Don’t Exclude White Males from Diversity and Inclusion Programs


By Bill Leonard February 12, 2013

When HR professionals discuss diversity and inclusion programs, the key demographic of white men is often excluded or neglected. Some people tend to think of white male business leaders as the antithesis of diversity, when in fact they could be the most important group to ensuring that an organization becomes truly inclusive.

For years, workplace diversity programs focused on minorities and others who are underrepresented in supervisory and management roles. But lately, the focus has shifted to inclusion in the workplace—for all workers.

A new report, The Study of White Men Leading Through Diversity and Inclusion, released by Greatheart Leader Labs in Seattle on Jan. 30, 2012, examines how white male leaders perceive and experience corporate diversity and inclusion programs. The study was sponsored by PwC, Alcoa, Intel and PepsiCo, with participation from the Bank of America, Egon Zehnder, Exelon, Marsh & McLennan and Wal-Mart Stores. The researchers with Greatheart Leader Labs analyzed white male business leaders’ effectiveness in incorporating diversity and inclusion skills into their leadership style, and the persistence of certain skills gaps.

“What we found is that we all have things to learn here, and it’s not just about white male leaders needing to learn what diversity and inclusion actually means,” said Chuck Shelton, managing director of Greatheart Leader Labs, during a webcast presented by The Conference Board.

Shelton told webcast viewers that the most effective diversity and inclusion initiatives include white male leaders and ensure that they are part of the process.

Often, leaders make the mistake of thinking that simply voicing support for their companies’ diversity and inclusion programs will suffice to demonstrate their commitment to these initiatives. According to Shelton, full commitment and involvement of leaders is necessary for any inclusion program to be successful, and this is where many organizations come up short.

While white male leaders may say they understand the need for diversity and inclusion and that they support the corporate initiative, in reality, this key demographic group often feels excluded from the programs. The study found that exclusion was the top challenge white male executives face when trying to incorporate diversity and inclusion into their leadership efforts. Nearly 70 percent of white male respondents to Greatheart’s survey agreed with the statement “It is still not clear diversity initiatives are meant to include white men.”

Employers that sponsored the study intend to use the results to help strengthen their organizations’ corporate leadership-development initiatives.

“There is definitely a learning curve of how diversity and inclusion can and should be used in developing leadership skills,” said Gena Lovett, chief diversity officer at Alcoa.

Lovett joined Shelton in presenting The Conference Board webcast.

“At Alcoa diversity and inclusion is very important and considered an essential leadership skill. We hold our managers and executives accountable for diversity and inclusion efforts,” Lovett said. “We intend to apply the study results to our supervisory and leadership training. This really is about listening and understanding what needs to be done.”

The Greatheart study listed several recommendations to help businesses improve and ensure the success of their diversity and inclusion programs. The first recommendation is in line with what Lovett said by suggesting that employers commit to developing white male executives’ leadership skills and specifically add diversity and inclusion to their leadership skill sets.

Another study recommendation is for companies to develop metrics that measure the effectiveness of diversity and inclusion programs and then make leaders accountable for meeting corporate goals and objectives. Other suggestions include promoting peer learning among white male leaders and, in these efforts, realizing that female and minority peers can be key co-learners and have a lot to share.

“Candor among peers and co-workers is a very important element to this whole process,” said Shelton. “Everyone must learn to be able to talk frankly and demonstrate respect for each other. Real diversity and inclusion requires care and ensuring everyone feels that they are part of the effort, including white male leaders.”

Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.

Job Finder

Find an HR Job Near You
Search Jobs

HR Professional Development Programs Right For You

Find SHRM Education Programs Across the U.S. and Virtually

Find SHRM Education Programs Across the U.S. and Virtually

Find a Seminar


Find the Right Vendor for Your HR Needs

SHRM’s HR Vendor Directory contains over 10,000 companies

Search & Connect

HR Daily Newsletter

News, trends and analysis, as well as breaking news alerts, to help HR professionals do their jobs better each business day.