Hiring a consulting firm to develop or support a diversity and inclusion (D&I) function is fine, experts say, as long as senior leaders drive the organization’s diversity strategy. Before seeking outside help, therefore, it’s important to ensure executive buy-in and support, experts say.
“A workplace diversity program should only be outsourced if the CEO of the client company signs the agreement with the CEO of the company providing the program,” wrote Linda Galindo, president of Galindo Consulting Inc., in an e-mail to SHRM Online. She recommends that the D&I “owner” have a direct connection to the CEO. Moreover, all senior leaders should be involved with—and held accountable for—meeting diversity objectives.
Outside experts are often called upon to facilitate strategic-planning meetings related to diversity, according to Michelle Hurdle-Bradford of Hurdle-Bradford and Associates, a diversity consultancy. However, they generally want key leaders to build the strategic plan and accompanying measures so that they will take ownership of the results.
“You should outsource things like program creation, but not strategy,” wrote Joseph Santana, president of Joseph Santana LLC, a diversity consultancy, in an e-mail. “That is not to say you should not have consultants as advisors, but rather that the final strategy should be a product that arises out of the organization’s needs and is built to evolve the specific company culture.”
Although it can be helpful to get diversity consultants to help establish a diversity program, “the goal must be for the company to eventually take full responsibility for the initiative and activities,” explained Lloyd Bullard, CEO of LB International Consulting LLC. Such ownership is critical, he added, “if the company is truly interested in establishing and implementing policies and practices that support cultural competence and diversity.”
For example, a D&I practitioner at a large publishing firm said her company’s D&I function handles:
- Strategic planning.
- Diversity metrics.
- Diversity training.
- Employee resource group administration.
- Employee events.
Some diversity training is provided by vendors, she told SHRM Online, though most is customized for each company’s needs. Most other D&I-related functions are also handled in-house, she added, either by the HR department or other functional areas, such as community relations.
Benefits of Outsourcing Diversity Programs
Sources consulted for this article said organizations can gain several benefits by calling in outside help, including:
Cost savings. “As companies, both large and small, continue to do more with less, many organizations are outsourcing their diversity programs,” wrote Michelle Benjamin, CEO and founder of Benjamin Enterprises, a workforce-solutions company, in an e-mail. “By outsourcing the program, costs related to overhead, personnel and training for required certifications can be eliminated.”
Task completion. “A lot of times a diversity program is just added to the list of responsibilities of an in-house HR professional,” Benjamin added. Outsourcing enables busy HR and diversity professionals to get items off their to-do list, Hurdle-Bradford agreed. For example, some companies use outside diversity firms to manage their booths at job fairs, which might include the first round of candidate screening, said Hurdle-Bradford.
Certain elements of the diversity recruiting process can be outsourced, such as training materials for recruiters on effective diversity outreach and sourcing. But, Santana cautioned, “Identification of suitable talent across various types of diversity for jobs in the company is best executed when it is developed as an in-house skill.”
Expertise. Many traditional human resource departments are not equipped with the personnel and expertise needed to create and maintain a successful diversity program, Benjamin noted. “By using an outside resource, you get up-to-date information on all aspects of diversity, and your program will be more consistent and all encompassing.”
It doesn’t make sense for an organization to spend time and money building tools and resources that have already been created by consulting companies that focus on diversity and inclusion as their core business, added Santana, a former outsourcing executive.
In the case of diversity training, for example, company leaders can rely on outside experts who already have materials. Still, they should ensure the training is delivered in a way that makes sense for the organization. “If a company has an in-house leadership-training program, it should incorporate [information on] leading diverse teams inclusively into the leadership program, instead of having an outside training company deliver the diversity program separately,” Santana explained.
Objectivity. The in-house creators of a diversity program “might have a hard time recognizing any flaws that could impede the success of their initiative,” observed Jennifer Melton, an EEO/diversity management consultant at F&H Solutions Group LLC. An outsider can “gain a more objective view of what programs, initiatives and processes seem to be working within the organization and what areas might require some minor adjustments or improvements,” she wrote in an e-mail.
Moreover, “Outside consultants are able to share with clients specific diversity-related ideas and programs that have either proven to be successful (or a disappointment) for other similarly situated organizations,” Melton added.
Confidentiality. When diversity training is outsourced, employees have the opportunity “to respond more candidly during classroom discussions surrounding critical organizational issues without any fear of retribution,” Melton said. Similarly, companies often use outside firms to administer diversity-related employee surveys, Hurdle-Bradford said. This can increase the likelihood that employees will respond candidly. Companies also use outsourced staff to organize employee-feedback meetings.
Possible Risks of Outsourcing
Sources said employers must carefully weigh outsourcing decisions. As Galindo put it, “In outsourcing workplace diversity and inclusion programs, events or activities, a company runs the risk of getting high-priced ‘window dressing.’ ” Other possible drawbacks include:
One-size-fits-all approach. A prepackaged program might save an organization money in the short term but might not help it achieve its diversity goals, experts noted. “Perform the necessary research prior to engaging in any type of outsourcing project,” Melton suggested. “Incorporate your own thoughts and ideas into his or her overall diversity plan.”
Misinformation. “You have to make sure the [diversity] trainer understands the company's philosophy or vision on diversity,” cautioned Hurdle-Bradford, so he or she can answer employees’ questions during training in a way that supports the company’s vision.
Stakeholder perceptions. Employee events and community-relations activities are best handled in-house, Hurdle-Bradford said, so that current and prospective employees, as well as other stakeholders, perceive the company’s D&I efforts as a genuine reflection of the organization’s culture.
Another reason organizations might seek outside expertise, sources noted, is to avoid legal liability. In some cases there are government regulations regarding diversity, diversity training and overall diversity programs, Benjamin noted. For example, if an organization appears to favor one demographic group over another in the recruiting process or when it schedules diversity-related events, it could face legal repercussions, added Lynda Zugec, managing director of The Workforce Consultants, an HR consultancy. “If in-house human resource personnel are unsure of how to develop, implement or manage such efforts, it would be best to have this handled by a professional,” she wrote in an e-mail.
Santana summed it up this way: “Like any other business outsourcing decision, the question needs to be, ‘Should this be a core competency of our organization, or is it cheaper, faster and better to have someone else do it for us?’ ”
Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR, is an online editor/manager for SHRM. To read the orginal article on shrm.org, please click here.