Can a White Guy Lead Your Diversity & Inclusion Efforts?

Ed Baldwin Audacious Ideas, Corporate America, Diversity, Leadership, Seat at the Table, Uncategorized 9 Comments

It’s not lost on me that I’m uber-lucky to be a white male born in and living in the greatest country in the world. 

The land of opportunity, especially for me. Privilege and opportunity that others who work here or in other countries around the world will spend their entire lives in hopes of getting.  And which some, regardless of their efforts, will never achieve. Such privilege was handed down to me, plain and simple. For that, I’m very grateful.

But I’m disappointed too.

 

Disappointed (and motivated to change) that because the same opportunity doesn’t exist for all, we are missing out on a HUGE OPPORTUNITY. The opportunity to fully engage and utilize the skills and talents of our entire population. If you’re both not white and not male, the path for you is much, much harder – and that just shouldn’t be the case.

Hence, I have a strong passion and desire to do whatever I can to help extend the same opportunities I have had to everyone who is blessed and fortunate enough to call the United States of America home. As an HR professional, that means supporting diversity and inclusion efforts where I work and supporting them in the community in which I live.

You see, I have a unique perspective on this topic, and it’s not just because I’m a white guy.

I’ve worked in the field of HR for almost 30 years, virtually all of my working life. Now I know I’m not telling you something you don’t already know, but HR is a female-dominated profession and has been since its beginnings. Because HR or personnel was originally born from lower-level administrative tasks, the profession is approximately 70% female (Note: This is my estimate, so if you have actual data on this, please share in the comments).

Because the profession is recognized more now for its importance in achieving business success, it’s often afforded an executive seat, the infamous “seat at the table.” Many CEOs view HR’s seat at the table as an opportunity to improve the diversity of the executive team and therefore feel that the seat is best suited for the token woman, an ethnically diverse candidate, or both.

Now before you go for my throat let me say unequivocally that I find this kind of box-checking-we-need-a-token-on-the-executive-team-thinking to be pure bullsh*t. As an HR leader who knows the value of all types of diversity from the boardroom to the shop floor, I’ve been fighting for a diverse and inclusive workplace and executive team since I got into this profession…because it’s good for business, plain and simple.

So getting to the point of this post …

 

Would you ever hire a white guy to lead diversity and inclusion initiatives in your company? 

Or does that person have to be black? Or female? Or gay? Or yellow or green for that matter? Anything but white AND male. I attempted to find data and analytics on what percentage of diversity and inclusion leaders are white AND male, but such statistics just weren’t available, at least not based on my rudimentary research tactics. But based on my experience I don’t think I’ve ever known a white male that led diversity and inclusion in any organization.

And if that’s the case, can’t we all be rightly accused of doing exactly the opposite of what diversity and inclusion promote? Aren’t we judging the diversity and inclusion book by its cover?

Why can’t a white guy lead diversity and inclusion in your company?

 

I’ve heard several versions of essentially the same response, “they couldn’t possibly understand the struggle of someone who is female, ethnically diverse, or homosexual and the hurdles such under-represented portions of our workforce have to overcome.”  Well, that might be true. But using the same logic, can a diverse female possibly understand why such issues aren’t naturally germane to the plethora of white guys lining the executive chairs of most boardrooms? For understanding that perspective and then influencing a different path, wouldn’t a white male be best suited?

Isn’t it time we quit presuming that a white guy can’t possibly lead diversity and inclusion efforts in our company?

If we are really going to tackle the issue of diversity and inclusion we need everyone to play a role in achieving equality in the workplace.

White guys (like me) included.

This post contains nearly as many questions as it does answers, and that’s by design. I’m not suggesting I have the answer to improved diversity and inclusion across the workforce and in today’s boardrooms, I just want to initiate the discussion. Hit me with your thoughts and suggestions by commenting below.   

Ed Baldwin

Ed’s a career HR front man who’s advised business owners and the C-suite on developing great cultures and inspiring work environments since the profession was called “personnel.” Yeah, that makes him seasoned but also quick to call out the fluffy HR theoretical crap from HR strategies that actually work.

His versatility has taken him all over the world, continually acquiring knowledge of how to build a great company through innovative HR practices, learning mostly from real world experience and his own mistakes.

He’s the founder of HRO Partners, a HR consulting firm that specializes in guiding leaders on what they need and don’t need from HR for their business.

Comments 9

  1. Actually before there were so many HR laws, and thus risk, there were a lot of males in Personnel because so many were managers who had failed elsewhere but were likable… That aside, the early EEO days had a black man often in charge of the efforts and it was progress when black or white women got those jobs. But I digress, any company which has a good record already can put anyone in the job including a white male. But that happens when the track record of the company supports people understanding that the diversity function is much bigger than simple race or gender and the track record of the person supports the belief he can be effective in the role. Are most companies there yet, probably not. Nor sadly are anywhere near enough individuals.

    1. Ed Baldwin Post
      Author
  2. My current employer had a white male in the role and he was fantastic. They haven’t been able to fill the role since he left (and, the position wasn’t & still isn’t part of the executive team). In a mostly white state, I personally would welcome some more “tokens” at the executive level (our executive team has 14 representatives: only 3 are women and there are 0 POC).

    So yes, a white guy can lead D&I, but you better be sure you have additional representation at the table.

    1. Ed Baldwin Post
      Author

      Thanks for your comment. There is no question that executive teams should be more diverse than most are and my point is that ALL executive roles create the opportunity to build diversity, not just some (like D&I).

  3. Short answer: Yes; a qualified white guy (QWF) can lead D&I initiatives at an organization.

    Longer answer: A QWF won’t be effective in the role unless org. leadership actually wants to succeed in this arena. And if that QWF encounters resistance, will they have the skill and fortitude to address it? I don’t know many white people willing to buck the status quo, as it relates to D&I in their workplace. Which is why I suspect most white D&I practitioners I know are consultants, not in-house.

    1. Ed Baldwin Post
      Author

      Thanks for your comment. I would add that no D&I lead (QWG or otherwise) can succeed without the support of leadership.

  4. It’s a foregone conclusion that diversity is good–but that’s more of a politico-social assertion than an actual statistical or researched fact.

    The most widely cited research simply draws a correlation between a company’s diverse leadership team and their financial performance–but explicitly admits that there is no causal relationship being suggested (McKinsey, 2018 and others). The academic research on diversity (at least at a leadership level) is essentially inconclusive (The Gender and Ethnic Diversity of US Boards and Board Committees and Firm Financial Performance, 2010; DANGEROUS CATEGORIES: NARRATIVES OF
    CORPORATE BOARD DIVERSITY, 2011).

    Some good outcomes. Some bad. Nothing directly causal, or obviously amazing.

    As long as “Diversity” at a company is focused on checking boxes next to the fields of Race, Sex, Sexual Orientation, “Gender Identity” (!), etc. it’s almost necessary that the head of that group be a minority in one aspect or another. The leader must check a box.

    As soon as “Diversity” comes to be measured against a breadth of experiences, opinions, backgrounds, views, ideas, approaches–then anyone will be able to lead it.

    Until then, though, companies are largely succumbing to public/social pressure, and simply focusing on hiring quotas–though none would/can ever admit it. Yes, it’s a laudable goal–but really one fraught with a predicament:

    Once equal outcomes are achieved, once we have “just the right number” of minorities, fewer men in leadership…. exactly what do we expect to happen? And why is that? Why would we assume that Blacks or Asians or Hispanics or Indigenous Peoples would be any better or worse at running these companies? How are Black Women so different and distinct from Hispanic Men, that increasing the number of one while decreasing the number of another will tangibly affect things? And isn’t that presumption racist, on its own?

    Once we can get past the idea that diversity is about sex or race, or some other (un)popular class of people, and actually about ideas, viewpoints, and challenging the status quo–regardless of sex or race–I think you’ll start to see more than correlations, and start to see some causation between success and true, meaningful diversity.

    Until then, we’ll just be checking boxes, and focusing on the wrong thing.

    1. Ed Baldwin Post
      Author

      Really insightful and data driven comments, thank you. Yes, diversity needs to be about diverse ideas, viewpoints, and backgrounds but the way companies tangibly identify thought and experience diversity today is through rudimentary observable differences such as race and gender.

  5. Wonderful post and questions, Ed. Thanks for tackling it. As the kids say, the post should be filled by someone who is “woke.” How do you measure that? I think that a white guy can absolutely be successful if he has a track record of seeking diverse ideas and building teams of diverse people. He should have to prove that he has attended seminars, classes, and other trackable avenues to broaden his horizons and challenge his biases. In less diverse areas, “diversity” can be cognitive as well. So, would a white guy have to do a little extra work to prove he is ready for the challenges of the role? Absolutely. Just as POC and women have had to do extra work to prove the capabilities in other more traditional roles.

    Thanks for making me think this morning!

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