Ask the White Guy: Why Do 'Differences' Matter?

The White Guy tells how to create a truly inclusive company to attract an engaged, productive and innovative talent pool.

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.


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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