A decade ago, “diversity” began to evolve into the focus area, “Diversity and Inclusion (D&I).” Now an unforeseen question arises regarding inclusion: what about the white guys? In response, The Study on White Men Leading Through Diversity & Inclusion provides the first research. Six hundred seventy leaders – 58% were white men – recently completed a 94-question online survey, and the results will be released on January 30th. On January 31st, a webcast hosted by The Conference Board, Advancing Diversity and Inclusion Through White Male Leadership, will explore learning and applications from this research.
Nine companies participated in the initial round of research, including PwC, Alcoa, Intel, PepsiCo, Bank of America, Egon Zehnder, Exelon, Marsh & McLennan, and Wal-mart Stores.
The Study focused on the D&I effectiveness of white male leaders in order to diagnose and solve four organizational challenges:
Leadership Development – Globally, 32 million white men hold leadership positions, with six million in the United States. White men possess more than 40% of the leadership jobs in most companies, and that percentage increases dramatically by leadership level. The position of power and leadership skills that white men possess need to align with the value that diversity and inclusion delivers.
Engagement ROI – White male leaders are less engaged with diversity and inclusion initiatives than their colleagues who come from more diverse backgrounds. As such, they represent a significantly underperforming asset in every company’s global D&I investment portfolio. White male engagement amplifies the return on investing in diversity and inclusion.
Strategy Success – No business strategy, including global diversity and inclusion, can deliver optimal results when a significant portion of those holding powerful positions disconnect from that strategy. A successful D&I strategy includes white male leaders, positioning the organization to improve performance and grow the brand.
Merit vs. the Diversity Imperative – Progress is stifled by the perceived tension between the qualifications of diverse employees and the organizational commitment to diversity. Savvy leaders do not ignore or exaggerate dimensions of diversity; they lead with due regard for the way diversity operates in their relationships and sphere of influence. This is one way all leaders build trust.
These persistent D&I problems sap the potential potent contribution of global diversity and inclusion initiatives. The White Men’s Leadership Study diagnosed challenges and identified emerging solutions.
The courageous stakeholders in this study believe that inclusion means everyone’s in –even the white guys.
How does that get done? Key findings from the research may be summarized as follows:
The Conversation Counts
The study points to the need for conversations involving care, respect, and candor in order to move forward on diversity and inclusion initiatives with white male leaders. White men bring their own safety concerns to diversity discussions, and their diverse colleagues may wonder if white male inclusion will open doors for everyone. Almost 80% of all respondents rated white male managers highly on the ability to show respect for diverse co-workers. In contrast, only 36% of white male respondents rated white male leaders positively for saying just what needs to be said (candor) among diverse co-workers.
The project also found that the “what about the white guys?” conversation requires clear definition and purpose. In fact, even using the words “white men” operates in a contentious social narrative around demographic change and personal experience. All employees want to know why including white men is important, how everyone will benefit from the learning, and what the organization will gain by taking inclusion in such an unexpected direction.
The Effectiveness Gap
When asked to rate the diversity effectiveness on key competencies among white male leaders in their company, only 21% of all other respondents – those who were not white men – offered a positive rating, while 45% of white men did so. This effectiveness gap (or e-gap) identifies important disagreements about the effectiveness of white male leaders.
The four competencies with the largest average gaps were: coaching to improve the performance of diverse employees (33 point gap); building strong, diverse teams (36 point gap); promoting diverse talent on merit (36 point gap); and including diverse voices in decision making (40 point gap). The e-gap points to a challenging consensus: white men have a lot of room for improvement when integrating diversity and inclusion into their leadership work. Navigating the road ahead will require agreement on the nature or amount of that progress.
The Power of Perception
One female research participant reflected: “White guys need to understand how they are perceived, and as they demonstrate their learning, it will change our perception of them.”
It’s a sobering challenge: almost 80% of respondents not white and male offered a negative effectiveness rating for white men leading on key competencies in their companies, and almost 7 out of 10 white male leaders affirmed the challenge of exclusion– for a lot of white guys, it’s not clear that diversity includes white men.
Bottom line, the study suggests that white male leaders put their influence at risk when they habitually ignore this simple fact: diverse colleagues generally perceive white men as white men, whether or not a white guy sees that his gender and race could be important to his leadership.
So, what’s the solution? Leaders at all levels, rather than ignoring or exaggerating dimensions of diversity, should lead with due regard for the way diversity operates in their relationships and sphere of influence. There’s a clear invitation to white male executives in this: now may be a good time to transform your leadership, by taking into proper account how your race and gender can impact your effectiveness.
Following the January 30th release, the findings and recommendations from the research will be available in a free Executive Summary for members of The Conference Board, and a complete results report may also be purchased. For more information, visit whitemensleadershipstudy.com.