As the influx of interest in anti-racism and anti-oppression work continues to grow, I think it’s important for organizational leaders to consider how they go about hiring anti-racism consultants to help them on their journey. Here are some things you need to know:
- Be critical of major organizations and universities that have developed anti-racism courses and advice columns overnight. Among university leaders, boards, and senior leaders across the U.S., the demographics skew largely cis, male, and white. Because of the increased investment in anti-racism consulting and training, a number of these organizations have created course, advice columns, and marketing strategies that on the surface could seem to center anti-racism work in equitable and integral ways. Analyze that. Ask yourself, “If this organization had the resources, prior to the global protests, to invest in building expertise related to anti-racism, why didn’t they build that expertise before? What makes them so well-versed in anti-racism work now?”
- Think about what the technology of structural and interpersonal racism can teach us about other unconscious and conscious biases we hold about trans consultants, fat consultants, dark-skinned consultants, consultants without degrees from Ivy League universities, etc., How is your hiring process informed by your biases? Take out a sheet of paper and engage in a free-writing process about bias. Ask yourself, “What do I know about my personally held biases? What don’t I know? How does my privilege inform my perception of what it means to hire reliable, authoritative, compassionate, knowledgeable consultants to help me and my organization develop a foundation for or advance our existing anti-racism work?”
- Choose a consultant or a consulting firm that makes you feel brave, not safe. Anti-racism work requires us to be vulnerable. Sometimes the idea of feeling vulnerable in life, let alone at work, can make us feel like we are unsafe. So, we try to work with people who make us feel comfortable most of the time, if not all of the time. That means that when organizational leaders go about hiring an anti-racism consultant, their first inclination may be to go with the person that makes them feel most comfortable. Instead, I want you to go with the person who makes you feel brave, the person or people who are honest about how challenging the work is, but who can also hold space for accountability when you make mistakes and hold space for compassion when you struggle to come back from them. That’s what being brave is all about. It’s still showing up even when you know you don’t have all the answers. It’s trying to make the most equitable, most harm-reductive decisions, even when you know you will stumble and fall, from time to time.
- Work with consultants who have an understanding of what it takes to build cultures of generous accountability. At the core of racial equity and anti-racism work, across all intersections of identity, is intervening in and stopping harm. Sometimes, at MMG, we get inquiries from leaders in organizations who want us to come in and focus on structures only. One of the biggest misconceptions about equity and anti-racism work is that it is purely institutional work. But the reality is that in order to do this work in meaningful ways, we have to engage personally and confront our biases and socializations. We have to learn how to build cultures of generous accountability that allow people to make mistakes and seek repair. Seek out consultants who can help you develop the kind of cultures that push on white supremacy norms. That means dismantling oppressive structures and building something new that offers people the encouragement and confidence to admit when they’re wrong and to understand that being wrong is a necessary part of learning and unlearning.
- Hire BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) consultants to take the lead in this work. For some, this may seem obvious. But it may not seem obvious to others, so I thought I would add this note to my list too. BIPOC consultants and trainers should always be taking the lead in anti-racism work. Our communities have endured systemic racism for centuries. Our experiences, healing, and understanding of race and anti-racism should always be centered. Even more specifically, if an organization is seeking to tackle and dismantle anti-Black racism, they should be hiring Black consultants especially Black women and Black non-binary people who do this work. White consultants can and should offer support, but should never be lead. It’s inequitable and recreates systemic inequities that anti-racism work seeks to challenge and dismantle. In addition, there are social and systemic inequities that white consultants will just not be able to see, because of their own socializations and biases surrounding their whiteness. When seeking to hire consulting teams for racial equity work, ensure that BIPOC people hold lead positions in developing Racial Equity Frameworks, consulting and coaching plans, and strategic roadmaps. Just by doing so, you are pushing against systemic inequities that for centuries have disenfranchised Black and Brown people, Indigenous communities, and other people of color.
- Remember that anti-racism work doesn’t come with a discount. What kind of anti-racism work can we expect when we seek to get it at a discount? We are all socialized to see the work of BIPOC people as less worthy of payment. Some organizational leaders may think that it’s harmless to ask for a discount on racial equity work. The reality is that they’re wrong. If you’re seeking a discount, you should challenge yourself on that ask. Would you ask a white financial advisor to offer you a discount on their consulting? Would you ask a white lawyer to offer you a discount on their retainer for organizational representation? I think not. And what could you expect from their work if you did? Pay BIPOC consultants for their labor. Do not underestimate its worth.
Move forward with this in mind:
- Do your best to be brave. This work may be daunting, but facing fear and being honest about that fear is a big part of being brave.
- Reflect on your biases. The other day, I read an article that offered a list of recommended anti-racism educators. Most of the educators and consultants on that list were light skinned, men, thin, or cis. Ask yourself, “What are my written and unwritten prerequisites for hiring an anti-racism consultant and am I inadvertently reinforcing systemic inequities?”
- Pay BIPOC consultants for their labor, no discounts. This work requires a huge level of skill, expertise and personal investment. Let’s show that we understand that by refusing to haggle with anti-racism consultants on their price. If it’s out of your budget, that’s okay. Hire somebody else.
Cis: Someone whose gender identity aligns with their gender assigned at birth.
Generous Accountability: Generous accountability is a term I use to push back against definitions of accountability that define accountability as punishment. I use the term generous to refer to the ways that we engage in self-compassion when we make mistakes and seek to accept and embrace accountability in ways that help us to be brave enough to seek repair.
BIPOC: Black, Indigenous, People of Color