By Lily Zheng
Some white male leaders don’t feel like they have a role to play in diversity and inclusion efforts, or that they don’t belong in discussions about how to help less privileged people in their organizations. If you want the support of people with privilege – making them allies, rather than enemies – it’s important to offer psychologically safe spaces for white people and privileged people to explore their identities and concerns. Otherwise, you will continue to encounter defensiveness and a lack of full support. There are two practices that can help.
First, frame identity as a source of insight. No matter what your identity is, you have useful knowledge about how the company works. Second, appeal to a sense of fairness. Most leaders are committed to equality in their organization. It is one of the most powerful shared beliefs in our culture: that everyone should have a fair shot at life and be rewarded for what they have achieved. Frame diversity and inclusion efforts and the involvement of privileged people in them as a way to realize that equality.
Most leaders of big corporations outwardly support diversity and inclusion efforts. But in my work as a Diversity & Inclusion consultant, I frequently get a behind-the-scenes look at how leaders truly feel and a surprising number of people — from line managers to C-Suite executives — express notedly less enthusiastic opinions in private.
“It seems like I’m not wanted in the room when D&I conversations start happening,” one person told me. “It feels like I’m part of the problem,” another said in frustration. And a third, in a rare admission of a common sentiment said: “It seems like everyone is out to get the white guys.”
According to the White Men’s Leadership Study, a study of white men and diversity and inclusion, the single biggest challenge to engaging in D&I efforts — as noted by almost 70% of white men surveyed — is knowing whether they are “wanted.” This may sound like an unfounded sentiment …