Dear Straight White Male Colleagues,
Are you clear on your role in supporting DEI in your organizations?
The data says “no,” but that should come as no surprise to most of you; you’ve been telling us for years many of you neither feel invited nor supported to be involved in DEI within your organizations.
DEI is an uncomfortable topic, regardless of your ideological perspective. Political groups wishing to use DEI as a wedge issue minimize its importance and have taken to trivializing it, name-calling supporters of DEI as “woke.”
You may have been hammered at work or on social media for what you feel or think, or perhaps you’ve seen other white guys publicly humiliated or “canceled” only because they asked the wrong question.
People may have quickly judged you because you made an insensitive comment. Or you may have felt like people stereotyped you because you are white, straight, and male.
How hypocritical— isn’t DEI about learning to value everyone?
Today, white men report in record numbers that they don’t think DEI is about or for them. Many also believe that talking about differences is divisive, and still, others just flat-out disagree with investing in DEI because it’s unnecessary. Of course, you don’t say these things publicly because you know everyone is supposed to be on board with DEI, and you fear that saying what you think might be career-limiting.
Despite these barriers, your support for creating more inclusive workplaces is needed now more than ever, and if you’re not sure what to do, here are a few first steps to take that will make a big difference for you and your organization.
START by being curious. Learn how people from underrepresented groups experience the workplace differently than you do. Listen to their stories. Note the similarities and trends that exist between them. Replace your natural tendency to problem-solve with empathy and compassion.
NOTICE your desire for data proving the business case of DEI. There is nothing wrong with wanting data. However, remember that the lived experience of marginalized people IS data. Suspend your disbelief when you hear their stories of mistreatment and discrimination. I know questioning the data feels reasonable and even logical to you, but think about how those questions land on someone who experiences prejudice and bias daily, even hourly.
The truth is that “the data” is all around us every day if we work closely with members of underrepresented groups. Listen to the experiences they have every day at work that are markedly different from the workplace you experience. That’s “data.”
And here’s one more point about you needing more data: When YOUR organization rolls other improvement initiatives – like Supply Chain Transformation, Talent Recruitment, Sustainability, or just new stakeholder engagement plans – did you question the data? Look at your curiosity and ensure it’s not driven by bias. After all, the business case for DEI has been proven countless times for years. This question feels, frankly, uninformed. Google or Chat GPT it.
FIND OUT what others are doing to assist with your organization’s DEI strategy. Find other white straight male colleagues who are involved and talk to them about what they are doing and why. Don’t just talk to one white guy; speak to lots of them. Doing so will give you more options and ideas for how you can support the effort. Why am I suggesting you talk to other white guys instead of someone from an underrepresented group? Your objective is to learn how to support your organization’s DEI strategy as a white man because that’s what you are. Who better to ask than someone from your group?
STOP asking, “When will we be done working on DEI?” Often, while you are wondering when our organization will stop focusing on DEI, others at work are wondering when your organization will start focusing on DEI. The “When will we be done?” question conveys that finishing is more important to you than working on it. Similarly, do you question when other improvement strategies in your organization will end? If not, check your bias.
START realizing that others may see you as part of the white male group even though you don’t see yourself as part of any group. Despite how different you may be from the other white men you work with or how you see yourself purely as an individual, you are a member of a group, just like people from different racial or ethnic groups. We all belong to other social identity groups, whether we feel we are members or not. Being a member of a group doesn’t mean you are a replica of other straight white men – you can be a group member and a unique individual.
GET COMFORTABLE with being called a “white male,” even if the person doing it means it as an insult. Like every other group, people from your group have done some fantastic things over the centuries that have contributed substantially to society. It’s essential to recognize that certain sects, cults, and subsets of the white male group have perpetrated dastardly acts over the centuries and even today. Let’s learn to accept and acknowledge the impact our group has had on people from minority groups without feeling like they are explicitly blaming us.
What happened in the past isn’t our fault, but what happens from today into the future IS our responsibility.
Don’t be fooled or misinformed by the skeptics; you are needed in DEI and are essential to continuing to evolve our complex democratic society, whatever your viewpoint or beliefs are. Join in the dialogue. There is room for all of us in the discussion; your voices are needed alongside everyone else’s.
We are listening.