Yeah, But Is Your Heart in Your Diversity Work

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.


In a follow-up to my column “Can a White Man Speak With Authority on Diversity”, a reader asks a critical question.

Comment:

I find it fascinating over the pond about how the sheer notion that being experientially [sic] near a Black person can somehow give you some sort of osmotic sub-experience. It does not. If you are a white, heterosexual male with a good education, you will have little concept of the subtleties of racism and how it conspires in a myriad [sic] and mosaic of ways, and these micro-oppressions build up gradually and are pernicious for a lifetime.

Visconti has found a hook that is ironic but marketable. He will get more exposure, access to better marketing and media channels than Black people and more white male attendees at his conferences. He will benefit from being white and talking about the Black experience because he is white. It’s a beanfeast for him.

I have had bosses who do diversity and are white, but they really believed it, lived it and would lie in traffic for it. I’m not convinced in this case as he can only speak from the head, not the heart.

And yes, I’m talking about race unapologetically, the cornerstone of most oppression.

Response:

I completely agree with your first paragraph and your last paragraph. I both agree and disagree with the middle of your email.

I understand how you can say it’s “marketable” and that I have a “beanfeast” because you’re looking at a successful business. It was nothing but a concept when we started out in 1997. “Diversity” existed as a business subject but was nowhere near where it is today. There were no outside investors that helped my business; however, there were and are courageous corporate people who see the DiversityInc vision and go to bat for us.

One indication of the impact of our collective work is the number of companies that participate in the DiversityInc Top 50 competition. It has gone from 178 in 2004 to 535 in 2011. The results of the companies that achieve a spot on the DiversityInc Top 50 list have also increased; for example, percentages of people in structured mentoring and employee-resource groups have more than doubled, as have the percentages of bonuses paid to CEO direct reports for the accomplishment of diversity-management objectives. This all happened because DiversityInc applied metrics and honest witness to a business process. Our DiversityInc Top 50 companies are significantly better for women and/or Black, Latino and Asian executives by absolute measurement. Since metrics cannot be consistently evaluated for LGBT people and people with disabilities, we can only look at practices—but here, too, things are dramatically different than they were in 2004. We don’t recommend that companies chase race and gender numbers, but race and gender numbers act as a very good proxy for measuring the corporate culture. Read more about this:

The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity

DiversityInc Top 50: Methodology

About The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity

DiversityInc Top 50 Survey FAQs

You are right in that I have benefited from being white—my entire life, but especially in my choice for my life’s work. I recognize the irony and tragedy that I, as a white man, must repetitively speak before mostly non-white, non-male, disabled and non-heterosexual people to spread this message. It hurts my heart every time I tell people who are oppressed that only the oppressed can lead the oppressor out of their behavior. As a society, we do not understand the words of Frederick Douglass, who said, “No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.” I agree with you that race is the cornerstone of most oppression, but I will add that gender is an even larger cornerstone than race.

I have respected that and have endeavored to give back as much as I can. I’ve been a trustee of Bennett College for Women for eight years, a trustee of Rutgers for four, and I’ve been on the foundation board of New Jersey City University (an HSI) for five. I’m on the board of The PhD Project and on the Chief of Naval Operations Executive Panel. All of this is unpaid work. Further, I’m not a passive board member; I have endowed scholarships at all three schools and am on the “heavy-duty” committees (I have chaired audit at Bennett for six years and have been on the nominating committee at Rutgers for three). I’ve raised more than $2 million as chair of the Rutgers Future Scholars fundraising committee. I have my own foundation, a 501(c)3, and 100 percent of my speaking fees are donated to the schools that I serve via my foundation. Nobody draws a salary from my foundation, and I donate all administrative costs. This year will be the fourth that I’ve donated roughly 33 percent of my take-home pay to charity.

Those are facts and figures, but I hope you can see how much my heart is in this. It’s everything I do. I’ve had death threats and am currently being smeared by a hate-filled anonymous person via email (thanks for nothing for being an enabler, Yahoo). It scares the daylights out of me sometimes. Not so much for my own safety—I’m a master-rated rifleman and expert pistol shot—but I have a wife and children, and I travel quite a bit. You see, I “lie in traffic” for what I do every day.

>> Read more “Ask the White Guy” columns at DiversityInc.com.

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