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Stop hiring your neighbor!

A former colleague called me, frustrated and disappointed. Their White executive director had hired her friend, another White woman, to be their company's "equity consultant."

This newly hired White friend had BIPOC staff to do all the work (survey design, implementation, and analysis) while she received credit for her "leadership."

Hmm. Not the best optics, but okay. You might be thinking, maybe that White friend is highly qualified, and the bad optics are a coincidence?

Think again: The story reminded me of a personal experience, when an HR director wanted to hire my firm to lead diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) consulting at their company.

Although I was selected by staff as the consultant of choice, the HR director's supervisor chose to hire her neighbor: a White woman consultant who, it was explained, "knows about diversity" because she's married to an Asian man.

(Usually I would chalk that kind of hearsay up to rumor. But several staff from the organization shared the same story separately, and several – including the HR director – resigned because of it.)

One story like this might be a coincidence. But the same story, again and again (I could share ‘em until the cows come home), is a pattern.

And that pattern has a name: nepotism.

Nepotism is the practice of using your influence to favor relatives or friends, particularly by giving them jobs. This practice is thriving in DEIB – and not only for White people.

I've heard similar tales of nepotism about DEIB consultants of color. So I'm not at all saying that White DEIB consultants can't be as effective as BIPOC consultants.

I am saying that consultants of any kind should go through the same rigorous selection process and be hired based on what they know (skill set, abilities, and experience), not who they know (social relationships).

Taking the easy route by hiring your neighbor to do DEIB work will cost you deeply. That cost may include, but isn’t limited to, loss of trust and respect from staff members, good employees who resign because they see your stance on DEIB is performative, and a poor reputation in the marketplace for the failure to make meaningful progress.

The consultants you hire permanently affect your business. But those of you hiring friends and neighbors aren’t the only ones who bear responsibility: the many people calling themselves “consultants” without experience, qualifications, or a deep commitment to their own learning must be held accountable, too.

I see folx like this all over the Internet: they seem to view DEIB as a trendy opportunity to make money. These quasi-consultants rest on the laurels of personal experience or superficial interest. They haven’t studied or developed their skills, and (this really infuriates me) they often present someone else’s frameworks or resources instead of developing their own.

So today, I have two recommendations:

Quasi-Consultants: DEIB is not a “get rich quick” opportunity. If you haven't studied and developed your skills, you're doing more harm than good. Please stop plagiarizing others’ work; please stop saying you’re qualified to lead DEIB initiatives when you are not; please stop asking experienced consultants to refer their clients to you to help you grow your business. If your interest is genuine, I encourage you to seek learning opportunities and experience by working for established DEIB consultants.

Leaders: please stop hiring consultants who make you feel comfortable. Hiring a DEIB consultant is like looking in a mirror. When you make the familiar choice, you’re electing to look in a dirty mirror that won’t show you any flaws. An effective DEIB consultant, on the other hand, is there to give you a bottle of Windex. Together you can wipe the mirror clean, and do the serious self- and organizational-reflection that is the foundation of real change.

In the words of motivational speaker Eric Thomas: "To get to that next level, you've got to learn to get comfortable being uncomfortable."

Now tell me: have you witnessed nepotism at work in DEIB consulting work? What happened? Hit reply and let me know.

P.S. My “Allyship Challenge” keynote is an engaging discussion on how you can implement my Allyship Challenge at your office. In this session, you and your team will learn the three stages of allyship and how to level up from ally to accomplice. Let’s connect.


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