?” panel at the 2018 Equity in the Center Summit (video can be found here: Part One, Part Two, Part Three), the following is a list of tools and resources that address key questions nonprofit and philanthropic leaders frequently ask before bringing on an equity consultant. They are designed to orient leaders to the process and demands of the work, and support organizations in identifying, retaining and successfully partnering with a race equity consultant. Many tools included below are indexed on the Racial Equity Tools website, a list of 1900+ resources curated by Center for Assessment and Policy Development, MP Associates and World Trust Educational Services.

Identify the skill or expertise your organization needs at this particular time. It will be different at the very beginning of this work (when you may need foundational training to develop a shared language on race) than one year into the work (when you may need a one to two year action plan with clear learning goals and tactical priorities) than three years into the work (when you may need to ensure that organizational behavior/beliefs and policies/practices are aligned across functions to maintain momentum in building a Race Equity Culture). The Denver Foundation tool referenced above can support organizations in outlining the specific consultant skills needed to achieve immediate project goals.

Understand there is no consultant who is the “perfect” fit for your organization. Perfection is an unrealistic goal, yet organizational culture (built on white dominant standards) prioritizes it. Organizations often get caught in a loop of searching for the “right” consultant and not finding them, which leaves the work at a stand-still. Engaging a firm, a team of independent consultants, or an individual consultant who pulls in colleagues with specific skills and experience for collaboration at key points, is worth considering. Each consultant will bring a set of race, gender, sexual orientation and class (among other) identities to the work, which moderates how they give feedback and facilitate discussions with individuals and groups during an engagement. For example, white team members are often best able to “hear” direct feedback on how microaggressions and white fragility show up in their interactions with colleagues from a consultant who also identifies as white. Similarly, people of color are often more comfortable expressing (and publicly processing) experiences of race-based trauma inside and outside of the organization when the dialogue is facilitated by an external consultant who is also of color. Also, many organizations engage a consultant to lead their race equity initiatives and hire coaches to help managers and senior leaders process its personal, interpersonal and institutional implications for their daily work. Consider it a red flag if a candidate is not able to articulate how the multiple identities they hold play out in their work as a consultant/facilitator, or if they say that, as an individual, they have “everything you need” to successfully accomplish the challenging, nuanced race equity work before your organization.

Pay attention to white culture and privilege and how it shows up both internally and externally during a race equity process. Hire a consultant who can call out and explicitly mitigate these dynamics, which often comprise a missing link in the process. In addition to establishing intentional group norms that promote explicit reflection on white culture and privilege, and how they manifest inside and outside of organizations, a skilled consultant will utilize caucusing by racial identity to surface implicit dynamics around white culture, privilege and whiteness. Caucusing can be an effective strategy for surfacing issues of white culture an