Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) consulting firms are in high demand nationwide. As social awareness grows, many companies find that they must reckon with business structures that cause employees from marginalized communities — employees of color in particular — to face additional obstacles in the workplace.
A 2020 (pre-pandemic) Cigna Loneliness at Work survey found that 39% of Hispanic employees and 30% of African-American employees felt alienated from coworkers, compared to 26% for white employees. Increased rates of loneliness are linked to a decline in overall mental health. This phenomenon can harm BIPOC employees’ ability to thrive at work. Additionally, BIPOC employees are more likely to face racial bias at every turn. This results in lower grades on performance reviews, being passed on for promotions and a general lack of mentorship.
Equity consulting involves a holistic and detailed approach toward addressing inequities and implementing solutions. One of Denver’s newest firms is making waves with its unique business model.
Founded by four young women in Denver and one in Raleigh, North Carolina, CORE is an equity consulting firm rooted in grassroots organizing and sustainable methods of change. Founding partners Joie Ha, Winnie Pham and Lena Chhay all met while engaging in anti-racist activism a few years ago. The three realized their goals for advancing racial justice aligned, and they began facilitating community anti-racist education workshops. They met Gina Atkins from Raleigh at a virtual workshop and thought Atkins would make a strong addition to the team.
After, they began to collaborate on anti-racist work in Denver and Raleigh. Ananda Dimock began designing CORE’s public brand identity and served in a marketing capacity. In 2020, the group realized they had an opportunity to formalize their work. They turned their investment in anti-racist organizing into Community Organizing for Radical Empathy, or CORE.
“We were already serving on panels and running workshops, and we wanted to formalize it into a firm,” said Ha, one of CORE’s Founding Partners.
CORE offers a range of professional services designed to create sustainable company structures rooted in equitable business practices. Clients can request consulting, workshop facilitation, organizational analysis and strategic planning. The majority of clients are from Colorado. Blending professional consulting with community organizing, in particular, is a part of CORE’s unique model. Each founder has ties to grassroots organizing and anti-racist work. Thus, they assure clients that they won’t hold back with recommendations or workshop language — even if it makes people uncomfortable. Moving through discomfort is part of the work.
“In the DEI field, a lot of workshops are sanitized for the workplace. That takes away from the potential for progress. When we consult with clients and provide recommendations, we always gather input from [employees] to better communicate workplace needs with leadership,” said Ha.
“We don’t try to sugarcoat certain things. We try to communicate in [a] way that gets to the heart of issues and takes in multiple perspectives,” elaborated Atkins, an academic, educator and Founding Partner.
CORE is not afraid to be a truth-telling firm. With clients thus far, transparency makes them more successful. CORE often creates custom workshops tailored to the needs of a company. For example, CORE has customized workshops on allyship in the workplace as well as those focused on racism towards the AAPI community.
Alongside working with clients, CORE invests a steady flow of time and money back into communities in Denver and Raleigh. For example, a portion of client fees goes directly into anti-racist organizing efforts.
“Our roots are and will always be community organizing,” said Ha.
CORE runs a handful of weekly healing circles for the AAPI community in Denver: AAPI Men’s Circle, AAPI Adoptee’s Circle, AAPI Women with Small Children Circle and Queer AAPI Circle. They also have two flagship workshops. Courageous Conversations equips people with the tools they need to discuss societal issues with loved ones. Sustainable Allyship teaches new allies how to sustain their work and hold themselves accountable.
In the wake of a national spike in violence towards Asian Americans, CORE’s founders rose to the challenge to rally Denver residents around solidarity for AAPI communities. In March, they organized a rally at the State Capitol to raise awareness and mobilize community members to act. At the rally, volunteers passed out small cards with QR codes. The QR code redirected to a list of action steps that CORE created for sustainable activism.
CORE’s founders work tirelessly to create sustainable results. For them, educational workshops and DEI recommendations are just the first step. True change comes from a consistent shift in behaviors and attitudes. This holds true for both clients and community activists.
“Activism is not a destination, it’s a journey,” said Atkins
Knowledgeable, Resourceful and Passionate
All of CORE’s founders are experts in certain topics and skill sets. When faced with a project out of their depth, they jump at the opportunity to bring in an expert. “We always want to bring in experts and elevate their work,” said Ha. CORE stands tall in their collective expertise and retains a certain level of humility in acknowledging they don’t know everything. For client requests, CORE makes sure to find an expert to fill the knowledge gap for a particular workshop or presentation.
Each founder pours passion and expertise into the work they do for CORE DEI. And all of them have day jobs.
“Helping the community has always been a passion of mine. Achieving justice for the communities we work with is a priority for myself, and a priority CORE instills in spaces we are invited into” said Chhay, a technology consultant and Founding Partner.
Consulting firms don’t normally blend professional services with work on the ground. Rather than limit themselves to a narrow definition of professionalism, CORE works with both clients and communities to further realize their mission of justice.
As a consulting firm, CORE builds long-term relationships with a rotation of clients, allowing opportunities to work with companies from multiple angles. Embedded in much of CORE’s offerings is accountability. CORE provides accessible accountability steps each person can take to make their behavior at work consistent.
In Denver, CORE is a highly active organizing hub. They organize one-time events and rallies and sustain weekly AAPI Healing Circles. AAPI Healing Circle participants have a safe and regular space to build community with one another, which cements a long-term impact.
On social media, CORE weaves anti-racist education with storytelling to engage a young audience in digital organizing. Social media allows CORE to take some of the key lessons from formal workshops and make them accessible to the public.
“In this new day and age, I recognize an opportunity in engaging an already activated youth through design and social media. CORE allows me to do this with a larger audience and I’m glad I get to marry my love for design with activism in my role,” said Dimock, a graphic designer and Founding Partner.
CORE looks forward to continuing its work with clients to build safer workplaces. “I would love to make CORE my day job. That’s the dream,” said Pham, a researcher and Founding Partner.