Part 2: So your organization wants to do DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging) work?
Let’s talk about RFPs.
In Part 1, we discussed some strategies for successfully setting out on a path to engage in DEIB work. Now, let’s talk about the most common process that organizations utilize to recruit outside entities to do the work: The famous (or infamous) Request For Proposals, Qualifications, or Applications. Being DEIB-mindful from the very beginning, and at every single stage of the work, is key to a truly transformational process. So here are some things to keep in mind as you draft your RFPs, RFQs, and/or RFAs.
1. You can engage in DEIB as you draft your RFPs, RFQs, and RFAs. So many organizations are recruiting DEIB consultants right now, and guess what? The vast majority are continuing to uphold their old Eurocentric, patriarchal, oppressive structures and practices through the very instruments they are utilizing to seek change. When we continue to draft these instruments in a way that gives advantages to those who have traditionally benefitted from these systems of oppression, that in and of itself is oppressive. So, let’s think through some ways you can do DEIB work as you draft your requests for proposals.
2. Accurately describe the general parameters of the work. such as, “we are looking for a DEI assessment of our organization of 50 people and 20 hours of executive coaching.” It is very important to add a budget (or at least a ballpark) as well. That signals to potential consultants that you’ve either done your homework and are financially invested in the work OR that you are hoping to get our blood, sweat and tears for a song, which lets us know whether this is worth doing. Find the line between specific and vague. You’ve got some knowledge but are humble enough to know that you don’t know everything.
3. Leave space for the consultants to support your learning. It is important to leave room for consultants to inject their own style and strategies into their proposals. This will help you determine the differences between potential consultants. If everything is determined by you, how will you be able to distinguish between the proposals you receive? We recently interviewed with a potential client who told us that the board chose to work with us because we were the only presentation that differed from the others. Make sure you are creating space for those differences to shine through.
4. Look for BIPOC and BIWOC-led firms. You want to hire a BIWOC-owned business that is doing transformative work because you very actively want to be the change you want to see in the world. First of all, broadcast that. SAY you welcome proposals from consultants of color. Done, right? No, actually. Scour your RFP for gate-keeping language (see #5 for an example of this).
5. Make sure your “requisite experience” section isn’t weeding these BIWOC-led firms out. Remember that regardless of what you want to be true, we live in a world where BIWOC are disproportionally under-resourced and discriminated against, so when you say you only want applications from firms that have existed for 5 years and an extensive body of work, whom do you think you will get applications from? White- and male-led firms. BIPOC/BIWOC firms will often be discouraged from applying, and when they do decide to apply, gate-keeping requirements such as these will weed them out in the paper screening. Make sure that you use inclusive (you may even choose belonging) language so that the BIWOC who has been doing this work FOR A LIFETIME but has only recently had the resources and/or opportunity to establish her own firm understands that you are looking for her. Now, let’s be very clear that this does not mean you are lowering your standards. Rather, you are expanding them and looking for different attributes that will get you a high caliber BIWOC/BIPOC firm who truly knows and understands what this work takes. It is a slippery slope, so make sure you are checking your biases and your white saviorism as you go!
6. Strive for a team. This work cannot be done well in isolation. In fact, this is why our founder has never done this work alone. True healing and transformation for all of us and our organizations happens in relationship. We tell you to surround yourself with a team to go through this journey with because that is what we know to be the most effective way to do this work. This doesn’t mean you should axe firms that do not have a team, since not everyone has the resources to work in a collaborative of engaged fellow consultants. But do engage in conversations around what it may look like/take for them do this as a team themselves. Remember the key to this work is the ability to be flexible, honest and, most importantly, vulnerable.
7. Offer a fair price. Place an appropriate value on what you are asking for. We are all engaged in capitalism. But you can choose between extraction and fair compensation. This is ALWAYS important and especially so in this field. This goes back to the why you are here (as discussed in our previous post). You’re here for the right reasons? Prove it. Put your money where your mouth is. You wouldn’t pay your white male-led accounting firm less than they are asking. Ask yourself, why are you looking for a deal with us? And beware of the white-male-owned consultancy group who’s willing to do some pro-bono work on this for you. That may seem like he’s doing you a solid, but really, he’s undermining the value of the work done (better) by people of color, many of whom cannot afford to take such a hit for the work.
8. Choose your consultant. You’ve set yourself up to choose the right consultant for you, and now it’s about fit. Remember that this work requires a tremendous amount of vulnerability, and so you are going to need someone that you trust to keep confidentiality within the process, to hold space for you to ask awkward questions and make mistakes, and who will challenge you when your actions are harmful. (But be sure to put a critical lens on your emotional reactions to potential consultants as well. Surround yourself with a diverse group who will decide together whom to hire. We know that implicit bias leads us to hear the same words and tone differently when they come from a person of color than when they come from a white person. Don’t let slippery terms like ‘fit’ push you to inadvertently replicate systems of oppression.) You want someone who is both very well-versed in this world and who views working with you as a way to learn about you and your organization as well. In other words, you want from a client what we would want from you!
Above all, ask yourself this question: What does privilege afford your organization that you can utilize to help your community walk toward justice. DEIB is not about a cosmetic touch up, it is about unearthing the systemic racism on which our organizations were founded, and that requires truly designing to the margins through Anti-Racist practices.
This post was co-written and cocreated by:
Ana Lugo, Founder, Equity First Consulting
Ana Lugo’s passion and commitment to social equity is embedded in every aspect of her work and life. She comes from a long line of women whose strength, wisdom and resilience have served as a model for what the world has the potential to be and what light the path she walks. Ana’s vision, a world where we work together to dismantle oppressive structures and foster and value all identities, sets the framework from which to deeply understand the causes of and ways to address structural inequities. Ana’s vision also elevates the importance of building community and teams rooted in shared values.
Jenny Levine-Smith, Equity & Justice Educator, Coach, Writer, Organizer, Consultant
Jenny Levine-Smith grew up surrounded by activists, organizers, and teachers who shared and imbued a passion for racial, economic, gender, language, religion, LGBTQ+ justice in both our private and public spaces. As a white, Jewish woman, Jenny has ancestral experience with state-sponsored violence and personal experience with the protective cover of whiteness in America. As an educator, working primarily with Latinx youth, Jenny saw first-hand how institutions in this country work together to strip Black and brown youth of agency, culture, and language, as well as how powerful and resilient these children and their families are. She left the classroom committed to working with People of Color who are working to deconstruct and transform these systems.