Against the backdrop of today’s highly competitive and fast changing global marketplace coupled with America’s changing demographics, diversity and inclusion should be viewed not solely as a moral imperative, but from a perspective of enlightened self-interest and profitability. Because White men are the majority decision makers in the “C” suites and centers of influence in the private and public sectors they cannot and should not be excluded from the diversity and inclusion equation.
Diversity & inclusion means just that – it is incorrect to assume that the word “diverse” refers to everyone other than white heterosexual men with no defined disabilities. For diversity to succeed everyone must be included. An effective and properly executed diversity initiative within a corporation or organization benefits all of its stakeholders. A 2012 report The Study of White Men Leading Through Diversity and Inclusion, shows that the most effective diversity and inclusion initiatives include white male leaders and ensure that they are part of the process.
Some will argue that white men are the antithesis of diversity. The issue of inclusion is about people of diverse cultural backgrounds (racial, ethnic, religious, disability, LGBTQ) and women not being included, but I contend that it is an exclusive discussion without white men. Furthermore, within the private and public sectors, white men are in a unique position to take action, make informed decisions to effect meaningful changes and implement them in pragmatic way.
Anyone who doubts the power of white men to effect lasting and significant changes in diversity should consider the following: Benjamin Franklin was president of the Anti-Slavery Society; William Lloyd Garrison founded the abolitionist newspaper ‘The Liberator’ and served as a mentor to Frederick Douglass and President Lyndon Johnson (a white Southerner) had a profound change of mind and became a civil rights advocate and fifty years ago, enacted the most sweeping Civil Rights Legislation of the 20th century – the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The first African American woman to head a Fortune 500 company, Ursula Burns, the chairman and CEO of Xerox, was mentored by Wayland Hicks, a white male Xerox executive. And white men represented eight of the fourteen members of the General Motors Board of Directors that unanimously appointed Mary Barra, the first woman CEO of a major automobile company.
Six years ago I founded a trans-cultural networking event in Boston on the premise of “inclusion” – bringing together professionals, business executives and entrepreneurs of all cultures for the purpose of networking. Each year to celebrate the anniversary of its founding I would focus on a specific theme. Past themes included Legends and Leaders of Diversity in Boston Women who Rock and Leading by Example. This year’s event was a teachable moment as the theme was Diversity Game Changers: White Men Who Can Jump. The event honored white male leaders from the fields of Academia, Financial Services, Life Sciences, Mentoring, Non-profit, Philanthropy, Politics, Public Sector, Social Innovation and Sports who were doing or have done the right thing in moving the diversity and inclusion dial in the city.
There are many white men who have been and still are at the forefront of societal change to increase equity. White men could be the most important group to ensuring that diversity and inclusion truly works. By ensuring that they are engaged, interested and invested players in diversity and inclusion conversation America will forge a new normal. It will not only signal an economically, socially and politically inclusive society, but more importantly, a sound reinvestment in our own future, global competitiveness and economic survival.