White Male Leadership and the Smart Business of Disrupting the Status Quo

Quoting Bill Proudman in How to Make White Males Understand, “Many business leaders, especially white men, view diversity as a problem to solve or a set of strategies to implement. This approach overlooks the leaders’ personal role.” Worse still, “Often they (white males) are unaware they have a culture that others must negotiate.”

What is the impact of these realities? In many cases, a continuation of the status quo. The status quo is not smart business, especially in what is now a global workforce competing for skilled talent.

There are plenty of stories about this impact. Here’s a few:

Firms Hail New Chiefs of Diversity  Includes the story of a law firm that had a problem retaining professionals of color only to find out that, “Without any rigid structures in place, the firm’s majority—white male attorneys—were unconsciously choosing to partner with other white male colleagues on assignments.”

Silicon Valley Boot Camp Aims to Boost Diversity  In 2012, 1% of technology entrepreneurs were black, and only 8% of tech companies were founded by women. Here are some of the reasons given voice in the article:

“They’ve never seen a successful black entrepreneur, so it’s hard for them to envision it. But then, they do exist … it’s just a mess.”

“People tend to help people who look like them and who come from similar backgrounds. It’s largely subconscious.” (This reality is support by the recently released research, Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People).

Focusing just on gender for a moment, consider the impact of the following statistics. We know that since the 1980’s women now make up more than 50% of U.S. college campuses. Looking at more recent numbers:

  • about 58% of US college undergraduates are women, with some campuses 70%

  • women represent 51% of PhDs, 51% of business school applicants, 67% of college graduates

  • and in 2012, more than 70% of Valedictorians in the US

Yet according to Tracking Changes in Women’s Corporate Roles women in the Fortune 500 world currently make up only:

  • 4.2% of CEOs

  • 11.5% of CFOs

  • 11.8% of Directors *(this statistic has risen less than 2 percent since 2009)

What happened to all that talent? Here’s a story behind the story, revealed to me by a senior HR manager a couple of weeks ago: “68% of our talent pool for potential managers were women, yet 70% of our managers were men. Couldn’t crack that number. Come to find out that we had male supervisors who were making statements to women like, Oh you probably don’t want to think about a manager’s role given you having a family and all that entails.”  

What are business solutions that can disrupt this kind of status quo? Organizations need to define and implement initiatives across the full scope of diversity and inclusion work.

On the “systems” end of the work, companies like Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (BBVA), Duke Energy, and CEMEX have devised ways to neutralize biases in talent management decisions. Regarding the “personal role” that business leaders, especially white men need to take, Bill Proudman’s article includes testimonials by Lee Tschanz, vice president for North American Sales at Rockwell Automation, and Paul Steffen, Vice President of Agencies at Northwestern Mutual.

All worth reading, all worth the disruption.

3 thoughts on “White Male Leadership and the Smart Business of Disrupting the Status Quo

  1. Excellent, Robert, thank you for posting! Now if we can also move women closer to the same dollar earnings as men–that has hardly changed in 30 years. Despite their skills, education and experience, women continue to earn almost 30 cents less on the dollar than men.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Mary. I had a conversation just last week with a senior HR manager who upon discovering unexplainable pay discrepancies for women promptly moved to eliminate them. That senior HR manager was a women.

      Here’s a link to the “Equal Pay Today” Campaign
      This coalition of national and state-based women’s rights organizations define the practices and loopholes in existing laws that contribute to women making on average only 77 cents for every dollar paid to men as follows:
      – Less pay for the same job – Women are paid less than men in nearly every occupation.
      – Job segregation – Sex role stereotypes lead to women being segregated into female-dominated lower-paid jobs.
      – Retaliation against workers for discussing their pay – A majority of employees report that they are either prohibited or actively
      discouraged from discussing their pay.
      – Pay reductions due to pregnancy and caregiving responsibilities – Employers pay women less from the moment of hire and deny them
      promotions because they automatically presume women will have children and then will commit less time and dedication to their jobs.
      – Wage theft – Women in many industries are being paid less than the minimum wage and less than a living wage, being shorted hours,
      being forced to work off the clock, not being paid overtime, or not being paid at all.

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