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Why white men must lead the push for diversity

Sharon Florentine | April 28, 2017
It turns out that white men should take the lead in advocating for diversity, because they're the only ones who aren't punished for doing so.

diversity at the workplace
Credit: Thinkstock

I saw an interesting statistic on Twitter the other day: According to a Lake Research poll, 86 percent of the anti-Trump calls to Congress were made by women. And fully half of those were/are middle-aged women.

It's not surprising to me that women and people of color (POC) are taking to the phones, the streets and social media to loudly and boldly advocate for their freedoms and their rights. We've been fighting these battles for a long time. But when it comes to workplace equality, we might want to take a (well-deserved) break and let someone else do the advocacy work for us. And that "someone else" should be a white guy, according to recent research.

I'll explain. A study spearheaded by David Hekman, who's a business school professor at the University of Colorado, shows that when women and POC advocate for greater diversity and inclusion and for hiring other women and POC, their career suffers. They received lower performance ratings and negative reviews -- they were punished essentially. But for white men, there's no ill effect. I'm serious. This is exactly the kind of thing white guys can do without suffering any of the negative repercussions -- this great article from The Atlantic spells out why:

"They found that white women and non-white executives who, in the study's framework, valued diversity were rated as being less competent and having lower performance. In contrast, white male executives who promoted diversity experienced slightly better ratings: This group was perceived as competent regardless of whether they had made an issue of diversity. In a second study, the researchers asked a group of people to rate hiring decisions. The same dynamic turned up yet again, as participants gave bad ratings to white women and nonwhite managers when they hired white women or people of color, whereas white male managers were not judged harshly for promoting diversity of hiring from their own group."

It's about privilege (what the article calls "status," maybe to tone down the defensive posture so many white people, especially men, in my experience, instantly assume when they're called out on such privilege): who has it, who doesn't, and how that manifests itself in society at large and in everyday work relationships.

The study reveals what most of us women and POC (and LGBTQ and differently-abled and other underrepresented groups) already know: Until we can dismantle the notion that the "norm" is white, male, cisgendered and straight, progress will be slow and halting. Of course, there's a huge caveat: White, straight males have to first acknowledge their privilege and actively want to use it to better the lives of women, POC and other communities.

 

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