About a year ago, I wrote a post that addressed the question of whether white men could be taught to recognize that they have an advantage in the work place, and to do something about it. The context was a study conducted at Rockwell Automation, a global industrial automation services provider based in Milwaukee, that found that we (I’m a middle-aged white guy) can indeed be taught. So what have we learned in the past year?
Catalyst, a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of opportunities for women in the work place, last week released a second report based on the findings of the Rockwell Automation study. The findings showed that candid, respectful communication, and lots of it, is the foundation for building a more inclusive work place and achieving concrete change.
The study examined Rockwell Automation’s predominantly white, male-oriented North American sales division, which is working to achieve a more equitable work place so women and minorities can advance. Here are the key takeaways:
Rockwell Automation is becoming more inclusive. But change doesn’t happen in a vacuum. White male leaders must engage women and minorities across the organization in critical dialogues about gender and race issues.
Dialogue is essential for inclusion, and it needs to be taught. More than 700 Rockwell Automation managers and 2,700 non-managerial employees across the organization learned how to listen empathetically and address difficult, emotionally charged issues in skill-building learning labs developed and conducted by the organization, White Men as Full Diversity Partners.
After training, employees said they could have more honest discussions about discrimination without worrying that they’d be treated negatively. They felt that their different experiences, perspectives, and backgrounds were now being valued rather than glossed over or ignored.
Talk leads to action—as long as it’s the right kind of talk. The focus should be on understanding, not proving a point. These honest, open conversations motivate employees of all backgrounds and levels to commit to achieving a more inclusive culture together. This commitment is happening both informally (employees sharing and implementing what they learned with colleagues and teams) and formally (through company-wide seminars and structured groups, where practices, policies, and next steps are hammered out). Alliances like these are critical for inclusion to gain traction.
Inclusive behaviors have a ripple effect outside the company. Several participants described how interactions with customers and distributors had changed for the better, too.
Conversations must continue for lasting change. Dialogue must remain at the heart of all problem-solving and solution-building. To keep dialogue and momentum going, Rockwell Automation provides its employees with many opportunities to continue talking about gender and race with each other, and to hone their skills through additional training, coaching, and learning sessions.