The need to engage — or reengage — white men in diversity and inclusion efforts

“My white male counterpart is extremely reserved when I attempt to collaborate with him at work – we need to work as a team in order to deliver on this project.”

“As a white male, I often feel like I’m going to say or do something that will offend a woman, person of color or member of the LGBTQ community at work. I would rather just not say anything.”

Over the past three decades, employers have activated or increased efforts regarding the inclusion of diversity in the workplace, especially positions that are business critical and highly visible. These efforts have developed into a commonly used term in the workplace referred to as Diversity and Inclusion.

As the ongoing practice of embracing diversity in the workplace increases, the understanding of its evolution, relevance and mutual benefits remains an opportunity.

One group in particular that has traditionally been sought after as “Employee Resource Group (ERG)/Business Resource Group (BRG) Executive Sponsors” in the workplace, however, has not experienced first-hand or been exposed to diversity as a key business driver.

This group of individuals is white men. 

The imperative to collectively and holistically engage white men in the workplace regarding diversity and inclusion cannot be a subsidiary component toward business growth objectives. Otherwise, the overall objective of ensuring that every employee feels connected and valued by their employer will fail. In addition, the lack of experiencing the benefits of inclusion will negatively impact high performance among all employees. Subsequently, employee turnover will result in employers losing significant amounts of talent acquisition investments.

In the beginning, companies that implemented a D&I focus established affinity groups as a platform for employees who share an interest or common goal. In recent years, affinity groups have evolved into Employee Resource Groups or Business Resource Groups as a strategy to drive employment engagement and operate as a part of the key business practices.

Employers that adopted inclusion efforts as part of their business growth strategy have experienced an increase in engagement among diverse groups. However, the reality is these inclusion efforts have also impacted the engagement between white men and other groups in the workplace. During the evolution of D&I, white men in general have struggled with authentically connecting based on the lack of meaningful relationships with diverse groups, fear of demonstrating bias, demonstrating unconscious/conscious bias or not receiving comprehensive diversity education. In addition, movements such as #MeToo, Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ equal rights initiatives have created an unintended disengagement, in which white men are apprehensive about their narrative and/or actions that could be received as offensive or further drive feelings of exclusion.

An important question to consider with diversity and inclusion efforts now is: how do we engage or reengage white men in the workplace? Traditional roles that white men serve in the D&I space are “ally” or “executive sponsor.” The opportunity at hand is ensuring white men understand the true value proposition of their role by asking D&I leaders: “As a sponsor or ally, will I be held accountable with D&I leaders collectively to address the opportunity of inclusion?” Or, “Does my role as a sponsor or ally align with the efforts of demonstrating the value of inclusivity with other white men in the workplace?”

The following are questions to consider using as part of your narrative when addressing D&I engagement between white men and others in the workplace:

  1. What are the existing communication challenges between diverse groups and white men in the workplace?
  2. How do we use effective communication as a mechanism toward bridging gaps between white men and others in the workplace?
  3. How do we understand the diverse makeup among our colleagues in order to demonstrate inclusion in the workplace?
  4. How do we collectively create a culture in which open dialogue regarding our differences is encouraged and embraced?

The principles and values associated with including diverse groups in the workplace are applicable to every employee. In order to demonstrate inclusion and drive employee engagement, everyone in the workplace must:

  • Embrace differences and be open to learning from each other.
  • Foster meaningful relationships with people that are different.
  • Understand how and why people show up to work based on their individual experiences.
  • Be held accountable.

The success measures will include higher employee engagement, less turnover, high performance and business growth.

Diversity is simply difference. The opportunity continues to be inclusion. Engaging or reengaging white men through the establishment of guiding principles and accountability will result in every employee feeling connected and valued by their employer.

Denise Thomas is the president and owner of The Effective Communication Coach LLC. Previously she worked for MillerCoors, GE Healthcare, PepsiCo, ConAgra Foods, Rockwell Automation and Toyota.

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