If Diversity & Inclusion Is Working, Why Are White Men Still Getting the Best Jobs?

In a preview of her new book "The American Non-Dilemma", Dr. Nancy DiTomaso asks if diversity & inclusion efforts are effective.

By Dr. Nancy DiTomaso

American Non-DilemmaAfter several decades of attention to diversity and inclusion, most large companies have programs and policies that are intended to expand diversity in the workforce. They often have diversity officers to oversee these efforts.

My guess is that companies find now what I did when I taught graduate courses in diversity or ran corporate workshops starting in the mid-1980s: that everyone denounces racism, says they believe in civil rights and thinks of equal opportunity as the solution to inequality.

Despite the presence of these widespread corporate activities, in most companies white males still disproportionately get the best jobs and most visible assignments. If that is the case, then what more do we need to understand or do’? Perhaps more provocatively, we might ask: if there are no racists, then why do we still have racial inequality?

I address these questions in my new book, The American Non-Dilemma: Racial Inequality Without Racism, published by the Russell Sage Foundation and based on in-depth interviews with whites from across the country.

Three major themes emerged from my research:

1. Whites do good things for each other without doing bad things to others.

Most academic research, public-policy discussions and even corporate-diversity programs tend to start with the assumption that racial and other forms of inequality grow out of prejudice , bias (conscious or unconscious) and discrimination.

In this context, however, most will assume, like my students and my interviewees, that it is others (“those racists”) who are guilty of holding outmoded views, but that they themselves are innocent and act with good will.

But in a structure of inequality that already favors them, most whites do not have to do bad things to minority groups in order to gain advantages; they only have to do good things for each other, which they actively seek and do.

For example, I found that 99 percent of my interviewees received 70 percent of the jobs they held over their lifetimes with the extra help of friends or family members who could give them inside information, use influence on their behalf or offer them opportunities, such as jobs or promotions, not available to others.

Discrimination and favoritism are not just different sides of the same coin, because while discrimination is illegal, favoritism or offering advantages to family or friends is not.

In the post-civil-rights period, it is arguably the favoritism that whites show toward other whites that reproduces racial inequality more than the discrimination of whites toward people of color. While companies tout the importance of inclusion, they too often overlook that whites are often including other whites and that that is perhaps more of a problem than their exclusion of people of color.

For example, many companies give preference to referrals from their current employees, especially for middle- and senior-level positions. In some cases, they even pay their current employees a reward for making such referrals. These practices are likely to reproduce the existing composition of the workforce, undermining other efforts to be inclusive and diverse

2. Whites believe in equal opportunity but spend their lives seeking unequal opportunity.

I found that when asked about solutions to inequality, my interviewees, like most in the country, claimed fairness was defined by “equal opportunity.”

Although most claimed to support equal-opportunity policies as the solution to inequality, people get jobs throughout t heir lives by actively seeking the help of family and friends in an effort to gain unequal opportunity. They all sought unequal opportunity when they needed a job or looked for a promotion, and that is how most found jobs most of the time.

This is not, however, how the interviewees thought about their life paths.

Instead, when asked how they got to where they were currently in their lives, almost all said that they got to their current positions through hard work, motivation and persistence. Few mentioned that someone had helped them, even though almost all had help most of the time.

3. Whites play up having “done it on their own” and downplay having group-based advantage.

The strong belief these interviewees had that they “did it on their own” is contrary to the group-based advantage that they actively sought in order to gain advantage or to get “ahead.” It is an unseen advantage when people get access to good jobs or promising opportunities that are not available to others.

Because of the segregation that still exists in so many of our neighborhoods and institutions, help is not exchanged with just anyone. Help is given to those who are close to us, those with whom we identify and those who are fundamentally “like me.” Seeing the issues of diversity and inclusion through this new lens raises issues for executives, diversity officers and employees alike to consider. Companies have given too much attention to preventing whites from doing bad things to minority workers, without giving nearly enough attention to the outcomes of whites helping each other. Too much focus has been given to equal opportunity without enough attention to the patterns of unequal opportunity that are prevalent in the workforce of every company.

If favoritism rather than discrimination is the key mechanism for job placement, then companies need to examine their policies anew. Employers need to understand, for example, that giving special attention to referrals can mean fostering unequal opportunity as a natter of policy. We need to be sure that opportunity is indeed equal and merit-based, rather than based only on who knows or has recommended whom. We have come a long way over the last several decades, but there is more to do. We must attend to the things that have so far escaped our notice in order to have the vision to achieve the progress that we believe is necessary and warranted.

Recommended Articles

44 comments


  • Really?

    All whites do X, all whites believe X, and all whites play up X? And all Asians, all Semites, what do they do, believe, anf play up, Nancy? And Luke, why publish such blatant racist dreck? Sandbaging, are ye? Playing the heel, playing down to the mob’s level? Like Oprah or Barnum, unwilling to risk over-estimating the intellect and discernment of the American public?

    If I were to attempt to write an article for this site, I believe my working title would be “If Diversity & Inclusion Is Working, Why Are Men Still Getting Most Sports Jobs?”

    • Luke Visconti

      You think this is “racist dreck,” yet you’ve been posting comments on this website for roughly seven years! What kind of trauma did you have in your life that compels you to offend people who think differently than you?

      By the way, anyone in the publishing industry should be lining up on Wall Street to thank Oprah: She singlehandedly inspired millions of people to start reading books again. She didn’t underestimate intellect or discernment, she leveraged her charisma and success to inspire people (both readers and authors). Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

      • in order for this entire debate to descend from the realm of stand-up comedy let’s ask why “diversity” is only an issue in SOME FIELDS.

        Do women ask for more diversity as dock workers? plumbers? sanitation workers? fishermen? movers?

        FOR F____ SAKE get to know some real women in real life and understand that 90% of this “diversity” issue is that women are LESS interested in these fields than men. STEM? You want to FORCE women to be interested in that? MOST of my friends are girls and NOT A SINGLE ONE is even remotely interested in STEM fields, with the exception of my ex, who is a family medicine doctor.

        The others are things like: game artist, IRS manager, event planner, dance choreographer, model (for art students), executive assitant, nanny, and my sister is a drama teacher.

        As i said the whole debate is absolutely ludicrous- stop turning women in screaming whiny babies who have no power over their own destiny, and need organizations set up by men to not only usher them in, but run to the bottom of the stairs and drag them up.

        There are more women graduating college than men, they make more money through their 30s now than men, and we live in a “guilty until proven innocent” culture when it comes to crimes against women. I’d say they fought the good fight and they won!

        Seriously, get to know some intelligent adult women who don’t make excuses, women are just as powerful and accountable as men, and they don’t need us trying to define their place in the universe to make sure they get counted.

          • BLawson knows this. BL is displaying a narrow-minded point of view. Expand your knowledge base for facts, BL. It is not a virtue to be ignorant (not original, but I do not have to be original).

      • The culture that waits to see what race and gender someone is before listening to their words is a dead end. “Speaking truth to power” only works if your angle isn’t a hate movement, which is why the golden age of competitive victimhood is over. 2014 was its peak and we are on the other side of the hill.

        Every person is an individual before they are part of a collective. Most high functioning adults realize this and judge each other on individual merit.

        • Black people are viewed as a collective, not from an individual perspective. You would not know this because as a White male you have and will always be regarded as an individual first, and one with privilege. Think about it.

          • You are so full of shit your skin is brown
            Really
            I have plenty of black friends
            One is columbian and speaks 3 languages
            I doubt you will ever live up to the talent of JP

            he worked his way up
            no white man gave him a hand up he helped himself from
            A 3rd world country To a us citizen who pays your welfare
            Me and him both agree racist hate mongering African Americans need hard labor to remind them of what they rose above for their grandchildren

            Why not talk about blacks who are being killed and oppressed by blacks?
            It’s going on everywhere even USA and Angola

            Instead you whine and moan
            read a fucking book

    • Steveland Morris

      Yes, THIS is some racist bull-chit. I can promise you at my “inclusive” company as a white man I’m on the bottom of most every list. I will be first to be laid off and last to be promoted, because my employer REQUIRES Affirmative Action first and foremost. It will not be based solely on a resume.

      Do not fool yourself: at some point this pendulum must swing back to the CENTER – not left, and not right. We have achieved the stated Federal government-mandated goal and what is left is reverse discrimination.

      Get out of your fantasy world, stop feeling sorry for yourselves, and simply get your ass to work. Your accomplishments, from this point forward, will be the only thing that most of us will listen to.

      And don’t even get me started on this racist “white privilege” bullshit. You do NOT know me.

      • Luke Visconti

        Do you really think your company is choosing “affirmative action” over best qualified? I think your post amply explains why you’re not doing well in your career: You’re a mean-spirited jackass. Only a masochist would want a guy with an attitude like yours reporting to them. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

        • I believe all should be evaluated on there qualifications, as a company we need to hire the best individual for the job regardless of there race or gender. Keep the laws out of the hiring process.

          • Richard Thirne

            There is one thing that is interestingly and intentionally omitted in this comments discussion where “reverse affirmative action” has been mentioned. That is the intentional omission of the first legally sanctioned US “affirmative action” program that provided exclusive economic job advantages to Whites and no other ethnic group: Jim Crow Segregation. As we all know, these laws provided exclusive job access to Whites and prevented the same job access to Blacks and any one who was NOT White. Nothing at all to do with who was the most qualified for the position so please stop the revisionist history. The truth of what was done at that time to continually provide Whites with a continued and unfair economic advantage over others with no real criteria outside of Whiteness has long been understood. Time to own up and take ownership of those decisions.

          • Richard Thirne

            There is one thing that is interestingly and intentionally omitted in this comments discussion where “reverse affirmative action” has been mentioned. That is the intentional omission of the first legally sanctioned US “affirmative action” program that provided exclusive economic job advantages to Whitesd and no other ethnic group: Jim Crow Segregation. As we all know, these laws provided exclusive job access to Whites and prevented the same job access to Blacks and any one who was NOT White. Nothing at all to do with who was the most qualified for the position so please stop the revisionist history. The truth of what was done at that time to continually provide Whites with a continued and unfair economic advantage over others with no real criteria outside of Whiteness has long been understood. Time to own up and take ownership of those decisions.

        • not all companies are victims of affirmative action. my buddy is a rails developer who has to pepper spray recruiters on the daily, and he interviews a lot of people.

          they don’t give a rat’s ass at his security company what race/gender someone is. it’s 1) are you personable, can listen/communicate, and 2) do you know your shit.

          the CORRECT use of affirmative action is to get better education and resources to people from an early age, make sure there are no groups left out or passed over from lack. by the time you’re full blown workforce after college either know your shit or work somewhere with lower standards.

  • Michelle Boyd

    Thank you so much for this article. While many of my white counterparts are well meaning and certainly not racist, they do not understand how doing good for other whites ONLY hurts the organization. We get it – diversity makes us all better, you should’t judge someone by the color of their skin but by the content of their character, etc. Now, we need to discuss our social networks inside and OUTSIDE of the office and what the racial make up is – the people you golf with or have drinks afterwork. Is it all one color or class? And how showing favortism to only one race spills over into the workplace to create inequality. Again thank you!!!!

    • 80% of people get their jobs because of who they know. There is also nepotism, favouritism and the other ‘you scratch my back, I scratch your back’ job inequality approach that takes place. Friends who socialize together matter, as trust become a factor when favouring others.
      When the majority (power base) population hold the reigns of opportunity, it is not easy to break this pattern of unintentional bias.
      There ought to be LAWS and quotas to force companies to report on their efforts at equality – and no bogus interview (where they know WHO they are hiring) but put on a fake interview.

      • most people will spend more time with their coworkers than with a spouse. it stands to reason social atmosphere and culture are important, and here in Austin we’ve got a ton of tech- claiming that they’re all hiring buddies is just ignorant.

        1) know your shit
        2) don’t be an asshole

        those two things are really all you need. treat people with kindness, expect the same from them, and know your tech.

        • You may know your shit, but you come across as an asshole. If you acted that way around my office, you wouldn’t bounce before you hit the sidewalk.

  • I found this article so enlightening! I had not considered how damaging the employee referral program could be to a business regarding diversity and inclusion. I also found it disappointing how many ‘white’ people claim to have done it “on their own”. I do believe this is cultural, and now that I am aware of it, I will be more gracious and give appropriate credit where it is due.

  • Phil Shearrer

    People do good things for each other. These mutually beneficial relationships offer advantages. Most people get jobs throughout their lives by actively seeking the help from their social networks. Face it, it is not always your hard work, motivation and persistence that gets you the job – it is often who you know. But what if you don’t know anyone?
    If relationships is the key mechanism for job placement, then we need to be sure that those outside the existing relational networks are invited in and encouraged to develop relationships

    • Stephen Crowe

      Yeah how come you assume that all white people know others. Its unfair to everyone that part of getting a job is based on who you know rather than just your merit but that is how it is. Furthermore because nepotism comes into play everywhere to not just get a job but to get better opportunities in the organization what have you white parents should now tell their white children dont try to do better than me because it is unfair to minority groups when at the same time I see a ton of jobs that seem to only go to minorities and they all help each other out first before helping any white person especially any white man.
      That is unfair too but I dont see black people hispanic people screaming about there needs to be diversity in the workplace for those jobs.

      • Plenty of well thought out Black, Latino and white people advocate for diversity.

        Plenty of well thought out Black, Latino and white people help their friends and family get good jobs.

        Think on it a little.

    • The value of a relationship is its exclusivity, thus by inviting people in the network you damage the insiders. Now, if you don’t know anyone it sucks to be you, but it’s not an injustice, since you’re not entitled to know someone or to have a good job. So, why should we damage some people who do nothing wrong, to help other people who suffer no injustice?

      • You have a very narrowminded way of looking at the world. “Insiders” must create more insiders or the group of insiders dies of old age. Bringing in diversity, while maintaining standards, increases quality.

  • Natalie M. Waleed, M.B.A.

    Thank you, Luke Visconti, for not letting an internet troll re-frame the discussion to avoid acknowledgement of a known truth (that racism is insidious and pervasive in employment). Thank you, Dr. DiTomaso, for the research into the difference between what people say and like to believe about themselves versus what they actually KNOW to be the truth. Thank you for pointing out that legacy programs (nepotism, cronyism, favoritism) that are effectively “Whites Affirming Action”! I am grateful, and if you could please write some pithy, quickly-quotable responses to quip for the coffee room when someone blithely attributes their success with, “I just worked hard work, motivation and persistence”…

  • I do agree in some way that race, gender, and age have a lot to do when it comes to getting a new job. However, I still truly believe that what matters the most, is how prepared life got you. Not what school/college taught you, but how prepared you are to assimilate certain situations and show that you are the right person to solve certain type of problems.

    In my opinion, that’s the most important aspect of all

    • Stephen Crowe

      Right and while were on the discussion of unfairness in life what about age?
      How come it seems to get anywhere in the workplace it seems to matter a whole lot that you start out at twenty in something. What if things you were doing at that age for career purposes didnt work out as you had planned and now you need to restart in middle life.
      Since employers dont care about you as a real person just see you as a cog anyway why should they care what age you are for any job as long as you can handle it.
      Yet somehow they do or without saying it or saying it with code words recent graduate they expect certain jobs to only go to a certain age demographic.
      Thats unfair too but I never seem to hear people shouting and making such a fuss about unfair realities that take place for people in the workplace even if they have the credentials for something better due to age

      • I’m almost 57. In my observation, most of the college educated people my age aren’t worth more than a recent college grad and come with unpalatable baggage in terms of difficult/stodgy attitudes. In my opinion, my generation is not as good as the millennial generation at getting along with others. There are exceptions, of course, but most people in my generation (baby boomers) seem to have a very odd and arrogant sense of entitlement – thus trump, whose support is rooted in my generation.

        For most jobs, “credentials” more than 5 years old have no value- they’re just deadly baggage. For example, “credentialed people” murdered the publishing and broadcasting industries, as the people in charge refused to evolve. They’re murdering law enforcement right now.

  • All too often, people that are not in agreement with equality never seem to realize what is actually going on and most often these individuals can gain some insight if only they would take the time to research diversity, inclusion, and equal opportunities. The reality is that when people make referrals for friends and family it is not considered heterogeneous practices. Yes! Employees will refer friends or family members who have similar characteristics (broad view) to that of the culture of the organization as well as the individual(s) or hiring managers who are seeking to hire new personnel. This is not something that is completely made up, it is prevalent in the scholarly research. Western culture (United States) has had a history of downplaying equality and unfortunately it still exists today. There is also a gender divide in wages between men and women. This is why we have the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and Equal Employment Opportunity working to alleviate such acts of discrimination, but more needs to be done.

  • LaJuana Caldwell

    I agree with so much of what has been said here. I would like to also acknowledge that Whites tend to be the ones who help people of color as well. Oprah herself talks about her Mother telling her to find a “good white” man to work for–she did and she is where she is today because someone in a white dominated industry saw her potential and gave her a shot. She took if from there and built an empire. Whites remain overwhelmingly in the positions of power and can and do reach out to bring people of color into new opportunities. My mentors were a mix of White males, and black and white females. They opened the executive doors to me as someone else had done for them.

  • I have been unemployed for 2 years because of diversity bullshit. Every time I go to a interview, the very few I get..they end up hiring the non-white person… When I find out later it is always true. They just bring me in and waste my fucken time with no intension of hiring me.

  • Yes, I have been helped along the way. The bar, however is set much higher for white folks, by other white folks. If I hadn’t been productive all of these years, I would have been kicked to the curb. And even though our Comany is very diverse, when conflicts arise over sub-par performance, whites are expected to suck it up, and bend over backwards so as not to offend. Again, the standards for whites, (and some other cultures) are set much higher, from birth. My personal policy is to reccomend folks who are capable regardless of color, etc. And my relationships are only with people who have skill and ethics. Diverity for diversity’s sake is foolish.

    • Think about what you’re saying – it makes no sense. Companies exist to make profits. There is no benefit to hiring, promoting and retaining anyone but the best. It’s just good management and why our Top 50 list beats the market in stock performance.

      That you’re not adapting to the fact that “the best” may not look like you expect it to is holding your career back.

    • Because of course let’s get to the heart of why this discussion was brought up.
      I believe heavily this is not just a message to non-white people, but to African Americans, since this kind of unfairness goes all over the world, yet I never hear Indians complain as much as African Americans about every little thing in the book. I never hear Asians either, yet both of those groups are also non-white.
      So the heart of the matter of this discussion is of course, I see one or a few white guys (in my workplace) and thus this must mean ALL WHITE MEN are better off than me) with a much better job than myself, and this must be due to RACISM, instead of possibly maybe the guy (NOT THE WHITE GUY) the MAN, The EUROPEAN AMERICAN MAN, has a better job than me, because he has possibly higher credentials, and or more experience in a particular subject than myself?
      In other words this EUROPEAN AMERICAN MAN might have gotten where he was through merit as well as help from colleagues, not simply because the man has lighter skin than myself.
      So all this is coming down to, is that guy with lighter skin is making more money than me, and that’s unfair, so how do I make this EUROPEAN AMERICAN guy’s life more miserable because I’m jealous, instead of just saying I’ll try to improve my own credentials and or experience and in time apply for that better job within the company.
      At that point if you feel your discriminated against for a higher level position, you might have an argument, but don’t attack all white men and white people in general for using social networks to better their own personal careers when so much in today’s workforce depends on using them, because at the end of the day all white people (European Americans, Europeans Australians) know that non-white people (but particularly African Americans) do not care about how these white colleagues lives of their’s turns out.
      They just care about themselves, which is particularly fine, but then don’t call out an entire sub group of humans on this planet for doing the exact same thing.
      You can’t have it both ways.

      • Please. Name a group in modern history that was killed, subjugated, enslaved and discriminated against in more numbers and at a higher percentage than African Americans.

        The only reason a person gets a promotion in a well run company is competence. When you see a Black person get a promotion, even in a well run company, they’re twice as good as the competition. Please don’t respond with the cry baby silliness of “political correctness.” That’s trump bamboozling you. Companies exist to maximize revenue and profit, not to create boogeymen for incompetents.

  • I finally had the guts to Google this topic, why because I suddenly feel this way. I’ve been employed by the same company for close to 20 years, I’ve enjoyed increases and promotions regularly. I’ve heard talk like this before, but it is in my nature to believe that an employer is looking for an individual that will benefit the whole, regardless of race, gender or anything else. My progress has slowed even though I continue to show the same drive and desire as before. I’m seeing others promoted with less time, education and experience. There is only one common thread that I do not want to believe. The perspective you give in this article is enlightening. The idea that no one is out to purposely discriminate against someone makes me feel better about humanity, but won’t do much for my career. I wish there was a solution that benefited the whole. Great read, thanks. Oh yeah, American/Mexican, born and raised in the USA.

« Previous Article     Next Article »