Engaging White Men in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Efforts: What Works for Organizations?

  1. Make DEI everyone’s issue. Frame DEI efforts to also include the interests of white men.
  2. Strengthen senior leader participation and ownership. White men are generally influenced and impacted by the status and rank of other white men. Develop leaders so they are more than sponsors of other people’s efforts. Help them to own the issue personally while reaching out to support and challenge the prevailing mindsets of other white male leaders. 
  3. Provide repeated opportunities for practice. Engaging white men is a long-term, multi-faceted effort. It is not a “one-off program” to be implemented. The practice must allow for mistakes. They are a part of everyone’s learning process.
  4. Help leadership to act from a place of shared responsibility, not guilt. White men must be seen initiating, participating in, and leading DEI efforts out of their mutual self-interest. They and others constantly cultivate and support the visible participation of a critical mass of white males. White men need to see themselves as part of the solution–not part of the problem or feeling blamed for everything.
  5. Help them to adopt a journey mindset. Drive the effort through a compelling, clear rationale that emphasizes a stewardship approach to inclusion rather than a finite destination or seemingly simple solution. While specific actions and solutions are definitively needed, frame the effort as one that will be forever ongoing, much like your mindset on workplace safety.
  6. Consistently link leadership engagement to leadership development. Engaging white male leadership is first and foremost a developmental process. It makes white men more effective leaders with greater emotional intelligence. Your effort should focus on developing the skills and behaviors for leaders to be effective DE&I champions linked to the business success.

Specific Leadership Actions to Take

  1. Talk often about how your diversity effort is also about white men. Talk easily and effortlessly in public about the role white men must take in co-creating a more inclusive work environment. Genuinely invite white men back into the conversation. Challenge others to examine their assumptions about white men that affect potential partnerships.
  2. Expand and leverage your circle of support. Expand this group so they no longer are entirely dependent on you to lead or tell them what is next. Expect them to become your full partner as well as full partners to one another. Help them develop and grow the confidence to use their intellect and emotional intelligence to possess the tenacity to stay the course.
  3. Look for and embrace the inherent complexity of DEI efforts. View things from an and/both lens rather than sorting it as either/or, yes/no, right/wrong. Learn to become more comfortable being uncomfortable. 
  4. Help and support white male leaders to learn more often with and from other white men, rather than from only women and ethnic minorities. 
  5. Continuously over-communicate the intent of your actions and efforts. Recognize that often a person’s intent will not match the impact on others. Learn to expect and then mitigate the disconnect between these intent and impact.
  6. Embrace emerging resistance in yourself or others. Noticing resistance helps one see reactions between people and ideas. Our reaction to others helps us better notice our own beliefs and values, which can be helpful in building stronger partnerships.

Engaging White Men in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Efforts: What Doesn’t Work for Organizations

  1. Exclusively focusing your DE&I efforts on just “outsiders” or a focus to fix white men or other “insiders”. 
  2. Teaching outsiders to act like insiders (i.e. focusing just on outsider to insider mentoring instead of sponsorship).  
  3. Equating inclusion with representation (and/or not distinguishing between the two). Greater inclusion happens from simply adding greater numbers of outsiders.  
  4. Over-relying on metrics as the primary means to an end, rather than just as one tool to assess progress. Obsession with numerics (having to measure progress only through representation) will likely lead to future problems with morale and engagement.
  5. Using mandatory, large-scale trainings as the “one-time” fix.
  6. Bypassing or downplaying the importance of senior leadership buy-in. Relegating the responsibility and ownership of DEI to solely one organization or group, such as HR or a diversity council, rather than the business units and business leaders. 

Specific Leadership Actions to Avoid

  1. DON’T try to do it alone and/or with little support. 
  2. DON’T make it a simple either/or choice between caution or courage. Too much of one at the expense of the other will not lead you to the desired results. 
  3. DON’T tell people the partial truth, no matter how well-intended. Don’t promise change when you know it can’t happen. 
  4. DON’T fake it. Others see through insincere and “scripted” messaging. When mistakes happen (and they will) use them to learn and move the effort forward as opposed to embarrassing, shaming or attacking the mistake maker.
  5. DON’T ignore your own, or another’s, discomfort and/or confusion with issues of DE&I. 
  6. DON’T be reluctant to initiate and/or engage in difficult conversations. Through the often-difficult conversations comes strengthened partnerships and new insights.