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Hire or Outsource? How to Choose a DEI Practitioner

Updated: Sep 8, 2022

Wondering which areas and DEI projects to prioritize in your organization? Take the free DEI Business Assessment.



  • Allocating appropriate resources will make or break the success of this role.

  • There is an almost endless list of different hats potentially required for this role - be mindful of what you’re looking for in a candidate or team.

  • Hiring for a DEI practitioner is just like hiring an expert for any other department, make sure to do your due diligence and be thoughtful in your approach.


As the world wakes up to the reality of the need for greater Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging, Access, and Justice - a more human centered society, employees of all kinds are demanding that their workplaces step up and transform. The case for how Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion strategy can positively impact business outcomes is overwhelming (McKinsey & Company). Additionally, there is a much more watchful eye from the workforce regarding these issues, putting pressure on executive teams to act. More than 3 in 4 employees and job seekers (76%) report a diverse workforce is an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers (Glassdoor).

If employers don’t respond to this movement, they may see a decrease in morale, engagement, performance, and/or employee retention. A study by the Kapor Center for Social Impact shows that tech employees from a variety of backgrounds cited unfairness more than any other factor as a key driver of their decision to voluntarily leave the company. Unfairness and discrimination can have a ripple effect on future hiring and even sales. In the same study it was found that 35% of former employees said they’d be less likely to recommend someone to work at that company and 25% said they’d be less likely to recommend someone to buy that company’s products or services. Additionally, as the relationship between employer branding and corporate branding grows more intertwined, companies will see the impact of a negative employer perception also on their products and services, which could ultimately hinder sales.

The question that falls to senior leaders then is, what do we do about it? It’s not news to many executives that there is room for improvement when it comes to DEI for their organizations. They could probably come up with a long list of potential projects like more representative sourcing, conducting a talent pool analysis, updating job descriptions, redesigning the hiring and screening processes, restructuring performance reviews and compensation, developing remote work policies, starting and managing Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), developing and delivering a DEI training program, setting DEI goals, conducting workforce inclusion and belonging surveys, developing inclusive communication guidelines, establishing DEI metrics and regular reporting, and that doesn’t even begin to address the potential externally facing initiatives.

This can feel like an overwhelming amount of work. If you’re a senior leader in your company and/or you’re the one responsible for this work, you’ve probably thought, “I don’t have enough resources to do this. There’s no time to do both this and all of our regular operations,” or “I don’t know enough about this, how am I going to actually do this?” And so, it is decided that you need to find someone or some people to help you.

"It's not about being right, it's about getting it right."

--Brene Brown

There is a harmful way to approach integrating DEI into your business. The reality is, the impact of your actions matter more than your intention. Being thoughtful about your approach and who will help you is going to be key to successfully integrating DEI into your workplace and your operations. There are several options that you can consider. We’ll explore them in the following paragraphs.

Option 1: Reorganize Current Staff

Credit: Leon onUnsplash

One option is to keep your current capacity the same and utilize your existing staff. This will require consolidating or shifting responsibilities amongst staff. For this approach, it will be important to update job descriptions with clear expectations and responsibilities that reflect the change in roles. It is beneficial for leadership to be aligned on the DEI goals and priorities so that employees are set up for success. It may be beneficial to revisit performance metrics and goals for all new responsibilities. It will be important to have a plan for professional development and skill building for these additional roles.

This option may be for you if…

  • You have limited money or people

  • You’re looking to up-skill and develop staff

  • You’re looking to expand responsibility and ownership of staff and build a bench of future leadership

What to watch out for…

When organizations choose this approach, they often view this work as bonus or volunteer work and expect employees to do it outside of their normal working hours or on top of their current workload. Often, this results in employees working overtime, someone not getting paid for their work, or other roles and projects get de-prioritized. Not compensating employees for these responsibilities greatly devalues the work and can make employees feel like their contribution and this work doesn’t actually matter to senior leadership. When it comes down to it, it’s unrealistic to expect new responsibilities to be accomplished without making any changes to capacity. Be mindful that your selection process for stretch projects does not become another area where employees face unfair discrimination, given that women and racial minorities are often held to higher standards of experience and qualifications. If you want to achieve your DEI goals, it will require an appropriate budget, people, leadership commitment, and a plan - just like any other strategic initiative.

Set yourself up for success…

  • Conduct an inclusion and belonging survey to learn what the current pain points and greatest opportunities are from the employee perspective. This can help influence the priorities for new roles.

  • Develop clear roles, responsibilities, expectations, and performance metrics. Be sure to grant the proper authority for decision making so progress can actually be made.

  • Communicate these opportunities to everyone in the organization - you may be surprised by who is interested in stepping up. Consider having a Q&A session to present the opportunities and address potential employee concerns about how these changes might affect their day-to-day.

  • Conduct a fair screening process for these additional responsibilities.

  • Create a development plan that connects these employees with subject matter experts and the latest industry knowledge and resources.

Option 2: Hire New Staff

A second option is to add capacity for this work by hiring someone or some people to your organization. Creating an appropriate job description will be crucial here - you may need multiple depending on the amount of work expected to be done. There are several elements to consider for this option before posting the position publicly. Here are some questions to ask:

  • What is expected to be accomplished? What is the nature of the work to be done?

  • How many people are required to accomplish the company’s DEI goals this year? In the next 5 years? Can one person realistically do the work or does it require a team?

  • What is the appropriate and realistic experience required for the role(s)? How many years and of what type?

  • What are the non-negotiable qualifications required? What are the nice-to-haves?

  • How much say and decision making power will this role have?

  • Will they be privy to or part of strategic business conversations?

  • What is the budget this role will be able to work with? Is it aligned with what is expected to be accomplished?

  • When they start working, who can or will support them with implementation (i.e. executive leaders, a task force or committee, department heads, managers)?

  • What is the appropriate salary for the role(s)?

This option may be for you if…

  • You have resources to put toward hiring and onboarding one or more staff

  • You can allocate a significant budget for project implementation

  • You’re ready to begin a long-term journey of transformation

What to watch out for…

When you’re hiring a DEI Director/Lead/VP/etc., it is important to understand that this role goes way beyond culture - there are many hats this role requires. It could include any or all of the following:

  • Training and facilitation

  • Learning and development program design

  • Operational efficiency

  • Culture

  • Project management

  • Strategy

  • Data analysis

  • People operations and administration

  • Legal and compliance

  • Events and programming coordination

  • HR operations

  • Coaching

  • And more

You are looking for a unicorn! Be mindful of that fact and when you find them, compensate them for their variety of expertise.

You may have many strong applicants who have related experience, although DEI was not part of their core role. One example of that is employees who ran an Employee Resource Group in their company or led culture initiatives to foster belonging within their teams.

Have realistic and fair expectations of experience requirements and decide beforehand on the level of openness you have towards someone who may not meet all the requirements but demonstrates potential. Double check throughout the screening process that the requirements are applied across all candidates fairly.

The pool of DEI practitioners is growing, but getting senior level talent for an in-house role is somewhat limited. Consider what kind of experience is relevant for the role(s) and have a realistic expectation about what level of experience you are open to.

Set yourself up for success…

  • Create a talent plan that includes the number of roles, mobility opportunities, compensation, and a timeline.

  • Craft a job description that is appropriate for the work you’re expecting.

  • Set an initial budget number for this new hire to work with and be open to alterations with input from this person.

  • Create a development plan that connects this new hire with other subject matter experts or mentors and access to the latest industry knowledge, conferences, and resources.

Option 3: Outsource for Planning & Short-Term Project Vendors

Credit: Leon on Unsplash

A third option is to hire vendors and outsource this work to expert consultants and practitioners. There are a variety of projects that a company could implement that mentioned above in Option 1, and they each may require a different kind of specialist. If your company does not already have a strategy, plan, or goals that will be a good project to kick things off with. Even better is to conduct an analysis of where DEI is lacking and discrimination is present across all areas and processes of the organization. This will give you more context for your planning. There are a variety of practitioners who perform assessments and audits like this at various scales.

This option may be for you if…

  • You’re unsure of how to get started and what sorts of things should be included in a strategy or plan

  • You want to take it one step at a time and make sure you don’t make anything worse

  • You’re trying to maximize your resources and be conscientious of your capacity

What to watch out for...

If you’re going to talk the talk, you’ve got to walk the walk. Sometimes businesses execute short-term projects to create a specific perception of their companies. Sometimes it’s reflective of commitment to transformation and to their workforce, and sometimes it could be to stall for time or distract from greater issues. Be wary of being performative. Eventually, all action will color the perception the market has of the organization and you’ll want to make sure it comes from a place of genuine care. Take the time to find vendors that share a high level of integrity.

Set yourself up for success...

  • Start with goal setting. Begin with conversations at a leadership level to establish commitment and then get the employee perspective in a belonging survey.

  • Research and get advice from experts. Ask, what am I missing? What is possible and what is out there? Expect that almost all consulting firms will conduct some sort of discovery process to inform their recommendations. This part is as important for you as it is for them.

  • If your goal is to eventually hire someone in-house full-time, ask your potential vendors what their process is for eventually transitioning the work back to someone internally. It will be valuable to find a DEI practitioner who is invested in your company’s long term success, beyond their touchpoint with you. No matter which short-term project they are doing for you, make sure they have your longer-term interests in mind.

Option 4: Outsource for a Strategy Implementation Partner

A fourth option is to find an external DEI Strategy Implementation partner. This could be a firm that acts either as long-term advisors and consultants, or go as far as a completely outsourced team. If you take the advisor route, then it is likely that this firm works with senior leaders or coaches an internal DEI lead or team. If you decide to completely outsource, this partnering firm would act as the DEI lead or team and run all projects and programming. Similar to having an External CFO or Marketing Consultants or IT Consultants, you add capacity and deep expertise to your organization. The work could be full-service or more specialized. Depending on your needs, one option may fit your reality better than the other. With this type of option, the relationship is about growing together for the long-term.

This option may be for you if…

  • You’re ready for structural transformation across the organization

  • You’re trying to maximize your resources and be conscientious of your capacity

  • You want a high-level of expertise focused on integrating these initiatives into your business

What to watch out for...

If you don’t have a general idea of a DEI vision for your company and what you’re looking for in a strategic partner before you start having meetings with potential vendors, you may end up talking to many practitioners or just going with the first firm you talk to. Either way, it’s likely not the best use of your time. Ground yourself with goals and a vision for how you’d like to see your company integrating diversity, equity, and inclusion. You’ll be able to have better conversations about budget, scope, timeline, and services. Getting clear on what your potential concerns are and communicating those to your potential vendors will help you both realize sooner whether you’re a fit for each other or not. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution that works for all companies and it will be important to make sure you and your strategic partner are truly aligned on vision and approach.

Set yourself up for success...

  • Outline a set of questions to interview potential vendors with. Consider the following criteria:

    • Timing and timeline

    • Scope of their role including level of authority, relationship and communication with your staff, and types of responsibilities

    • Types of services, specialities, or focuses you want to have

    • Budget

    • Out-of-the-box vs customized solutions

    • Values and approach

    • Working style

  • Set a realistic budget and timeline for this based on the expertise and work required.

  • Be open to solutions that you didn’t think of first. You’re in search of an outside vendor and expert for a reason and it’s okay not to have all the answers up front. Listen to their advice and approaches with an open mind.

When choosing which option will work best for you, it is important to ask yourself the question, am I allocating an appropriate amount of attention and resources to this given the scope of my goals? Aligning your capacity with your goals will help maintain realistic expectations for strategy implementation. There is no one right way to do this. Be thoughtful and intentional about your decision. Some organizations may be ready to go all in from the start and others may prefer to take a slow and steady approach. If you’re genuine and transparent in whichever approach you choose, that will always be better than performative actions that are “just for show.”

Consider, what do you actually want for your organization? Why do you want it? Take the time to think through what the work of this role will entail. If you’re wanting expertise and looking for real change, allow your DEI practitioners to be the expert and guide you. It’s okay if you know nothing about this work. Give them the resources and authority that are truly required to do this work and they will be a great force of positive change that creates a more inclusive workplace and ultimately supports business outcomes.



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