Tech companies like Google and Intel have poured millions of dollars into diversity programs, while others like Dropbox and Twitter have recently hired chief diversity officers. But amid all of these efforts, the role of white men–who are disproportionately represented in leadership roles–often goes unexamined, a missed opportunity for making positive changes, according to Bill Proudman, co-founder and CEO of the leadership development consulting firm White Men As Full Diversity Partners (WMFDP).
“It’s not sustainable to have one section of the population that is disproportionately in senior leadership roles to not see this issue as being about them, but being about everybody else,” Proudman said. “You can’t bash this group, but you can’t afford to candy-coat this issue.”
WMFDP worked with 45 companies in the past year on leadership and diversity training, Proudman said, including Dell, AT&T, and Intel. Too often, women and minorities are responsible for shouldering the weight of all company diversity efforts, taking away from their time doing their actual job, Proudman said. For example, a lot of men say, “I’m all on board for this” when it comes to gender equity in the workplace, but then ask a woman what they need to do, Proudman said.
“There is disproportional ownership on who the issue is about, and the issue is put on the shoulders of those groups to mentor and train their colleagues–it’s exhausting and not sustainable,” he said.
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The tech sector is a particularly egregious example of how little the needle has moved, Proudman said. If tech company diversity programs leave men out and continue with older methods–such as creating a mentoring group for women only–they won’t work, he said.
WMFDP ultimately seeks to change the mindset of males at the top of the corporate ladder, Proudman said. “If a small, critical mass of leaders at the upper echelon of the organization can see this issue through different eyes, they can come back to the topic with a different set of assumptions that inform tactical work,” he said.
Part of the problem is people in tech and other industries expect to see instant culture changes, when in reality it is “a ten year path at minimum,” Proudman said.
“You’ve got to look at the issue from a systemic lens, not just a representational lens,” Proudman said. “Inclusion is the real heart of the issue, and how people feel when coming to work.”
Tech companies especially should be striving for diversity and inclusion, as research shows those two factors drive innovation and creativity, Proudman said. “In the tech sector, if you’re not innovative, you’re a dinosaur,” he said.
The role of allies
This approach–helping white male leaders change their mindsets–is not new, said workplace diversity expert Sondra Thiederman, who has worked on diversity initiatives at several Fortune 500 companies. “Historically, that has been the dominant focus of most diversity work, the idea being that the responsibility for creating inclusion rests with leadership which, historically, has been primarily white males,” Thiederman said.
The primary barrier to overcome is the unconscious biases that causes every member of a team to see people in various groups inaccurately, Thiederman said. “Since unconscious bias is found in the minds of all of us, regardless of our demographic category, efforts to provide the tools for defeating bias need to be directed at everyone within the organization,” she said. “White males are part of that effort, but certainly not all of it.”
The impetus for diversity and change does not solely rest with women, people of color, and/or other minority groups, according to Intuit’s Chief Diversity Officer Michelle Angier. “No one group can solve this massive issue alone,” she said.
While male allies are an important piece of the puzzle, they can’t just be executive sponsors of diversity and leadership programs, Angier said. Instead, “they need to contribute to shaping mindsets, making decisions and influencing programs across the company,” she said. “We recently added males to our Tech Women at Intuit board for this reason–and they are very vocal, passionate participants.”
Ultimately, allyship is most influential when it is linked to an organization’s structure and roles, Angier said. “Diversity and inclusion should be embedded in a company’s leadership expectations and capability-building efforts to meet those expectations,” she said. “That’s how allyship evolves into mentorship and sponsorship, and ultimately, impacts at scale organization-wide.”