In the last year, increasingly more women of color have been calling on me to speak to the white men in leadership at their companies. They share with me that it is their belief that hearing from someone that looks and sounds like them will be more effective than hearing from those who are different. This is an unfortunate and temporary truth.The ideal I’m shooting for is to activate white male leaders in companies to take the initiative and be proactive in starting conversations amongst themselves.

In many of my conversations with DEI leaders, the topic of speaking about white men as part of DEI strategies is often approached with hesitation; but it is imperative that we speak to the elephant (white man) in the room. In fact, I am the ‘white male elephant’ so-to-speak and it is my belief that this affords me the unique opportunity to finally address what has for too long been off limits. In my work with male leaders, I don’t make it a practice to call white men out; rather, I call forward and invite all men to be better allies and inclusionary leaders. It is my job – and my responsibility – to call white men in. And, as a white, cis-gendered, heterosexual male I am able to do so without risk to my livelihood, my wellbeing, or my job. In fact, it is my job to step in to being that white guy that can talk to other white guys by meeting them where they’re at without shame or blame. 

Why is this important?

According to a Harvard Business Review survey, gender progress reaches a remarkable 96% when men are involved while, without their engagement, that progress falls to a mere 30%. Further, Chuck Shelton of Greatheart Leader Labs conducted a study a few years back that indicated 63% of men did not feel included in DEI strategies. Cardinal Health CEO, Mike Kaufmann recognized the importance of having men involved years ago and made it one of his priorities to engage men in what he considered a business imperative. 

“When the voices at our table are diverse and reflect the communities we serve, the choices we pursue and the decisions and policies we make are more inclusive, creative, and best position our company for long-term sustainable growth. We believe that an employee population with diversity of talent, experiences and ideas drives more innovation – innovation that enables us to meet our customers’ changing needs today and tomorrow.” – Mike Kaufmann, CEO Cardinal Health

What gets in the way?

There are numerous intangible/internal obstacles that can get in the way. The fear of saying or doing the wrong thing can truly debilitate; but this is our white male fragility showing up and we must have the gumption to step away from it and into our white male ability instead. Our unexamined privilege can be another obstacle. Maybe you are wondering why there is so much attention on white men or perhaps you think that DEI workshops and initiatives are a distraction, that you are too busy to add something like that to your already heavy schedule. All of these are are the result of unexamined privilege and when we as white male leaders can begin to recognize that we have unearned advantages that others dont, the responsibility is on us to make a choice to either be tacitly complicit in allowing the status quo to continue to disproportionately benefit white men or to be part of leveling the playing field for all giving our daughters, sisters, friends of color, friends who identify as LGBTQ, and other marginalized groups to bring their whole selves to work without fear of ramifications and with the same access to opportunity that white, cis-gendered men enjoy. This requires that we use our privilege for good. That is the choice that I have made and if you identify as a white male I invite you to do the same.

What can you do?

The White Male Leader Playbook

I had the opportunity to interview Cardinal Health CEO,  Mike Kaufmann, when I was writing my second book. In that interview, he underscored the importance of authenticity and offered some advice to other leaders who are considering engaging men as part of their DEI strategy:

  1. Don’t do it unless you are serious
  2. Surround yourself with some truth tellers who you are willing to listen to. 
  3. Be willing to educate yourself. Do the work.
  4. It’s hard, it’s forever, and you have to keep it up. 

It’s not a one-and-done kind of effort. True change takes sustained effort. Mike dedicated himself to a multi-year strategy which is founded of the following:

  1. Agree on a certain set of activities and measure them: unconscious bias training, dedicated DEI town halls, specific cohort training (sessions) for men, and inviting guest speakers to allow men the opportunity to have “aha” moments.
  2. You have to measure representation. That includes pay equity, percent of women on boards, and percent of women in leadership positions. 

You need not be a CEO to step into your white male ability (your privilege, position and accountability) to effect change.

Will the work pay off? Mike shared his amazing results with me and I was truly humbled at what he and his organization were able to achieve. It might not be easy, it might not be immediate, but the positive change you can realize by engaging white men in DEI and encouraging them to embark on their respective Journeys to Allyship is worth every step. 

If you’re interested in taking the first steps along with others from your organization, we are offering some 5-pack deals to our November 02 conference. Check those as well as other registration options out here

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