Written by Zulla Getahun
Over the past year or so, I've had the privilege of collaborating with incredible individuals and organizations who have shown a genuine interest in understanding the values, approach, and possibilities that come with partnering with True North EDI. It has been an enriching journey, allowing me to not only share our expertise but also to learn and grow from the experiences of our dedicated consultants in the field.
Our consultants have been invaluable sources of insight, sharing both the triumphs and challenges they've encountered while working closely with our clients. Additionally, I've had the honor of learning from those who have sought our guidance after previous attempts with other consultants. These collective experiences have granted me a profound perspective on the current landscape of DEI needs and how we can best support our clients in their transformative journeys.
As the Director of Partnerships, my team and I approach every interaction with genuine curiosity and care for the experiences and aspirations of those who seek us out - whether it's for a brief conversation or a long-term partnership. In the hopes of establishing and maintaining meaningful and responsive partnerships, I would like to share some insights on how we can support these relationships from the very beginning.
Sharing the needs of your professional community
We receive outreach from individuals in a myriad of positions. Be it president, manager, board chair, or Equity/Diversity executive, it’s important in the beginning to recognize the potential blind spots that exist when sharing an experience or the emerging needs that led to a DEI consultant being contacted. While our job is to listen and ask questions for deeper understanding, we also know that we’re only getting part of the story. This isn’t about reliable or unreliable witnesses as much as it’s the nature of how we share our experience. We can only truly do it from our own body and point of view. One way to ensure a broader, more inclusive beginning process is to have individuals from multiple identities and perspectives be present to share about the history and present needs of the organization. More specifically, our own values prompt us to want to hear from those who are part of groups or identities that are historically marginalized.
Some of our most successful partnerships began with some sort of Working Group or Committee to helm this work alongside us. We found that relying on only one point of contact can lead to burnout for that individual. We've seen firsthand the risks of having all the responsibility fall on one person (especially if they leave the org). A small, diverse, and representative group to shoulder this work can go a long way. Having a cross-section of passionate individuals with different perspectives and experiences that can be present at the beginning and throughout the work can lead to more innovative and effective solutions. If the team doesn’t exist when you reach out to us, we recommend, when possible, asking a few individuals who capture the spirit of this value to join the first call. As part of our work, we can help you design and create meaningful practices for a more permanent working group or structure that helps guide your DEI work.
No one-size-fits-all solutions
When working with new partners, we strongly recommend starting with an assessment to better understand their organizational culture and identify any gaps in current DEI efforts. This allows us to tailor our approach to meet their specific needs. While the ultimate goal is to create an inclusive environment that attracts and retains a diverse workforce, we need to first identify the tensions, opportunities, and hopes from your current staff. It’s also important to consider where all team members are in their DEI journey and begin with foundational sessions to develop a common language and understanding of historical contexts. This approach will help us dive deeper into more complex topics and work towards transformative change together.
Naming boundaries shouldn’t lead to shortcuts
DEI work manifests in a lot of different ways. It can come in the form of workshops and trainings, strategic planning processes, coaching, and larger work of reimagining how an organization operates and feels. While we understand there are many factors (e.g. budget constraints, capacity issues, or timing) that can limit what’s possible in a given moment, long-term change can only come from tiered and long-term approaches. It’s important that those who reach out to us understand the boundaries of what’s possible and what that means for the impact of our joint work.
As we’ve mentioned in our previous blogs, there are no shortcuts to meaningful change. While you can hire us for a limited engagement to facilitate a series of workshops, they must be placed within the context of a larger vision for the organization for the present and future of its DEI work. So many staff we’ve worked with have reported that short-term efforts can feel superficial and can do more harm than good. Staff take note and can lose trust in the process if they feel that their organization is only making a minimal effort. Asking people to attend just one or two workshops, particularly those who deal with oppression regularly, can feel like picking at a wound and can do more harm than good.
This doesn’t mean do nothing. A big part of our job is working with you to find a balance, and to collaborate and design a plan that provides you with a meaningful starting point and foundation for the larger work. Leadership Coaching, for example, can be extremely complimentary to shorter training engagements. Coaching positions leadership as a leverage point that can amplify and enrich the work happening in workshops.
There are always boundaries to the work we do. But making those boundaries visible creates an opportunity to imagine what’s possible in ways that are values-aligned. Our job is to work with you to design opportunities in creative ways.
Our dynamic together is a mirror into your organization
The relationship between client and consultants is a relationship like any other, and we will bring the values of health and honesty to that relationship. Like any relationship, power dynamics will always be present. Naming that and making it visible allows us to move forward and co-create partnership values and agreements that leave both parties feeling empowered.
Cardozie Jones, our Founder & CEO, often poses questions like "What do we want this relationship to feel like? How do we want to share critical feedback? How do we want to show up when opportunities for growth are presented? What implicit expectations need to be made explicit? What values have we inherited around relationships like this one; which of those values serve this work; and which of them do we need to surrender?"
We believe it's essential to consider these questions when deciding which clients to partner with, and we encourage you to do the same when selecting a consulting partner.Even on our first call, we are seeking to be a trusted partner who brings valuable expertise and perspectives to help guide your aspirations and achieve your goals. We encourage you to engage us (and anyone you are in a professional relationship with) in such a way that keeps that trust paramount; it is the only way we know of to cultivate a positive and collaborative partnership.
Going into any relationship can feel like a big undertaking, especially when the decision to do so has financial implications. But I hope some of what I’ve shared shows what’s possible when we look at the beginning of such relationships as a seedling that can only thrive when it is given time, attention, and care.
Your friends at True North EDI