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  • Writer's pictureLauren Beriont

The reluctant consultant

Updated: Nov 16, 2020

When we first started Emergence Collective, a lot of our co-founders felt uncomfortable with the word “consultant.” We tested out synonyms in conversations with friends, family, and even potential partners, and were almost universally met with the response, “So, you’re a consultant?” For simplicity’s sake we went back to using the term, but I wanted to unpack what it is about the reputation of consulting that has made me averse to using it.

A quick Google search helped to add some context. According to the top definition, a consultant is a “person who provides expert advice professionally.” Let’s break down the disconnects with that definition:

Back to the Google search results. The first image search results page featured pictures of McKinsey consultants (almost exclusively older white men; as a women-owned firm, we notice that lack of representation).

So back to this question, why have I felt uncomfortable calling myself a consultant? Because the perceptions above don’t reflect my identity. In sociology, this is called “collusion,” a term I learned when I started exploring my own hesitation to claim the term “lesbian” - it just sounds kinda yucky, right? Wrong. That’s just what I’ve been socialized to think.

So there’s a Catch-22 here (or a positive feedback loop, if we want to use evaluator-speak). Consulting has a reputation that is misaligned with how I see I don’t want to call myself a there are fewer people like me to expand or challenge the perception of consulting.

I (and other consultants reading this) can break this loop, reimagining our role and setting higher standards. We can be more relational and more focused on implementation and learning. We can push more for justice and equity. We can celebrate and give credit to the work of our partners.

Our pledge to our partners and our community has always been to push the boundaries. The perceptions of our work that don’t match our personal and organizational values are another boundary we have leverage to push. So my intention for the next time I shake hands with someone new is to reclaim my role: “Hi, my name is Lauren, and I’m a consultant.”

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