Getting White Men to Open Up

diversityDiversity initiatives tend to — fairly or unfairly — have a bad rap among white males in the workplace. Many worry these programs serve nothing more than to paint a big “X” on their backs as insensitive oppressors, while others just consider them a waste of time.

(Editor’s note: A new survey from Deloitte University Leadership Center for Inclusion finds 50 percent of straight, white male respondents report “hiding their authentic selves on the job.”)

But with the nation’s workplaces growing ever-more diverse, yet many women and minorities nonetheless reporting they still feel excluded (although a recent story by my colleague Kristen Frasch appears to rebut some of this), HR clearly isn’t serving the organization’s best interests by choosing to simply do nothing.

Catalyst suggests talking things out. The New York-based womens-advocacy group just released its latest report detailing a major initiative going on at technology giant Rockwell Automation. The company is working to help its North American sales group — which consists mostly of white males — build a more inclusive workplace. As part of the effort, more than 700 managers and 2,700 non-managerial employees throughout the organization took part in training (conducted by White Men as Full Diversity Partners) designed to help them become better, more empathetic listeners and handle potentially difficult, emotionally charged issues. After the training, Catalyst reports, employees said they felt they could have more honest discussions about discrimination “without worrying they’d be treated negatively.”

Here are some samples of what the employees who took part in the training told Catalyst:

[There was an instance where] front-line employees … squelched a conversation that was happening and they supported each other and said this is not where we want to go. They cut it off. –Peter

We could now have these conversations, and it would not change the way you were treated in the workplace (in a negative way). –Tom

[The client was making] off-color jokes, and my manager pulled it right back in. He felt very confident and comfortable about pulling that conversation back in without offending the customer or the distributor. –Elisa


Catalyst’s latest report is a follow-up to a report it released last year titled Calling All White Men: Can Training Help Create Inclusive Workplaces?, which also chronicled the work being done at Rockwell Automation (We reported on the findings here).  The organization lists some of the take-aways from the training in its latest report, which include: dialogue is essential for inclusion — but it needs to be taught; talk leads to action — as long as it’s the right kind of talk; and, inclusive behaviors have a ripple effect outside the company. Finally: conversations must continue for lasting change.