There’s a price to be paid for workforce discrimination -- $64 billion. This amount is the annual estimated costs of replacing the more than 2 million Americans workers who leave their jobs every year due to discrimination and unfairness.
Recent studies show that one in four women in the United States has experienced workplace sexual harassment. Other research reveals enormous amounts of unconscious bias. In one experiment, a resume with a black sounding name received half as many callbacks as the same resume with a white sounding name, even when it was sent to corporations with strong diversity reputations.
When asked “even with equal skills and qualifications, women have much more difficulty reaching top management positions,” the gender divide was striking: 93 percent of women agreed with the statement, but just 58 percent of men agreed. Men are often unaware of the barriers women face.
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Many organizations find these issues uncomfortable and avoid any discussion of them. Executives often steer clear of these tough conversations partly because they have never been taught how to have such conversations. Furthermore, the burden to raise these issues usually falls to those who are most impacted by them: people of color, women, LGBT individuals and other victims of discrimination. Meanwhile, white men, who often feel defensive and attacked, avoid the conversations at all costs.
Twenty years ago, White Men As Full Diversity Partners (WMFDP) was founded to help white male executives learn to educate each other about their own blind spots.
You might think that is an unusual name for a diversity consulting firm -- and you’re right. Once, a flight attendant saw the company name on the pre-reading of a participant who was a vice president en route to a WMFDP learning session -- she asked him if he was part of an extremist group. Just this week a white male showed up at a WMFDP learning lab sharing that a woman from India sitting next to him on the plane laid into him because she saw the pre-reading and assumed he was racist.
One reason for this is that diversity has been historically framed to never focus on white men. Examinations of race is usually focused on people of color, while gender is focused on women. What gets unexamined is being white, male, heterosexual. This leaves white men feeling not part of diversity and not understanding how those dimensions give us a different experience in the world.
In the book "Four Days To Change: 12 Radical Habits to Overcome Bias and thrive in a Diverse World," four men discover life changing insights and revelations through extensive diversity sessions. Indeed, Catalyst, a benchmarking nonprofit for increasing success of women in corporations, researched the impact of WMFDP labs and found the white men listened 33 percent more according to co-workers’ observations.
Two key mindset shifts happen to these men when confronting diversity:
1. Not everything is a problem to solve.
It no longer works to see everything in life as a problem to solve. Life is a journey in which new questions and perspectives arise. The journey itself will lead to more profound learning.
Most white men are under the influence of an invisible culture and are unaware of the water they swim in because they never have to leave it. Part of this water is a strong focus on action and fixing things. Many of these men’s spouses complain to them to stop trying to use their “fix-it muscle” and just listen to them. You cannot fix what you don’t understand and white men must accept that navigating diversity is a lifelong learning journey. A problem solving mindset won’t work exclusively.
2. Use different perspectives.
Incorporate multiple perspectives, even if they are contradictory. They give you a more intricate view of the world. Seeing the world from only one perspective gives an incomplete view.
Another part of the invisible-to-us white male culture is a low tolerance of uncertainty. This leads people to think in terms of either/or, and right/wrong. White men end up trying to oversimplify the world because they can’t accept that viewpoints that seem contradictory can actually be partially true. But you can shift from seeing everything as right/wrong to simply right/left. Tip to remember: your view of the world isn’t wrong; more likely its incomplete. When white men explore diversity deeply it forces them to develop new mindsets that then make them more satisfied and productive in the rest of their lives. It’s worth the awkward reactions created in social settings when combining the words white men with diversity.