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Ask the White Guy: Why Do ‘Differences’ Matter?

Luke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.

Why Do Differences Matter?Question:
When can this website focus on the good things that come out of diversity? As a manager, that is what I focus on with my diverse group—that includes those white male workers that are non-too-popular with this website. Come on—let’s get over this and start turning around the website to focus on the examples of working together! When someone joins my group, I don’t want an attitude that says ‘I am different and special – give me extra help to fit in’ – I want an engineer that says ‘how can I do my job the best and work with the team equally.’  

Answer:
There are hundreds of positive articles on this website—and on BestPractices.DiversityInc.com—about all the positive aspects of managing diversity.

As far as “working together,” isn’t the shoe on the white male foot since they occupy the disproportionate majority of power positions in this country? Take a look at the leadership of the company you work for: There are 20 people pictured on the “leadership” page. Fifteen white men, two Black men, three white women (no apparent Latinos or Asians). Your company’s board of directors is even worse—nine men and one woman. I checked as many photos as I could and they were all white (no apparent Latinos or Asians).

Forty-seven percent of people with bachelor’s degrees in the workforce are women. The freshman class for four-year schools is 38 percent non-white; for two-year schools it’s 47 percent non-white. Your company’s leadership is substantially less diverse than the workforce of the United States—now and especially in the near future. What does “working together” mean with numbers like this? Depends on who you are.

Yes, your company’s website has a “diversity” area, but it’s weak—no quote from the CEO, no statistics, antiquated programs. It leverages that wiggly phrase “inclusive,” which often appears on websites with no metrics. “Inclusive” is often a prelude to no accountability.

Your company is engineering driven, and I’ve heard the excuse about how few women and/or Black and Latino engineers there are. But there’s more Blacks and Latinos attending college every year—and women have been getting more bachelor’s degrees than men since 1980. Why would a successful woman and/or Black or Latino student go into your field? It’s 2010; nobody has to be a pioneer anymore. There are plenty of progressive industries to work for. I don’t see your company at any of the education-based philanthropies I’m associated with, including the schools where I’m on the board. I find it hard to believe that your company can figure out how to make missiles and satellites but can’t figure out how to entice college-bound women and/or Blacks and Latinos to take more math courses in eighth grade. Whether it’s intended or not, the sign on the door of your company reads “white men preferred, please.”

Why would your company want to do the extra work required to recruit underrepresented people? There’s an economic point to diversity. But you have to believe that people are created equally—and there’s nothing particularly special about white men. If you believe that, then the logical next step is to understand that all people are created equally—and talent is distributed equally also. This means that for every percentage point your company underperforms the available labor pool, your workforce quality is decreased. Logically, underrepresentation also erodes engagement, productivity and innovation of everyone not in the majority. Not doing the extra work to be representational is a death spiral in a country where white people will soon be less than 50 percent of the population.

Finally, as an individual with all the attributes you bring to the table, you ARE different and special—and so are we all. Companies that work on building relationships based on that mutual respect get people to work hard for them, get the best possible talent and elicit the best innovation. Think about it. All the special things about you—your race, your gender, your experience (“second-generation immigrant”)—all contribute to the way you look at approaching situations, evaluating solutions and solving problems. The more differences you cultivate, the better ideas you will receive.

Unfortunately, it appears to me that you represent the attitude of your company very well—arms crossed in front of your chest demanding that people live up to some sort of expectation about “teamwork” that you have, when your company’s record indicates that only certain people will receive the promotions and leadership roles.

Our nation’s culture has evolved to a place where the best and the brightest, including white men, don’t have to put up with that nonsense anymore.

 

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12 Comments

  • Wow, you ripped them a new one. As a former librarian, a field with very few people of color in it, by the way, I applaud your research to put that person in their place. I’m going to keep a copy of that response for future use– I just know an opportunity will come up to use it.

  • Anonymous

    My spin:
    I don’t think that Luke was necessarily trying to rip the guy a new one. The important thing is to put out a very clear message, but since it is a written message (and not a conversation) with some length constraints, it may come off as a bit intense. So be it…

    Unfortunately, what the original letter shows (and what I’ve seen and experienced) is that there are still a lot of misconceptions about what diversity and inclusion really mean.

  • Anonymous

    I agree, most people, underrepresented or not, seem foggy on the definitions and parameters around diversity and inclusion. What if I am a person of color and am very religious- what does that mean about my definition of diversity in relation to sexual orientation? As an up-and-coming higher education professional, I deal with that sort of feeling a lot. On the main stage, several power holders (majority White people) claim they value inclusion yet mimic the thoughts of the letter– “C’mon, let’s just get over our differences and work together now” but that erases a very crucial components of what makes someone who they are– unique, different, talented. I applaud Luke’s rebuttal because more often than not, metrics are not used to argue the “let’s get over it” conversation, which is why it is perpetuated. Great job DiversityInc! As a longtime DiversityInc reader, I look forward to reading more and hopefully one day, getting involved!

  • Anonymous

    If an organization simply strives to hire and promote “fairly” we would be off to a great start. Specifically, this means posting job opportuities without pre-selecting the hire. Allowing each person to compete for a promotion on their past contributions, skills and merit. If this happens, I have confidence that both organizations and individuals will fare well, and we will see more “diversity” and equity in the workplace.

  • Anonymous

    I’m sorry – that is the laziest management style there is. “Welcome to the company, now fit in to MY team.” Regardless of your team’s racial make up, each is a unique individual and it’s your JOB as a supervisor to provide that “special help” to make a productive and successful team.

  • Anonymous

    Mr. Visconti, it’s Jason from RFS! Ok, I agree with this article completely. Big time business owners try to demean people whom are ethnically different from them; many of the caucasian race for sure. It’s absolutely unfair and ridiculous for you to be scripted as you walk into the room to hold your interview or during the conversation that you have with the manager over the phone. They have a lethal imitation of what your supposed to act like, and therefore they shy away from your employment opportunity without giving you a fair chance. Everyone can contribute to provide success to a company, and that’s why employers to me are the ones that appear like idiots. Why would you want your company to suffer due to a lack of employees when a perfectly qualified “black, latino..whatever” can get the job done and fill the gap; increasing profits for you! People have sick minds sometimes, and base their judgments off of stupid stereotypes. That’s why, when I become a lawyer, I’ll fight against prejudice toward any race in the workplace, or just the community in general! And BTW, Hello Mr. Visconti! :)

  • Anonymous

    I’m a 46 yr old of Japanese decent born in the USA. “White Guy’s” views are his to own… just as long as when he wants to (needs to) do business with the many other cultures that are not individual based societies, but community based…. that he understands that their rejection of him is more likely based on his cultural bias and not being culturally proficient. That is, if he was culturally proficient, he would understand “I” vs. “We” cultures.

  • Anonymous

    You know, to make diversity really inclusive and to make it work, I borrow terminology form the Americans with Disabilities Act, particularly the phrase “reasonable accommodation”. Everybody is different, and they come from different cultural matrices (and we must remember people are all different within their cultural matrix!), so while we recreate our systems to be welcoming (not “tolerant”) to all, we must also work a bit to extend that welcoming and how the corporate culture works and rewards – reasonable accommodation. (That phrase also extends to religious differences, physical differences, different abilities, etc.)

    Unfortunately, I hear the argument posted by the writer too frequently – and to me, it sounds a lot like “we welcome you to our melting pot – just come on, jump in and blend; you will succeed if you adequately mirror who we are.” Sorry, I am not convinced you will really value me for anything other than what I can do for your company and to fulfill the preconceived expectations you have of a “good employee” – not much room for me to be me as well.

    I do want a workplace where I can be creative and contributive, a place I can thrive at and feel excited about, a place I feel my only limits to promotion are my performance and contributions. You aren’t apt to get so much from me if you provide a place that is unwelcoming and feels like I have to stifle myself at, a workplace I feel is drag to go to every day. I don’t want special treatment – but I don’t want conditional acceptance or marginalization, either.

  • Anonymous

    Luke, this is a very good answer to an all too common question! I am white and have experienced discrimination for a number of different reasons, but I find it interesting when many of the white people I know ask, “What is the big deal with diversity and inclusion” and “Isn’t this reverse discrimination”. I figure they just don’t get the big picture. I try to help them understand the importance of diversity but some still have the “Tolerate” attitude rather than an “Acceptance” perspective. Society needs to accept and welcome differences rather than to tolerate them. Toleration is a rather juvenile and pessimistic attitude toward a situation. We are all face situations we don’t like, but it is our attitude that will determine our success or failure.

  • Anonymous

    That’s it. All these diversity statements start with the mention of ” special treatment”, completely wrong!This is not what we want ,we want the best qualified people no matter what, race, ethnicity, relegion, you name it. There are qualified individuals from all walks of life. Please! The “special treatment” assumption is what keeps people away from the diversity concept. Guest only please.

  • If we start looking at all humans as just people, and show respect and acceptance, we wouldn’t have to worry about one group being treated differently than another, or as some call it special treatment.

  • Diversity doesn’t necessarily mean equality. As the Black Race, and the female gender gain more and more power, the old ruling white male establishment must fall. Affirmative Action must be extended and expanded. Until there is a proper number of non white persons in positions of authority,you will have condescending white males still running the show and keeping the non caucasians in subservient roles.

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