White men in executive leadership roles often believe that hiring diverse internal stakeholders is enough to wave the flag of allyship.
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Inclusion means everyone’s in, and that includes white men. As a white guy myself, I’ve worked to help business leaders develop more inclusive methods for more than 40 years. During that time, I have observed two distinctive patterns. First, diversity programming at the corporate level tends not to specifically include white men, and today, that is an integrity risk to organizations. No strategy can succeed when it excludes those who hold much of the position power. Second, white men often viewed diversity and inclusion as an investment in someone else, not themselves, which indicates that we have largely failed to learn how inclusion can fuel our collective career success.
These beliefs and practices now face radical disruption, as effective leadership must be inclusive leadership. We feel the urgency to navigate our employees’ and customers’ expectations in the wake of the ongoing #MeToo movement, during this era of racial reckoning and amid the pressure-laden news cycle and the social consciousness of younger generations. This means it’s time to include white guys in our actions toward diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). White males in leadership positions can become more inclusive leaders by using the following actions.
Focus on inclusion to add clear business value
Inclusive leaders bring measurable outcomes to the organization. It’s not enough just to know that DEI is the right approach or that it helps inspire compliance and avoid bad press. Those results are good, but like any strategy, inclusion has to contribute to the organization. Implementing inclusion can:
- Solve practical problems, like figuring out how to break down language barriers and work across cultural norms.
- Compete for and promote a new mix of talent in the firm.
- Source new ideas from more voices to develop innovative products and services.
- Deliver process efficiencies, for example, to drive more agile programming.
- Contribute to revenue by winning new customers and growing business with current clients.
- Demonstrate impact through metrics, such as representation in headcount and quantifying the role that inclusive leadership plays in new revenue generation.
By implementing inclusion throughout an organization, inclusive leaders hold diversity, equity and inclusion accountable for building the business.
Remember that it’s not just business
Leadership can only be inclusive when it is authentic. White male leaders, in particular, need to show up as real. We need to accept our agency — not to center ourselves, but for two more humbling reasons: because being brave enough to have a voice brings us off the sidelines, and because honest engagement demonstrates our inclusion commitment and skills to colleagues who have not seen us do so previously.
So how can white men lead more inclusively and pursue personal responsibility? We can create psychological safety across differences, be teachable and respectful in all settings and carefully weave humility into our expanding point of view.
The result? When white men ground their inclusive leadership in their own authentic story and learning, their peers and other colleagues will be willing to follow them more often, which then helps them keep learning.
Invest in relationships of trust and accountability
Relationships are the influence lab for an inclusive leader. If we assume as white men that, for others to win, we have to lose, then strong relationships will teach us that a truly inclusive environment is really about finding new ways for everyone to compete and collaborate. When we invest in building reciprocal trust, by making and keeping promises over time and across differences, we fill the rifts between us with positive expectations and the flexibility to recover from mistakes. When we realize that we, as white men, can rely on other white men as inclusion-learning partners, we are motivated to find more courage.
A white man is an ally only when a colleague who is not a white man says he is. And when coworkers see you that way, you know you’ve come a long way from believing that diversity and inclusion are not for you. Relationships of trust and accountability across differences transform our performance by guiding our learning, revealing unexpected kindness and helping us resolve conflict.
Are you facing the responsibility of growing your company through diversity, equity and inclusion? Explore the research about white men and how you can include them within the organization with care and candor. If you are a white man, and particularly if you hold a leadership role, find your courage and include yourself in the moves toward inclusion.
Leaders everywhere, including white guys, can build a brand as a more inclusive leader. It will be difficult, but the results will be worth it.