EDI: Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
Based on in-depth interviews and a survey of EDI consultants and company embedded
EDI practitioners, this article provides helpful guidelines on how to best match clients and EDI consultants for impactful EDI work.
While one could always argue cause and effect, it is undeniable that successful diversity
and inclusion efforts in companies are correlated with better business performance: an
antidote to ‘group think’ diversity improves resilience in uncertainty and is a predictor of
innovation and growth.
It is not a surprise therefore, that the business of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion [EDI] is expanding. Pegged to be the fastest growing segment within HR, there has been a 20% increase in executive and senior executive D&I vacancies in the last two years, according to the Indeed.com.
However, not all businesses can invest in internal resources to the extent required, or sometimes not at all, in order to leverage the business benefits of diversity and inclusion – and this is where EDI consultants come in.
My last piece explored the risks of engaging a consultant to clients, including the lack of
assurance on quality, and the risks to consultants, such as client readiness or commitment to change. Based on in-depth interviews with EDI consultants and internally embedded EDI practitioners, who are often the company point of contact for EDI consultancy engagements, this article provides helpful guidelines on how to best match clients and consultants for impactful EDI work.
Word of mouth is gold
It is well known that successful EDI consultants find work via existing networks, and word- of-mouth referrals. This is absolutely fine, except that the need is growing. Those
consultants that have found good clients have likely invested a lot of time and effort to
keep them. Many consultants I’ve interviewed expressed that later in their careers, they
work with far less clients, and are far pickier.
My research also showed that in-company EDI practitioners tend to leverage their own
networks to find external help. As one professional EDI manager puts it: “The thing that
gets consultants across the line is: Who are they currently working with? Are there any
credible names that they're working with?” Consultants echo this: “Clients are very risk averse and tend to work with established names.” So, it is all about who you know.
But what if you don’t know anyone? Where do you go to look? What if your network isn’t
broad or diverse enough, or you can’t find someone with many years of experience in your industry, or you require a specific skillset? How do you test for this?
Trawling through hundreds and hundreds of EDI consultant profiles on LinkedIn, it is very difficult to understand which of them would be best – for your company. There isn’t a database, a professional consultancy body that verifies quality, and consultants are not incentivised to make this happen because Successful ones don’t need to, and those
working their way up don’t want to be easily comparable in case it jeopardises their
Similarly, if you are an EDI consultant, how do you know whether the client you’re
working with is only engaging with the EDI agenda as a tick box exercise, wasting
your time and putting your reputation in jeopardy through any subsequent issues in work you have been associated with? How can you tell whether the client is ready or willing to change in line with your recommendations?
Through extensive in-depth interviews, I have compiled a starting list of guidelines to help consultants and clients to better match, reinforcing the likelihood of success with EDI projects in organisations.
Recommendations for consultants
Consultants must be careful to understand the organisational context and EDI ‘maturity’ of the potential client before contracting work. With clarity on the client’s motivation and
readiness, consultants must follow the maxim ‘do no harm’. This requires an honest and
conscientious consideration of the services that would be most beneficial to the client, and whether they are equipped and able to provide these as the consultant.
Questions for the client (before contracting) should include:
To what extent do your board, senior leader (and senior leadership team) understand the business benefits of EDI?
Is there a vision of what your company would look like, with respect to EDI, in five or ten years? Who is responsible for driving this vision? Who is responsible for delivery?
What ‘problem’ do you want the consultant to help with? Why is this a problem?
What does ‘success’ looks like? Why is this deemed as success?
How does your company deal with large scale change? Can you give examples?
How would you describe your company’s culture? How do you measure this?
What kind of budget do you have for EDI efforts? Who owns it?
Which internal stakeholders are involved and which would you expect the consultant to work with?
Reflective questions for consultants
To what extent can the services I provide be of help to this organisation?
What is the state of organisational readiness for cultural change?
What motivation does the client have in engaging in this work?
Who are the key stakeholders driving the work, and are they committed?
Recommendations for clients
Although it is expected that the consultant will be someone who can build good
relationships with stakeholders, their competencies with respect to EDI come largely
untested for your unique environment. Depending on the ‘problem’ the organisation is
attempting to solve, some questions for the consultant (before contracting) should include:
How do you illustrate the business benefits of EDI in our industry?
Can you give examples of your work in supporting organisational cultural change?
How would you create commitment to EDI with senior leaders and the board?
Can you give an example of helping to arrive at consensus, or build trust and engagement, with a variety of stakeholders?
What kinds of challenges are typical to the implementation of EDI efforts?
What is your experience in creating programs to deliver a vision and strategy?
What methods do you use to present your findings to key stakeholders?
Which information do you need from us? How quickly and to what level of detail?
Why do you recommend this course of action [i.e. the specific intervention or action for the company to take]? How does/should success look like?
Reflective questions for consultants
What are the biggest barriers to this work, and how can they be alleviated?
What kind of service are we looking for: information (benchmarking, best practice policy and practice, training), services (diagnosis, facilitation, stakeholder engagement) or action planning (facilitating group work, creating targets and reporting)?
I would welcome additional perspectives and questions, so please do comment below or shoot me an email at email@example.com.
Ivana Vasic Chalmers, Working in strategic planning, risk and governance in higher education, Ivana works with leadership and the Board to develop frameworks, programs and process to support the strategic plan. A passionate advocate for equality, diversity and inclusion, she has led equality initiatives and teams, published research on the subject and works pro-bono for a start-up focused on improving lives of working parents and their children. Having lived in the Balkans, South Africa, the Middle East and United Kingdom, she is fascinated by the effects of culture on gender parity.
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