Do white men have an advantage in the workplace? If you’re non-white and/or female, you probably burst out laughing when you read that. So here’s a more intelligent question: Can white men be taught to recognize that they have an advantage, and to do something about it? As a middle-aged white guy, I’m pleased to report that according to a recent study released by Catalyst, a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of opportunities for women in the work place, the answer is yes.
Catalyst surveyed employees — predominantly white male managers — at Rockwell Automation, a global industrial automation services provider based in Milwaukee. Those surveyed participated in leadership development programs aimed at equipping and inspiring white male employees to take more of a leadership role in fostering an inclusive work environment. Here are some key findings of the study:
There was an increase in workplace civility and a decline in gossip (snide remarks and behind-the-back comments). In some workgroups, participants’ colleagues rated the incidence of workplace gossip as much as 39 percent lower after the programs, signaling improved communication and respect.
Managers were more likely to acknowledge that inequities exist. After the programs, there was a 17 percent increase in how much managers agreed that white men have greater advantages than women and racial/ethnic minorities.
Managers improved on key behaviors for inclusion. From seeking out varied perspectives to becoming more direct in addressing emotionally charged matters, managers improved on critical skills for leading in today’s diverse marketplace.
Having cross-racial friendships mattered. Managers without many prior cross-racial relationships changed the most after the programs when it came to thinking critically about different social groups — a 40 percent increase in ratings vs. a 9 percent increase for those with more of these relationships.
Those who cared the least about exhibiting prejudice changed the most. After the programs, managers who initially were the least concerned about appearing prejudiced were the ones who registered the most significant change in taking personal responsibility for being inclusive, as evidenced by a 15 percent increase in ratings.
Ilene Lang, Catalyst’s president and CEO, said that since white men hold the lion’s share of the power, it’s their obligation to use it to help bring about the inclusiveness that invariably benefits employers and their employees:
Companies can see a major shift in inclusive behavior when white men acknowledge inequalities and accept that while they didn’t cause the problem, it’s their responsibility as leaders to be part of the solution. We can’t rely only on women and minorities to advocate for culture change. The results are much more powerful when white men, who are most often in leadership positions, are also role models.