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Asking the White Guys: Don’t Try This at Home

A DiversityInc reader asks advice about his plan to hold a diversity summit that includes a panel called "Ask the White Guys." Don't do it, advises the White Guy; you may end up doing more harm than good.

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.

Ask the White Guy Luke ViscontiQuestion:

I lead the diversity and inclusion function and we have 12 regional diversity councils that we bring together at a summit once a year. This year we are having a segment called “Ask the White Guys.” Our objective is to include the white guy in the diversity conversation. Any suggestions or things we ought to think about as we moderate this segment?

 

Answer:

I suggest you not do this.

 

Diversity management is a disciplined business subject that, properly implemented, drives productivity, innovation, profitability and sustainability. It does not mean that people have an open license to sound off on their opinions.

 

My column (the title of which is trademarked) reflects a body of knowledge that comes from the total commitment that I gave to this subject when my business partner and I launched DiversityInc ten years ago. I’ve been responsible for DiversityInc’s editorial content since the beginning, yet I still get things wrong occasionally and feel my opinion continues to evolve as I learn. The title of my column is meant to be ironic; even so, it still upsets people.

 

The white men in your company (have they even gone through competent diversity training with follow-up to assess the results?) are not diversity professionals and will likely answer questions from a well-meaning but majority-culture point of view and say things like “I’m colorblind” or “underneath it all, everyone’s the same.”

 

The desire to force everyone into the “majority tribe” is normal human behavior but it isn’t sustainable organizational behavior in a diverse marketplace. My hunch is that your panel will likely result in problems your company will be dealing with for years.

 

I will have a response to an Ask the White Guy question for you early next week that will illustrate the problem. A reader e-mailed a regurgitation of almost every white-privilege-denial “fact” I heard growing up forty years ago. I think that reader is only unusual in her being public in describing her opinions (even then, she must have had a second thought because she sent another e-mail that asked if she would be publicly identified).

 

However, I heartily concur with your desire to show that “diversity” includes white, heterosexual men with no ADA-defined disabilities. Part of the irony of the title “Ask the White Guy” is that most people use the word “diversity” as a way to describe everything but white men. That’s just wrong. It implies that white men are “normal” and everyone else is “different” or “diverse.”

 

That said, I suggest your company follow the lead of The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity in proper training and feedback structures like employee-resource groups, diversity councils and personal participation and accountability from the CEO. That’s how you get the productive participation of “the white guys.”

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