A thought-provoking article by Chuck Shelton in Diversity Executive Magazine, “Engage and Equip White Men to Lead Diversity,”  makes the point that our diversity efforts have often not included white men, and many white males have not figured out how to include themselves.  “White male disengagement simmers just below the surface as a credibility crisis many diversity executives grapple to contain, ” he says, adding that six million white men hold leadership positions in corporate America. 

My own experience bears this out.  In awareness level diversity classes, what I often hear from white males in management positions is, “I got here through my own hard work and perseverance.  Why can’t we all stop talking about gender and skin color and just focus on our goals?”  This complete lack of understanding for the barriers that women and people of color often face is difficult to instill an awareness for.  Perhaps this is because of a subconscious or semi-conscious feeling on the part of these men that there is a movement afoot that does not include them.  Faced with a feeling of exclusion, most of us will rationalize our way to a position that assigns irrelevance to that movement.

Shelton points out that diversity programs often lack sufficient focus on the operational side of the business, causing leaders to view it as a cost rather than an investment.  I had the privilege once of co-facilitating diversity workshops with a rare breed of white male diversity champion who shared a similar perspective on the reason why some D&I programs are ineffective.  He and I were amongst a very small handful of white folks in a predominantly black consulting firm.  For me, working with that company was an exercise in humility as I tried to prove (in all the wrong ways) that white people could do diversity training to an increasingly critical group of colleagues.  But watching Jim was inspiring and instructive.  He shrugged his way past all barriers and established himself as the ROI expert in the firm.  He supplied his workshops with a steady stream of facts and figures to demonstrate the financial and operational impact of a successful diversity effort, and the account managers began to request his assistance more and more often when new corporate clients came on board. 

Shelton’s article quotes a diversity executive in a global food company who said: “Our company needs white male executives as diversity champions across our lines of business, or our D&I efforts will not add the value expected of us.”  The question for me is, how can we create more men like Jim in our businesses?  Do you have a story about a white male diversity champion?


  1. To answer the question “Do you have a story about a white male diversity champion?”, I would say that without making any judgments about my effectiveness, I have tried to be a white male diversity champion within my workplace, so much so that some people think that I’m Latino. If I can trace it back to anything, it probably started when I studied in Colombia in 1980 and experienced some cataclysmic changes in my worldview. These weren’t traumatic experiences at all; they were more like eye-openers that in some cases I seemed to absorb through osmosis – by just being exposed to them. I came back as something like a convert to diversity, and the fire that it started 30 years ago has not gone out. If anything, it has intensified.

    The primary thanks goes to the Fulbright-Hays Act of 1961, which made such educational exchanges possible between the United States and the rest of the world. It is impossible to overstate the positive impact the Fulbright program has had since its inception, influencing the lives of countless individuals.

    Since that time I have grappled with how this experience can be replicated for people who have not had the good fortune either to study or work in another country. The need to accomplish much in a short period of time puts a huge burden on diversity trainers, but nonetheless many good training programs exist, and if they lead a decision-maker to consider an option that they would not have otherwise considered, the investment will have been worthwhile.

  2. Michael, thanks for your comments. I traveled around the world for seven months back in 2001 and had a similar epiphany in the process. It is a cliche but true that Americans do not travel enough and I think our diversity efforts suffer as a result.