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Dear White Male Colleagues

By DE&I

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.

Why “DIY for DEI” is a BAD Idea

By DE&I

Three ideas to help CIS, White Leaders, and Board Members succeed when it comes to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

“Fish did not discover water. In fact, because they are completely immersed in it, they live unaware of its existence. Similarly, when a conduct becomes normalized by a dominant cultural environment, it becomes invisible.”

These are the words of prominent communications theorist and educator, Marshall McLuhan.  The quote describes exactly why I and other cis, straight white people in the U.S. sometimes miss seeing or understanding the struggles that people from underrepresented or marginalized groups experience.

When I miss noticing an insult or attack on a woman, person of color, or members of other underrepresented groups, it is helpful for me to remember McLuhan’s words, not as an excuse, but as a humble reminder that because of my cultural conditioning, I AM going to miss things and to double down on becoming more aware.

This very same phenomenon probably explains why – when organizations are working on inclusion diversity, and equity – leaders who are members of the dominant group are often the last ones to see why they need a DEI strategy or why they might need help creating one.  “After all,…” they might say, “it’s just a strategy, and I know how to plan as well as anyone.”

But saying “DEI is just a strategy” is like saying “empathy is just listening”. What is missing in both assumptions is the need to feel how others may experience the world in radically different ways than we do. Speaking from my own first-hand experience, it’s that ability to feel and see things through the experience of others that changes everything about how I approach DEI. Yet, after almost 30 years of practicing it, I still underestimate how difficult it can be to, as Marshall McLuhan wrote, “…discover the water.”

If you are a member of the dominant or “insider” group, here are a few helpful tips that can dramatically accelerate your effectiveness in championing and supporting DEI in your organization:

1. When it comes to DEI, start by being humble.

Because we were brought up in “the water” of the dominant group we are going to lack some of the awareness or sensitivity to the issues others face as a result of our upbringing.

When I was a cancer patient, friends with the best of intentions would say “you’re going to beat this (cancer), Jim.” The comment rarely made me feel any better. I would say to myself “huh, even my doctors aren’t guaranteeing my cancer will go away; how do they know I’ll beat it?”  But when they said something like, “I have no idea what it must feel like to be you, but I can imagine how scary it might be..”  I felt like they got me. In other words, when talking about DEI, taking a stance of humility and authenticity is much more helpful – and believable – to my colleagues from marginalized groups.

2. Invite (and accept) help and feedback.

We need help seeing “the water,” and needing help doesn’t make us weak or wrong or bad; it makes us human. Especially in organizational life, where we assume knowledge is power and our worth is tied to our knowledge, it takes courage to accept help from others. In many cases, there is no way to overcome what we don’t see other than through listening to and believing the stories of disadvantage we hear from others.

In these moments, my mantra is, “I have to do this, and I can’t do it alone.”

 

When working on DEI, recruit and accept the support and help of facilitators and trusted advisors.  You need to be able to trust them because – if they’re good at their jobs – they will probably need to share with you some feedback that will be hard to hear. Good facilitators and advisors know how to communicate difficult feedback while helping you work through your shame or guilt, two natural reactions that can stop DEI’s progress if we ignore them.

3. Don’t believe everything you think. Listen to - and challenge - your assumptions.

Larry Wilson, a mentor of mine, used to say, “If I always do what I’ve always done, I’ll always get what I’ve always gotten.” After years of working with thousands of leaders, Larry and his son, Hersch, realized that what leaders really needed was to challenge their mindsets and assumptions, so they added this addendum: “…and I’ll  always do what I’ve always done if I always think the way I’ve always thought.”

As you know, assumptions are tricky – on the one hand, they allow us to process and sort experiences or ”data quickly.”  On the other hand, our beliefs can block our ability to notice new data or be open to new learning. For example, do you assume that the only way to learn about DEI is from members of marginalized or underrepresented groups?  If so, ask yourself, “Who from within my group might also be able to help me learn about DEI?” and make note of your answers.

The research is in; when properly applied as a mainstream strategy, DEI improves organizational results in myriad ways. Keeping these three ideas top-of-mind helps me be a better partner, sponsor, and leader as a group member who doesn’t sometimes see the water.  Try them out and let me know what you think.

*Incidentally, because of my solidly white-collar, middle-class upbringing, I also miss seeing or understanding the experience of other cis, straight white people who grew up in less advantaged circumstances, economically, than I did.

The Real Meaning of ‘Woke’

By DE&I

Lest we forget, ‘Woke’ originated from ‘awake.’ Historically, staying awake was a survival skill for Black and Brown people in the U.S. who had to guard against the threat of lynching and acts of violence targeting their families and communities.

More recently, ‘woke’ has been co-opted and repurposed to act as a passive-aggressive put-down; it serves as a code for ‘we don’t believe or care about racism or the mistreatment of minority groups.’ The intention behind this co-optation is to cover up the past and deny the current reality of discrimination in America, as if it never existed.

Quietly but irrevocably, change is afoot in the U.S., and attempting to hinder it by labeling people as ‘woke’ is just another petty tactic to divert our attention from what truly matters. Those who are genuinely awake to what’s happening are embracing the future not as a trend, but as a cultural reality—a reality where differences are just as valued as similarities, where the rights of the majority are as important as the rights of the privileged few, and where our children learn to embrace, honor, and learn from our entire past, so they can create a future that accommodates all of us.

This majority/minority reality is nearly upon us, and the correct term for what is happening is that a new, “emerging majority” is becoming a reality. Even a global pandemic and the resulting inequities failed to change its trajectory. It serves as proof that the arc of human history does indeed bend toward justice.

Being ‘woke’ means being awakened to the needs of others, being well-informed, thoughtful, compassionate, humble, and kind. It entails being eager to make the world a better place for all people.

Let’s continue using ‘woke’ in the manner it was originally intended, and let’s hope that everyone learns how to embody it. Our future may depend on it.

America’s Best Business Strategy

By Business, DE&I, Diversity, Leadership, Workplace Culture

AMERICA’S  BEST BUSINESS STRATEGY: DEI

 

The Parable of RMI:

First, a little background…The Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) was founded in 1982 as a 501c-3 non-profit aimed to improve America’s energy practices. 

RMI’s mission has met with great success; it operates with a surplus and has an annual budget of $120 million with over 500 employees. Their promotional information and website talks a lot about decarbonization, cutting greenhouse gasses and, most importantly, arguing the business case for why decarbonizing the planet is good for business. What’s missing from RMI’s description or website is any mention of a philosophy or approach using the word “sustainability.”

I don’t claim to understand or know why RMI doesn’t talk about sustainability, ever. But I do know this: “sustainability” is a trigger word for protectors of the status quo, be they utility operators, oil companies, chemical companies, carpet manufacturers or mega-corporations whose business models are powered by, or reliant on, fossil fuel.

I think there is something we can learn from RMI’s example in how to deal with and overcome resistance. 

What would happen if we changed the narrative about why DEI is important to focus solely on arguing and articulating its business case?

Given what we DEI (or JEDI, or DEIBA&J, or whatever) practitioners have collectively learned over the past 10+ years, it’s clear that the moral argument for DEI compels and motivates many of us, but to others it reeks of moral superiority and judgment, as if we want them to feel shamed and less-than.

I am not suggesting we scrub our language in order to collude with people’s fragility. We have all learned that words like “privilege” especially when coupled with “white” are trigger words that spark defensiveness and resistance. Many of us still use them – with caution – because we know the risk of watering down reality for learners. But it feels like we could be doing more to articulate the value of DEI as a business differentiator?

What is our ultimate objective? To reach consensus about what equity means so that everyone agrees? Or, to create equity for those who suffer the most from being treated inequitably? I understand the desire to create consensus, but it takes time. How much more trauma and discrimination should members of oppressed, under represented, or minoritized groups have to withstand until we all agree?

Let’s shift the narrative and appeal to each individual’s self-interest: DEI&B is a proven strategy to generate more profit, greater competitive advantage and more fulfilling workplaces. Who doesn’t want that?

Well, apparently Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida doesn’t, nor do any of the state legislatures who are considering  banning DEI in schools or state funded businesses. Maybe we should ask the Governor or legislators in those states to share the strategies they plan on implementing that will create as many positive outcomes as executing a DEI strategy.

The research on DEI is in, folks, and here are a few of the things it shows:

  1. DEI increases talent diversification:

    It creates an environment of inclusion and respect that opens doors for more diverse candidates to be considered in hiring and promotion decisions. Increased talent diversification has positive implications on the performance of the company. Diverse teams and organizations lead to creative problem-solving and better problem identification and prevent groupthink.

  2. DEI makes people want to stay.

    A diverse workplace is attractive to potential employees and can increase employee retention. Studies have shown that 60 percent of employees ranked DEI as a top factor when considering employers, and 57 percent of employees said they stayed with their employer because they felt the company had a strong commitment to DEI.

  3. DEI leads to better results and more profit:

    Research shows that companies with a diverse and equitable work culture, those who continually work to implement DEI initiatives, tend to outperform their counterparts in terms of financial performance. Moreover, companies with a greater number of women and members of one or more racial or ethnic minority groups in leadership roles are likely to have greater financial returns.

  4. DEI leads to greater innovation.

    It creates a safe space for employees to be creative, think outside of the box, and drive process changes, leading to increased innovation. DEI can also open up new markets for the company as embracing diversity can give the company access to new talent and perspectives, allowing for more connection to the experiences and insights of customers and the communities served by the company.

For inclusion to really take root in an organization, everyone has to identify their own self-interest in why they should support it. Let’s contain our moral outrage and not get sucked into defending ludicrous claims that “wokeness” and DEI causes banks to fail.  Instead, let’s engage in thoughtful but persuasive conversations with skeptics about how we can all live better lives, make more money, and have more surety that we are leaving our kids a planet that is in better shape than when our parents left it to us.

 

This article was produced in part by AI.

Ageism by an Ageist

By Ageism, DE&I, Diversity, Men's work, Uncategorized, Workplace Culture

“If each of us lives long enough, we will all feel at least one form of systemic disadvantage or discrimination in our lifetimes, and that’s when people regularly stereotype us as ‘old’.”

 

I’ve said that hundreds of times in workshops or keynotes with a kind of dispassion, but not anymore: I turned 65 last month. I feel self-conscious about even disclosing that, so I guess I’m feeling my outsiderness in a new way. 

I feel like the world is trying to tell me something…

 

At the market, clerks ask me if I need help carrying my groceries to the car. I tell myself “I guess all that time I spend working out and being fit doesn’t show.” But maybe they are supposed to say that to everyone and I’m just being self-conscious.

Younger people sometimes ask summarizing questions like,

“So Jim, what was X like back in YOUR time?”

 

I thought now was part of “my time”. They are probably just trying to include me.

When talking about technologies like crypto or AI, people assume I don’t know what they are talking about and offer me “catch up” definitions, as in…”Jim what Jasmine is talking about is …..”. I get their intent to be helpful, but the assumption that I am too old to “get it” when it comes to technology is, frankly, irritating. 

OK, so – reading what I just wrote – why am I ascribing everything I feel about being older to the comments of everyone else? I guess because I’m either avoiding dealing with my age or I am in some form of denial…probably both.  

My aging – and people’s reactions to how I look – has left me feeling as if I have crossed over from theory and observation to reality and experience. To be clear, from what I have seen, what I am experiencing is not even close to the frequency, severity or restriction of what women, LGBTQ+folks, men and women of color, or people with disabilities experience.

Perhaps what is similar is the impact on my sense of self as a result of how the world sees me.  I am unable to pretend my age is invisible to the world; in fact sometimes it feels as if the only thing the world sees about me is my age.

I know, some of you are saying “Welcome to the Club”. I’ll learn from it. 

 

How is getting older for you? I’m always open to pointers and new perspectives. Let me hear from you.

Settling for Hope Over Committment

By CRT, DE&I, Diversity, Education, Leadership, Workplace Culture

Is DEI Training Doing More Harm than Good?

 

This op-ed piece by Jesse Singal in The New York Times appeared today and before I had even read it, we had received five different emails, texts, or prompts, asking us what we thought about it. 

The piece posits that there is little evidence to show that diversity training – which reached its zenith in 2020 and 2021 in terms of dollars spent and employee requests for training – has any positive long-term effects. The piece also posits that some diversity initiatives worsen what Mr. Singal calls the “DEI climates“ of the organizations that sponsor them. 

Mr. Singal’s treatment of the topic and the citations he used are decidedly one-sided. In today’s “one and done” information environment it’s concerning that some may take his opinion as fact instead of as one perspective. Suffice it to say, organizations like Catalyst, COQUAL, and others conducted studies illustrating how DEI training has substantively contributed to positive gains for individuals and their organizations. 

Instead of taking issue with Mr. Singal’s assertions and claims about the effectiveness of DEI training now and then, or splitting hairs about what he means when he writes “positive long-term effects,” let’s talk about what we can learn from the piece in service of our work.

In general, I agree with one of Mr. Singal’s primary points –  if organizations want to generate ROI through a DEI&B strategy, training alone won’t work. Also, training that focuses on hearts and minds at the expense of behaviors and actions won’t change results quickly enough to make the grade in today’s impatient, profit-over-process, corporate environment. ©

Most DEI&B practitioners agree that organizations have to focus on changing processes and practices related to DEI&B in tandem with employee development and learning to achieve lasting results. But the reality is, it’s faster and strategically more practical to conduct an emotionally impactful – even transformative – learning event than it is to shift process and practice. 

The DEI managers I know report that it is easier to secure funding or support for training than for the complicated work of shifting culture. One is an event, the other is a process best measured over years or decades vs. months. Plus offering training might be rationalized as a reasonable alternative (or distraction) from the real issues. It is in scenarios like these where all too often, we diversity practitioners settle for hope instead of commitment.

But in the Spring of 2020 employees didn’t want to merely sit at their desks – alone and in their socially isolated homes – and work on changes in policies or practices. Amidst a backdrop of angst and images of worldwide civil rights protests, some wanted to talk about the years of suppressed daily lived experience of discrimination, hate, and bias at work they have been quietly living with. Hearing these stories, others wanted to better understand why they had missed seeing what their colleagues were going through. And, still others – craving the “good old days” – questioned the premise or need for the entire exercise. 

So what can we do to ensure diversity training makes a positive difference?

  1. First and foremost – and hopefully this is obvious – conduct training events in tandem with activities that implement well-thought-out changes in policy and practice. For example, pair up internal customer satisfaction initiatives with a learning experience on intercultural competency to increase listening and empathy with customers from other geographies or cultures.
  2. Hold managers accountable for applying the terms, concepts, and habits that foster inclusion. Include measuring how well they create and lead a diverse team, including their ability to attract and retain great people. 
  3. Resist the urge to prescribe processes and practices in a “top-down” way unless absolutely necessary.  Better to co-create activities and organizational practices that help everyone feel like they belong. One way to do that is to facilitate sessions where managers and specialists such as HR leads work to create the desired processes and practices, together. Research shows that managers and leaders do a better job of supporting or enforcing something they helped to create, so involve them in the creation phase. In general, train less – co-create more.
  4. To the degree that it is possible, eliminate compulsory DE&I training,  Getting people to see that which is right in front of them but might be invisible is hard enough, doing that with people who have a chip on their shoulders because they felt threatened into attending isn’t very inclusive. If you have no choice but to make DEI training compulsory make sure that whatever training you offer stays away from anything that takes a blaming or shaming tone.
  5. Ensure every training event is conducted with respect and openness. Beware of training that attempts to change people’s behaviors through guilt, embarrassment, or shame. Psychologists proved a long time ago that, over the long term,  these tactics do more harm than good.  
  6. Conversely, if someone is starting to feel or see something that has been invisible to them their entire lives, feelings of discomfort and “cognitive dissonance” may be normal. Acknowledge those feelings when they arise and offer reassurance. As someone once said, “the truth shall set you free, but first, it might make you miserable.”
  7. And, finally, if you are  of another marginalized group, be ready for dominant group members – white men and women in the US and men in general around the world – to feel a disproportionate amount of discomfort, angst, and disagreement in DEI&B learning. This isn’t intentional but it is also not unusual. Dominant group members routinely see and feel the impact of discrimination less often than their colleagues from underrepresented or marginalized colleagues. Give them time, and empathize with how hard it is to feel new emotions while they learn to empathize with what it has been like for you to carry a lifetime of harm and insult with you.

Framing issues in “more harm than good” binary terms makes for great headlines but is counter to progress. Embedding DEI in organizations is an imprecise process that ultimately and inexorably shifts organizational culture in virtuous and sometimes subtle ways. Let’s keep finding ways to make it better.

Setting My Inclusion Intentions for 2023

By Communication, DE&I, Diversity, Emotional Wellness, Leadership, Men's work, Workplace Culture No Comments

New Personal Inclusion Practices I (am determined to) Adopt

 

No More Using “Woke.” Derived from the term “awake” which is what people of color – especially black people – had to be in order to protect themselves from being attacked, murdered, or lynched, the terms “Woke” or “Wokeness” have been re-appropriated by people who use them to trivialize the actions of those who stand up for and support civil rights issues. For more on this, see my blog, “Understanding Wokeness.”

Managing My/JMC’s Use of Social Media More Responsibly. We are learning more about the algorithm every day and how it intentionally hooks us with emotional content and moral outrage, prompting us to respond with more emotion and outrage. I am guilty as charged. Of course, there are pros and cons to social media. In this country, social media platforms have served as venues for social activism (such as the Black Lives Matter movement) for many years. However, social media platforms have also united anti-vaxxers, election conspiracists, and white nationalists, helping to brew the deadly 2017 Charlottesville rally and the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Until we find ways to manage social media AND preserve everyone’s 1st Amendment rights, it’s on each of us to manage the madness caused by our use of social media.

Slow Down. I can rationalize my high bias for action and off the charts “D” behaviors (if you know the DiSC profile) all day long, but the truth is, I have a terrible habit of reacting and responding and acting too quickly. Somehow I’ve fallen into the mindset that every issue is a fire and I have a bucket of water. In 99.9% of the situations where I slow down and mindfully contemplate what is happening, or just allow things to transpire a bit before I jump into the fray, slowing down has been a good decision. I’m committed to changing this mindset this year and, frankly, I’m a bit ashamed I’ve been so slow to improve on it.

Keep Bringing (and Asking for) Vulnerability. For me this means learning to name and claim my emotions and talk about them, especially when I’m afraid of being judged or misunderstood for feeling unsavory emotions that might make people think less of me. I’ve made progress on knowing how I am feeling faster, so owning my feelings when doing so is appropriate feels like a good next step.

Interrupting and intervening on men who mansplain or cut women and others off in meetings AND continuing to notice and control my own mansplaining tendencies.  I don’t want to be perceived as being the great corrector as if I am better than everyone else (I’m not) but there are a number of people in my life – men, women, and everyone in between – who still mansplain. It’s patronizing, rude, and shuts down healthy dialogue. I notice how few people actually intervene on mansplainers – they don’t want to be rude, I suppose – but I’ve decided the risk is worth the reward most of the time.

Sharing my story with others and building better partnerships.  I’m great at getting others to talk about themselves and much less good at sharing my own stories. Two-way sharing of important stories helps foster connection. Pummeling people with questions about themselves without sharing anything about myself is some sort of weird unconscious control game I have learned to play. I have lots of excuses for why I do this, but I also have lots of data that tells me reciprocity is a key element of partnership.  

Improving and addressing my unconscious bias about non-binary, gender fluid, and gender queer sexual expression. I forget to use the pronouns people ask to be called by. I sometimes forget to announce and name my pronouns when meeting people as if it should be obvious to everyone what my gender identity is. I continue to talk about men and women as if gender is either/or versus a continuum, even though I know and believe it IS a continuum. Worst of all, I minimize the impact my bias has on others, assuming they’ll not be offended when I misstep. I’ve been aware of this dynamic for well over 10 years, and dammit, it’s time to commit to changing my mindset about it.

That’s a pretty ambitious list for this old dog, but I know I can make progress on it if I set my intention to do so. 

Do you have personal practices that you’re committing to changing in 2023? Let me know what you’re working on if you can, or feel free to comment on how you made progress in some of these areas if they apply to you.