Why White Men Matter

“What about the white guy?” is the unspoken question when companies focus on diversity and inclusion. Some approaches to diversity may feel like a zero sum game for white men. Often they wonder if they are included or can be included in the dialogue. Some wonder, “What can I contribute?” Others worry about whether promotional opportunities still exist for their careers.

White men matter tremendously in the diversity and inclusion journey. Some of the reasons why companies should ensure white men are included in the journey are:

  • Each person has a unique story. During many diversity sessions, I ask people to describe their own experiences about diversity and inclusion. Some of the most powerful stories have come from white men.
  • White men have roles as fathers, uncles, sons, husbands, supervisors, and co-workers and they want to see a workplace and world of inclusion and meritocracy.
  • Inclusion drives innovation and business results. White men want to make a difference and be successful. Success requires creating an environment where all voices are heard.
  • Personal leadership brand and competencies matter. White men want to make a difference with diversity and inclusion and they appreciate feedback and different perspectives.
  • White men are often in roles of power and influence and are generally gatekeepers to c-suite roles. They have the ability to sponsor and mentor others into influential roles.

There have been many white men who have significantly helped me personally and professionally. I’d like to share stories about some of them. The first one is my Dad. My parents have three daughters and one son. My parents, particularly my Dad, were insistent that girls and boys can become anything they want to become.

When our neighbors were focused on sending their sons to college but not their daughters, my father focused on ensuring all his children would go to college. Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsico, and Denise Morrison, CEO of Campbell Soup, have both stated that their fathers played a key role in encouraging them to believe they could be anyone they wanted to be.

Harvard Business School conducted research in 2013 that highlighted the role fathers play regarding the career dreams and aspirations of their daughters. Dads who have a more egalitarian view of housework and child care in the home have daughters who more significantly imagine themselves as having a career and a family. What was even more telling with the research is that the amount of time fathers actually spend housecleaning and child raising was

uniquely predictive of their daughter’s career interests. Fathers can be the influential gatekeepers for the roles their daughters choose.

My parents divorced after 20 years and my father was granted primary custody. My father’s job required extensive travel so he asked for a “Mommy Track” role (as they were referred to then) so that he could raise my siblings. This experience taught me that men and women can raise children—raising children is not a role reserved solely for women. I know many fathers, particularly single parent fathers, who are doing a phenomenal job raising their children.

The most important man in my life is my husband, Craig. He was the first boyfriend who accepted me for who I was. He didn’t ask me to be less vocal or to learn to cook or to be more submissive. He loves me for who I am and doesn’t try to change me into someone I am not. After two months of dating Craig, I asked him to marry me. I thought “This one is a keeper.” Luckily he said “yes” and we’ve been married for 31 years. He has moved six times with me to follow my career and he is a fabulous husband and father. He has been a stay-at-home Dad for 10 years to raise our children and to care for his elderly parents.

I have had several white men as bosses who were also incredible mentors. They challenged me, developed me, and believed in me. They had extremely high expectations and they gave me the wings to soar. I would not be where I am today without their guidance, brutally honest feedback, and uncompromising expectations of excellence.

My father, my husband, and my incredible bosses are all dream enablers. There are two types of people in this world—dream stealers and dream enablers. Dream stealers tell you why you can’t achieve your dreams. They say things like “You’re not smart enough,” “You didn’t go to the right school or get the right major” or a variety of other reasons. Dream enablers encourage you to pursue your dreams. They provide an honest critique but it is provided in an environment of support. Think about five people with whom you spend most of your time. Are they dream stealers or dream enablers? Surround yourself with dream enablers and run away quickly from dream stealers. Your dreams are the whispers of your soul and the fuel for your future.

I’ve had my share of dream stealers—a college professor who told me to focus on my MRS (Misses) degree—a boss who said he didn’t want to share information with me because he didn’t want me to “worry my pretty little head”—and a boyfriend who told me that he was embarrassed to be dating someone who had a job in a retail store. In each of these situations, I took the time to evaluate the environment and my options and I chose to leave and surround myself with dream enablers.

We are all on this diversity and inclusion journey together. Each of us bring a unique perspective and it starts with asking each person, including white men, about their personal experiences with diversity and inclusion. Each of us must set aside our unconscious bias and get to know each person’s story rather than making assumptions.

With active listening and truly caring about others, we can each become a dream enabler for those around us personally and professionally.

I’m often asked how white men can be dream enablers of others—some tips include:

  • Be a servant leader to everyone and aggressively develop others equally
  • Hire and promote the best person for the job
  • Share your personal stories about diversity and inclusion
  • Take paternity leave—it sends a great message about the value of family and balance
  • Be more involved in household responsibilities
  • Be a role model for work/life integration and getting great results
  • Attend diversity events
  • Be a vocal advocate and champion for diversity and inclusion
  • Understand the critical role a white man plays in moving the needle on diversity and inclusion—one strong ally can often create very meaningful impact