Reducing issues like racism, homophobia, and ableism is a puzzling problem. The scope is wide and best practices constantly evolve, so some organizations outsource equity, diversity and inclusion support.
Rainbow Diversity Institute (RDI) provides “tools to start chipping away at the problem” of inequity, said founder and CEO Malissa Bryan. RDI is a consultancy of leaders in equity, diversity and inclusion who support universities, community groups, healthcare facilities, nonprofits, and corporations.
They break down complex problems, aiming to make learning less “scary” by helping people feel comfortable making mistakes and growing from them, said Bryan.
Before launching RDI, Bryan’s experience with equity and inclusion work showed them they “could become a change maker,” inspiring them to launch the consultancy.
RDI’s website describes an “anti-oppressive framework.” This means resisting oppression – “We seek out things that are oppressive and we seek out how to dismantle those things,” Bryan elaborated.
Policy changes, strategic planning, hiring policies, and cultivating culture shifts are aspects of RDI’s work.
When Bryan chose the name Rainbow Diversity Institute, they were “thinking of all different people under the rainbow,” they said, smiling broadly and gesturing the shape of a rainbow with their hand. “The LGBTQ community and beyond.”
The University of Guelph’s environmental science department has accessed multiple services from RDI, including support with hiring strategies and creating an equity diversity and inclusion (EDI) committee.
“They really did help us think about what a committee like that could accomplish,” said Andrew Young, assistant professor at the university and chair of the department’s EDI committee. Young said the training empowered them to approach the process “in a genuine manner, as opposed to just being a performative committee.”
Young was impressed by RDI, particularly their customization of services.
“It was very collaborative feeling in some ways, even though they were the experts and we were paying them to put something together for us. We felt very in the loop,” said Young, adding that this was done “on a fairly short time frame and at a very fair price.”
In Young’s eyes “they were just fantastic to work with in every way.”
RDI services are customized and include group sessions, full day retreats, one-on-one coaching, policy reviews, course creation and conflict resolution. Rates range from $200 to $350 per hour for coaching and general consulting services. Training starts at $1,500.
Young said RDI helped his university department identify shortcomings with their hiring practices.
He acknowledged the training didn’t transform “anyone’s attitude overnight, because, you know, a lot of these things are deeply ingrained.”
One training session is “just one piece of the puzzle,” said Bryan, and does not eliminate inequity issues. “It’s one step that organizations need to take.”
Bryan recommends EDI training as frequently as it can be budgeted for, ideally throughout the year.
RDI currently does most training remotely, with some in-person sessions.
Bryan said “hybrid is best” because of the value of face-to-face human connection and the barriers that lack of access to technology can cause with virtual training. She said connecting remotely expands their reach by allowing them to virtually enter spaces that are further away, making it “a lot easier to get folks together.”
Rainbow Diversity Institute consultants
RDI has 17 consultants with various specialities from “different walks of life that are coming together with the common goal of breaking down barriers,” Bryan said. They are “constantly growing little by little,” she said, with more people joining the team soon.
Dr. Ruth Neuftister does media outreach, virtual workshops, and documentation work for RDI. Neuftister’s focus is “sexuality and gender diversity, body size and fat inclusivity, neurodiversity, and assisting in situations where there may be conflict or miscommunication between groups such as staff and boards of directors.”
Neuftister calls their work with RDI “wonderful.” They repair internal and community relations, support strategic planning, and create informative blogs and social media posts.
“It’s a healing balm on my heart,” they said, regarding receiving feedback from clients. This feedback includes “accessible washrooms being created, trans students finding it easier to change their names, upper administration recognizing the unintended ways they had contributed to staff struggles and then taking action to be accountable and make meaningful change,” said Neuftister.
They credit their knowledge to “kind, patient, and exceedingly brilliant” people of colour, especially Black and Indigenous people. For Neuftister, their white privilege comes with a duty to reach “out to other people with similar privilege who want to learn and act in less oppressive ways.”
Neuftister said for them it is essential to do so with “a Black owned company like RDI.”
Bryan said some people are concerned that equality means less for them, wondering “does that mean I’m now going to be harmed or not have a job or have less opportunities?”
RDI helps them break that down and understand that equality is a good thing for everyone. “We all want to be treated equitably and fairly,” Bryan said.
Neuftister said they have “a lot of compassion” for people who respond defensively. “They’ve learned something painful and are struggling to sit with the discomfort of that new knowledge.”
Neuftister aims to “gently but firmly help people to adjust to the new info, realize that it isn’t personal, and find a place where they can continue to learn with the group.”
Neuftister describes what makes RDI different from others in the field. “If I may be very direct and bold: I often find diversity training to be a waste of time,” they said.
Though some trainings they’ve attended were powerful and effective, during many they’ve felt “miserable, embarrassed, confused, and bored.” Memorizing acceptable and unacceptable language “only gets people so far,” Neuftister said.
RDI is different because they provide “a deeper understanding of why this matters, how anti-oppression works, and the clear benefits of decolonized approaches.” Neuftistser said RDI helps clients apply the language and concepts into “meaningful strategies, change, and interactions.”
Reducing inequity in communities is a complex challenge. Experts like the consultants at RDI help people recognize the pieces of the puzzle and teach how to put them together to progress towards a solution.