Why Engage White Men in Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Efforts?

Many leaders look to white women, people of color or openly gay and lesbian employees to lead diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. How many organizations have white men in DE&I leadership roles? Why should they also be engaged in these efforts?

Absence can lead to stereotyping

The absence of white men from the difficult and complex efforts to create and sustain inclusive work cultures leads to harmful stereotypes:

  • White men aren’t diverse; they all think, act and contribute in the same way. 
  • White men don’t know anything about diversity and inclusion. They are often totally dependent on white women and people of color for any DE&I insight or learning. 
  • White men should not lead or contribute to ongoing DE&I efforts. This attitude results in many white men being less vocal or visible proponents of DE&I efforts. 

The consequence of excluding white men

Unquestioned assumptions can make ongoing efforts harder than necessary. Similarly, focusing on every group other than white men can lead to a number of unintended consequences, ranging from tokenism to backlash. White women and people of color can feel that they are getting promoted based only on their gender or skin color, or fear that their colleagues may suspect as much. They often feel they have to work twice as hard to be seen as competent. This takes away from both individual and organizational effectiveness. 

Exclusion harms everyone

White men can feel excluded from the process altogether, which contributes to their resistance or skepticism of diversity efforts. They may fear being labeled as “the problem,” or as someone who “just doesn’t get it.” The result is paralysis and fear of contributing in any way. 

Relying on white women and minorities to continually educate white men is exhausting and contributes to a culture of blame and unequal responsibility for diversity outcomes. Paradoxically, it can also negatively impact those who serve as diversity leaders, because they are almost always suspected of being self-serving or self-seeking in their advocacy of diversity. Everyone suffers, including the business. 

We can do more

Diversity is about consciously creating a work culture that brings out the best in everyone. Lasting change will happen as leaders act courageously to embrace and own the organization’s work to build a vibrant, inclusive and diverse culture. Sustainable change is possible when everyone—white men alongside white women and people of color—becomes a full diversity partner.

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