By Michael Welp, Ph.D., Co-founder

White men don’t feel part of diversity efforts. Many think diversity is about “helping other people with their issues.” They don’t see their own self-interest in diversity efforts—how D&I is for them, too. Even worse, many feel like they’re seen as part of the problem. 

Those are big problems. 

Why do so many white men feel this way? 

Let’s start with a dive into US business culture. Most organizational leaders hold mindsets and assumptions that keep white men on the sidelines of diversity. 

The impact? 

Diversity and inclusion efforts stall. Stagnate. Remain surface level. 

Who Does Get the Focus?

Historically, race examines people of color’s experiences, gender examines women’s experiences, and sexual orientation examines experiences of gay, lesbian, bisexual people. What does not get usually examined is the experiences of being white, male and heterosexual. The result? White men do not think diversity is about them, too.  

In other words, those who are traditionally “outsiders” are usually the focus while “insiders” rarely get attention, nor do they recognize how their “insiderness” gives them a different experience. 

This gets in their way of forming partnerships with outsiders.  

Who Carries the Burden of Leading and Teaching Diversity?

Several implications arise from this historical focus. One is the assumption that those traditionally focused on must be the leaders and teachers of diversity efforts because white men can’t lead or teach diversity. 

White men in mixed diversity learning sessions often look to white women and people of color to teach—and sometimes even prove that there is a diversity problem. They may sit back and be passive observers.  

More Assumptions: Zero-Sum, Focus on Data, Overlook the Heart

Some white men see diversity as a zero-sum game: if others gain, we lose

We often don’t see their own cultural lens: how a focus on data discounts the emotions around the data, a missed opportunity to create new partnerships. 

We think diversity is about numbers and getting more representation, overlooking how the lack of inclusion existing in the culture once the numbers are there results in high attrition.  

We want to rush into fixing a problem that we have not begun to fully understand, viewing it as a problem to solve rather than a longer journey to understand. 

We forget to remain in learning mode, open to the complexities of diversity and inclusion always. Life safety and quality control, diversity isn’t a one-and-done class. It’s a constant, life-long commitment personally and organizationally.  

White Men ARE Diversity Leaders

Who sets the culture and must, therefore, be central in changing the culture? 

Robust, resilient diversity in the workplace thrives only when members of the majority group, or the insiders, actively educate and challenge each other. Insiders influence how well diversity and inclusion will work internally, either understanding their role or continuing to place the burden on outsiders. 

The WMFDP way of engaging white men is an empowering way to shift mindsets and build the consciousness, competency and courage to form real partnerships across difference. Everyone, not just white men, have work to do to strengthen their diversity partnerships. The learning happens in an empowering non-blaming way that models how we want the future culture to be. 

Take your diversity and inclusion journey and you receive a bonus: you have just massively strengthened key critical leadership skills in your leaders. 

Showing my TEDx talk, White Men: Time to Discover Your Cultural Blind Spots, to key white male leaders in your organization is another next step to engaging them. You can also learn more about the importance of insiders by listening to this episode of The Insider Outsider Podcast: Why We Focus on White Men (in the US).

Insiders Must Lead Globally

Globally, these issues play out uniquely, but all share the same underlying concept: Insiders must take an active role in understanding their insiderness and partnering with each other to educate and intervene to create inclusive teams and organizations. 

The Result? 

When insiders, or white men in the US, are involved as critical agents of diversity and inclusion efforts, organizations around the globe see meaningful shifts in how leaders and their teams build partnerships and become better leaders.