Why White Men Must Attend Diversity Training

Diversity training's purpose is to help people develop relationships to people who are not like them. So why should chief executives demand support for diversity training especially from those who may think it doesn't apply to them? The White Guy explains.

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.

I have just been invited to (my company’s) first ever Diversity & Inclusion meeting and training pilot tomorrow morning. It will be a 4 hour session managed by an external training vendor. Attending will be several “diverse” and female senior managers in addition to a few HR managers.

Can you give me a couple of bullets on what should be included in a standard session and how is a successful rollout managed? Given that this [is] a first for (my company) I am hoping it is well received and receives C-level support.

In my opinion, diversity training that is not immediately tied back to profitability and the business case is doomed to marginalization and/or failure.

Please read this: How Effective Diversity Management Drives Profit

Please read this too: Why Do Diversity-Management Departments Need Budget?

Am I correct in understanding that your diversity training is only targeted for non-white people? If so, white men should be included by mandate (not by voluntary action).

Ultimately, diversity training should help people develop relationships to people who are not like them. This is tied to economics. In 1951, the average bank (for example) could afford to discriminate against everyone but white men because the labor force was segregated and white men had all the high-paying jobs. In 1951, women had the right to vote for only 31 years. “Gay? Good for you, I’m happy too.” You get the point.

Today, the average bank cannot afford to redline anyone from their business operations; without even discussing programs mandated by the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, the economy has expanded to the point where our workforce will be 70 percent women and/or Black and Latino by 2016, household income for Black, Asian and Latino households is rising at twice the rate of white households (and has been since 1990), more people with ADA-defined disabilities have college degrees than people without ADA-defined disabilities, white people will be less than 50 percent of our population by 2043, and now that DADT has ended and DOMA is no longer being defended by the president, gay marriage and equal rights are right around the corner.

You shouldn’t be “hoping” for C-level support. Any CEO with his/her head out of the sand will be demanding support for diversity-management excellence. Why?

A person’s ability to build equitable relationships is directly relevant to their effectiveness in business.

If you think about it, white men are the LEAST likely to have trusting business relationships with people other than white men. Think about this carefully: A Black woman executive (for example) will HAVE to have built trusting business relationships with many white men to be promoted. The reciprocal is simply not true for the majority of white men; almost every single white man at the top of a Fortune 500 company got there without having to have a trusting, deep business relationship with anyone other than white men (they may have chosen to do otherwise, but it wasn’t necessary to get where they are in the overwhelming majority of companies).

If you consider the rapidly moving marketplace and the condition of white men and their interpersonal relationship experience, the inevitable conclusion is that diversity training MUST involve everyone in the company-especially white men.

I also think language around diversity should be very carefully phrased. Does your company’s CEO have a “vision” for profitability? Does the bearing assembly in the main shaft of a jet engine have an “aspirational” diameter? Does the vice president of sales task her/his salespeople with an “ideal” for a sales goal? Not in any business that’s successful.

Diversity management must be discussed in the same precise terms as any other important business process.

Finally: Please do not use “diverse” as a euphemism for everyone but white, Christian, heterosexual men with no ADA-defined disabilities. If you do, you send the signal that they are “normal” and everyone else needs “help.”

If you’ve read this far and are not bored to tears with me yet, please read this: Why Do ‘Differences’ Matter?

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  • Thank you for this post.
    I would take the conversation one step further. To ensure the connection between diversity and the bottom line, I do not do “diversity work”- I do leadership development work. And team development, And conflict resolution skills training. All of these have important components that might be part of “diversity training”, but they are framed in terms of the benefits to the business rather than as diversity/inclusion for its own sake.
    In my experience, this makes the most important connections more clear, and better (and more quickly) engages those who might otherwise be skeptical of “diversity training”, namely my fellow white men.
    It is a challenge to approach certain topics that generally are not discussed in the workplace. The better we can all align our points of view toward benefits to the business the more valuable our conversations will be.

  • Leadership development work is a good thing. Companies have been doing that for years. I think this country still has a problem when it comes to race in the work place. For example I am a African American male where I work, as a matter of fact the only person of color in my department and its history. I was apprehensive of what everyone perception of me was going to be like and of course it does rared its ugly head at times, but I learned since I’m the only ink spot in the room (excuse my expression) I say to myself please don’t give these people any reason for feeling threaten, offended, or other wise, or you will be out of a job. First of all they dance to a different beat than I do and we come from two totally difference experiences. The prilivege white skin and those who have to take a step back and wait your turn when or ever it happens. There are times when I feel I’m walking on egg shells, but I do the best job that I possibly can inspite of my surroundings. And I’ve been here for the last eight years and have kept it strictly work related, unless my white co-workers want to engaged in conversations with me, or I make the effort at times. Other than that there is no closeness amongs us except for space, or other wise it is all work related. And it’s okay. I got accustom to it very quickly.

  • I attended a diversity workshop for college students funded under STEM in which the groups in the room wrote out their top 10 goals in life, and what they are willing to do to get there. Even though we were self grouping by physical characteristics, there was no way to determine which group wrote what. We all were humans: we all have family we dearly care for, we all know good things come with hard work, we were all striving to better ourselves and our future and we believed in working with others. The group that this hit the hardest as an eye opener was the majority male group. As I was growing up, our society did us a disservice to differentiate people into groups where there was no differences but what had been perpetrated upon minorities for centuries, but it was always “for the good of the country”. But power once held is hard to relinquish even though we will be so much better off when all can strive and work towards their goals. We all benefit.
    These students will be the future designers, creators, employees and entrepreneurs.

  • what a racist thing to say –

    “white men are the LEAST likely to have trusting business relationships with people other than white men.”

    your admirable goal of encouraging diversity and cross cultural understanding is entirely destroyed by statements like this. To suggest that all “white men” are the same and that there is no diversity among such a large group is ridiculous. .

  • White people come to the table with a pre-concerned notion of people of color. Its a problem that come from their up bringing, in other words its passed down. Its a continuing pattern, that can only broken from the home. In other words don;’t teach your children that there is a difference based on the complexion. However, the problem goes deeper than that. As long as race is defined by law, it remains a legally defined reason and justification for separation. There will always be a need for diversity training, if we continued to legally create a division.

  • I can’t understand what Luke Visconti intended to say when he wrote “more people with ADA-defined disabilities have college degrees than people without ADA-defined disabilities.” What this means is that more than 50% of college graduates have ADA-defined disabilities–I can’t think of any other way to interpret it. I assume that can’t be true. Maybe he meant “a higher percentage…”?

  • We are addressing perhaps the most important human capital issue in organizations today, the lack of engagement among many (most?) white males in relationship development. I support the profitability pillar, the re-framing (leadership, conflict, team) performance pillar, and would like to add the WIIFM pillar. I believe all training needs to appeal to self-interest. Strangely, I think it is through convincing majority members (usually white males) that their work success and satisfaction will improve when healthy, high-trust relationships can be developed with all members, that we will most effectively move the dial for creating more inclusive, less discriminating organizations.

  • If you do not have white males along with other groups leading diversity and inclusion classes, white males will not associate with the training. Nearly always it is “diverse” groups and women who facilitate classes. Therefore white males will comfortably state that it is for minorities and women only.

  • It is easy to get lost in the semantics of words when speaking about a topic so inflammatory as “diversity.” I read all the comments and I can’t help but point out that even the author of the original questions states: “Attending will be several diverse” and female senior managers.” Does the classification “female” add anything to the discussion of “diversity.” Why not simply say there will be a diverse group represented at the training rather attempt to desinate minorities as the “diverse” group. Language is powerful and often comes out in a manner that truly enlightens one to the very soul of the person speaking. You can’t teach someone else until you have addressed your own barriers to understanding. As a multi-racial person in this society, I am always baffled to hear the kinds of things people say to me, but I also recognize that much of it is said out of ignorance and complacency. So, I take those opportunities to make difference, by honestly speaking to people who might say some of the most offensive things. CEO buy-in and support for diversity programs can be superficially prompted by a focus on the bottom-line, but day-to-day life experiences with people who are different from you, I believe is the most powerful in changing the constructs that have shaped our perspectives, and thusly, our realities.

  • Luke, Your logic about missing out on both profitable minority segments of the market and strong minority workers who can make you money are important reasons for white CEOs to have a pro-diversity mindset. However, as a government employee, I am concerned that you are painting youself into a corner by stating that diversity training should be tied back to profitability. In the government, making money for our employer is a non-issue, yet I presume you would still find diversity initiatives useful in our arena. Also, as a white guy myself, I am not sure that the best way to win other white guys over is to point out what you believe to be their inherent biases (such as not trusting those not like them). I think that white people generally don’t experience that much racism when it comes to being promoted (perhaps because their bosses are also white) and therefore race issues don’t really come into play for whites. They become totally desensitized to the point where they believe they don’t need to pay any mind to race at all because it has always been a non-issue for them. I actually think that understanding that trust doesn’t come naturally, especially to those who have been discriminated against, is important for all white male managers to understand.

  • I just sat through a diversity training session a few weeks ago. I am a man, but not white, so I was mostly on the sidelines.

    And to be honest, I found the entire exercise disgusting, dehumanizing, and full of racial guilt. Most of my white colleagues didn’t seem racist to me at all, even before the exercises. I know the problems with “colorblind” thinking, but honestly race did not have any sort of effect on our interactions at my workplace. I didn’t tell anyone my true feelings, but the whole thing seemed counterproductive and generated some unnecessary resentment.

    • Luke Visconti

      I’m sorry for your experience. I’m sure your white colleagues aren’t racist—most white people in general aren’t. Some might be situationally ignorant, but that’s easily changed.

      I’ll bet if we could survey people who were the victims of incompetent diversity training (and most of it is) we’d find that the people most offended and resentful were not white. Guilt can motivate people to change, but it’s best used very, very sparingly—and only in the context of building a better future for all of us. When it’s used as a mental blunt-force-trauma instrument, it only builds resentment. And who needs that?

      However, your comments underscore the need for everyone to be in an inclusive training program so we can all learn to work together productively. The problem is that most “diversity” training is garbage—I actually heard a well-known diversity trainer speak at an event and say that white men should never be on diversity councils. What a load of nonsense.

      If your company is smart, it will use surveys, including engagement surveys, to assess the efficacy of training, including diversity training. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

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