Diversity and inclusion efforts have been underway, in myriad forms, for fifty years. Yet, some say we have only made incremental progress; some would even claim we’ve gone backwards. What’s going on? 

Let’s start with what we know and see in corporate diversity and inclusion efforts globally:

  • We have been working on D&I for a long time. Let’s say 50 years, give or take a decade. In the US, the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963 and the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964. Affirmative Action began in the 1970s as a strategy to recruit and hire a more diverse workforce. Most experts set their diversity timers starting then.    
  • We still have a long way to go. Women still represent less than 15 percent of executives, and ethnic minorities represent 13 percent. In tech, women earn 45 percent less than their male counterparts. The percentage of Black men in management in US companies with more than 100 employees was 3.4 percent in 2017. This is not just a US issue; the EU is experiencing similar issues in their workplace demographics.
  • Focus on “inclusion” has lagged behind the focus on hiring for diversity. Hiring a diverse workforce only works if the people we hire stay and treating them inclusively is the key to them doing so. Very few organizations list inclusion as a key leadership competency and there is much disagreement about what the word “inclusion” even means. Fortunately, many organizations are learning that diversity only works if inclusion exists in the behaviors of leaders
  • The torch carriers for D&I efforts are overwhelmingly minorities. Asking members of the most underrepresented groups to advocate and lead change efforts because they are the most knowledgeable about the disadvantages they see and experience makes sense, but only if they have the authority and span of control necessary to make D&I a strategic priority. By nature of the systemic disadvantage they experience, these leaders rarely, if ever, have the requisite authority or control to shift their organizations. This “Diversity Paradox” is akin to thinking that patients make the best doctors; there is logic to the premise, but it doesn’t hold up in reality.

Our experience working with clients in the U.S. and globally shows that there is one surprisingly obvious element that has to also be in place for diversity and inclusion to stick: 

  • Insiders are critical and often overlooked partners in the quest for real transformation. History shows us that sustained change in societies more readily happens when members of the Insider group*, meaning those with inherited authority and power, work as allies and outspoken proponents for change alongside their Outsider colleagues. Apartheid South Africa was dismantled due to the courageous and tenacious efforts of millions of black South Africans and the support of a comparatively small group of influential white, anti-apartheid allies. In the US, the enslavement of millions of men, women and children of (black) African descent ended when congress, all white men, by the way, disassembled the laws that sanctioned it.  

Time after time, lasting change happens when those who experience disadvantage bravely stand up and speak to the inequity they experienced AND when their Insider allies stand, speak, vote, mandate and legislate new ways of behaving along with them.

In the U.S. a growing number of companies are involving white men as key stakeholders in the strategy to achieve diverse and inclusive workplaces, not by making them the problem, but by making them partners. 

For D&I efforts to truly take hold in ALL organizations and institutions, in the US and around the world, Insiders are going to have to take more of an active role in leading and championing those efforts, in partnership with their outsider colleagues. 

More about Insiders and why they matter so much: Watch WMFDP co-founder Michael Welp’s TEDx talk, White Men: Time to Discover Your Cultural Blind Spots and listen to this episode of The Insider Outsider PodcastWhy We Focus on White Men (in the US).

*Social scientists call the group with the inherited authority and power the “dominant group” and those with little or no inherited authority or power are labeled the “subordinated group.” These terms are harsh, even academic, so we call them “Insiders” and “Outsiders.” Being an Insider or an Outsider in any society isn’t something anyone worked for—it is a condition they were born into.