I recently wrote an op-ed on the importance of diversity in the school system, particularly among the teaching workforce. And while having diverse teachers is essential, diversity should not be confined to the classroom – or even the school. It should be embraced and implemented throughout all areas of education.
As a management consultant who works primarily in the education sector, it is obvious to me that diversity is needed at all levels. At the onset of any project, consultants are usually seen as outsiders. We are hired to solve problems and assist clients in their work, but in order to be effective, it is imperative that you gain the confidence of your stakeholders. If your clients don’t trust you, it is unlikely that they will trust your recommendations.
The world of consulting tends to be very white and very male but many clients do not fit that profile, especially in the public sector. Urban school districts and charter management organizations serve large populations of students of color, many of whom are low-income. Unfortunately, few consulting firms make a deliberate effort to account for these realities. They don’t make it a priority to hire employees that reflect this background, nor do they provide training so that their consultants understand the communities they are working for.
As a former teacher in Detroit, many of my students were black males. When one of them was having behavior issues in another class they would actually request to see me. I would ask why and why is that they could behave with me but not their other teachers. Some would say because you’re “different” while others would say “because you understand me,” but in so many words they were describing the shared background, the common experiences, and the simple fact that I looked like them. Of course there were other steps I had to take to gain their trust and form a strong relationship, but those attributes made the connection that much easier. These same concepts can be applied to the workplace where consultants have to gain the trust of their clients in order to move toward growth.
Many firms do not consider these ideas, let alone actualize them, and this comes at a detriment to the end product. We’ve read the reports and articles confirming that diversity leads to rich, fresh ideas and results. If a firm doesn’t have employees who can relate to the urban environment in which they are working, how much weight does its recommendations for improvement hold? If a consultant hasn’t made an effort to comprehend the realities of a district or school, are they simply looking at data and not people? Consultants must possess an understanding not only of the job they are tasked with but with whom their work impacts if true progress is sought.
Adults are not that different from children. Building relationships as a consultant is just as important as the reports, presentations, and implementation plans developed. There is substantial – and often overlooked – value in having diversity among your ranks. Innovative and different ideas can be explored once you set the foundation for various thoughts, perspectives, and voices to be heard. Taking this inclusive approach will lead to improved relationships, happier clients, and, simply put, better business.