|Workforce, Feb 1999 v78 i2 p52(4)
White males see diversity's other side.
(workplace diversity) Gillian Flynn.
Abstract: White males are feeling singled out by
workplace diversity programs being introduced in their
companies. By focusing on the issues of women and minorities,
diversity initiatives implicitly blame white males for the
inequalities in their organizations, as if white males do not
have problems of their own. Some diversity trainers are even
guilty of singling out white males during sessions, much to
the dismay of participants. The irony is that a movement that
strives for equal treatment for all actually bundles men into
a single troublesome group. Human resources managers should
make sure that white males do not feel victimized by diversity
programs because this could lead to a major talent drain and
an avalanche of reverse discrimination lawsuits. They should
take care that diversity training and recruitment efforts are
properly handled. Lastly, communication is essential in
reaching out to white males.
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1999 ACC Communications Inc.
They've been joked about, pushed around, disrespected and
even discriminated against. They're white males, an
all-too-forgotten group that's getting fed up.
John Faure is a middle-aged white male, and he's pretty
sick of having to apologize about that. He's tired of the
put-downs, jokes and inequities. He's also more than a little
dismayed at where a lot of diversity programs have taken
Corporate America. He left one job - at a national company
celebrated for its HR - because of the company's diversity
"Diversity programs perpetuate stereotypes. They're bad for
society and bad for business," he says. "Diversity is: 'You
need to treat women this way and blacks this way.' That's
wrong; that's the problem. There's a school of thought that
says diversity at least moves us in the right direction, but
I've taken a look at that and I reject it. I think it makes
One more thing - Faure is an HR professional. If the very
gatekeepers of workplace diversity feel under attack, how do
other white males feel?
They'd tell you if you'd wipe that smirk off your face.
They know what you're thinking: "Oh poor baby. Poor little
poster boy for elitism and easy living."
But these days, things aren't so easy for white males.
They've been under attack for a long time, en masse, for the
problems of women and minorities. And some should be,
certainly. But it's ironic that a movement that demands equal
treatment for individuals often lumps all men into one
A quick Internet search can give good indication: There are
literally hundreds of male support groups, including the
National Organization for Men, the National Coalition of Free
Men and the National Organization for Men Against Sexism - all
of which regard workplace negativism toward men as an issue.
Even more portentous is a visit to Prairielaw.com
(http://www.prairielaw.com), an online legal community in
which almost half the sex-discrimination postings are from
There are a few reasons for HR to care about all this.
First, what has any person with even a pinky toe in the
diversity issue heard a thousand times? That in the next
century, it's going to be whites who'll be minorities. And
with more women than men now earning degrees, it's going to be
white males who'll be the minorities in pipeline positions.
They can't be ejected from the diversity equation.
Second, to really embrace diversity means to really embrace
white males and what they bring to the table as individuals.
It's pretty basic.
Third, to make the workplace unpleasant for white males is
to invite the same problem companies have when the workplace
is unpleasant for women and minorities: a major talent drain.
And, as always, there are lawsuits. Reverse discrimination is
a real possibility, and there are growing numbers of suits to
As Janice Dreachslin, the co-author of Diversity Leadership
(Health Administration Press, 1996), explains it, "If white
males are made to feel that they're not a part of the fabric
of diversity, then we set ourselves up for a lot of backlash
That's putting it mildly.
How do diversity programs contribute to discrimination?
The first thing to acknowledge is that diversity
initiatives, whether well done or not, are going to make white
guys a little antsy, and with good reason. People don't like
to hear they got where they are not by merit alone, but by
their skin color.
That, on some level, is what a diversity initiative
implies. To admit that women and minorities have been
disadvantaged is part and parcel with saying that white males
have been advantaged. It makes them question why they are
where they are, which is troubling. This holds even more tree
for those many white males who don't feel advantaged, whose
careers are stalled because they aren't "knowledge workers,"
or who were downsized as middle managers.
But if the only disadvantage with diversity programs was a
little white-male discomfort, that would be far from a
problem. The real problem comes with how many programs
approach diversity poorly.
In the worst-case scenario, there are diversity programs
done for the wrong reason, or what Frederick R. Lynch, author
of The Diversity Machine: The Drive to Change the 'White Male
Workplace,' (The Free Press, 1997) calls "diversity penance."
Basically, someone in the company - usually a white male -
screwed up, so the whole workforce has to go through training,
largely as a buffer to lawsuits. This circumstance, says
Lynch, is the most likely scenario to create backlash from
white males because it assumes that because one white male had
a problem, all white males in the company have a problem. "The
organization is presumed to be racist, sexist, with horrible
problems and glass ceilings," says Lynch, who has also written
Invisible Victims: White Males and the Crisis of Affirmative
Action (Greenwood Publishing Group Inc., 1991).
Even if a company is approaching diversity from a healthy
angle, training can be offensive to white males if it lumps
them all together. When a diversity professional talks about
having to change the "white-male culture" at an organization,
he or she is doing just that - which should be an obvious
diversity no-no. The 60-year-old CEO with an MBA is likely to
come from a very different "white-male culture" than the
20-year-old plant worker with a high-school degree.
Diversity training shouldn't be the source of more
Other problems arise from training, and more particularly,
the trainers themselves. Most diversity experts chuckle over
stories of harried HR professionals calling them to request a
black man or a Hispanic woman to give a diversity lecture.
Richard Hadden, an employee-relations consultant in
Jacksonville, Florida, says demanding that only women or
minorities conduct diversity training is a bad idea. "Most of the
time, diversity training is done by very articulate,
competent professionals who happen to be minorities or
females. When you do that, someone who's initially resistant
to begin with is going to [see that person] as someone with an
ax to grind."
And some diversity trainers do act like they have an ax to
grind. Dreachslin acknowledges that some consultants use
inappropriate training activities that unjustly target white
males. "I think some trainers carry things a little too far,"
she says. "You can't target white males as perpetrators and
Faure agrees. He cringes at the diversity training he attended at the company he
left. Not only he and other white males were offended, he
says, but so were many women and minorities. Faure felt the
trainer came in with an agenda to send a message of zero
tolerance to white males. "It was nonverbal cues, the tone of
voice, the way the instructor looked at you and directed parts
of the program to you," he says. "I'm a professional trainer,
I know how that works."
And when white males feel targeted, unjustly or not, the
problem is compounded because they rarely have safe havens in
which to vent steam. Although women- and minority-based
support groups thrive in Corporate America, few companies
offer a forum for men. The assumption is it's unnecessary
because they have their own built-in networking systems.
That's not necessarily so. It's crucial for a group undergoing
so much social change to have a chance to talk about their
It's also crucial that those issues are taken seriously,
Lynch says. He attended a seminar about "How to Deal with
White Males" in which the speaker dismissed reverse
discrimination with a flippant theory that it's all in the
heads of white males, and that it doesn't really happen. Lynch
says this attitude can be devastating to a company; it pushes
men to keep quiet - worried they'll be called whiners or
racists-while the problem grows and the anger builds. That
anger can explode into a lawsuit for reverse discrimination,
sometimes with good reason.
Is reverse discrimination fact or fiction?
Ah, yes, reverse discrimination. More businesses are guilty
than you'd think. In the rush to equality, a lot of companies
have closed men out.
In fact, Lynch believes the problem is rampant. "One of the
things that came up when I was interviewing hundreds of people
was, 'What about the law?' The law says you've got to treat
people equally [including white males]. The response [tended
to be] 'What law?' and to some extent, 'We don't think about
no stinkin' law.' In other words, the diversity movement has
been kind of ignorant or contemptuous of the law."
If your organization has special-interest programs targeted
for Asian-Americans only or women only or blacks only, it
could be skirting illegality. If you've set up mentoring
systems to help women and minorities get a leg up, look over
Because such suits are filed under a variety of rubrics, no
specific statistics are available. But legal experts say
they're on the rise. Jeff Tanenbaum, an employment law
attorney with Lifter Mendelson in San Francisco, believes that
they're a trend of the future. He says he's seeing more suits
filed by men for wrongful discharge and failure to promote,
where before there were none.
"[Diversity] is a terrific thing, but it has to be handled
in an appropriate manner," he says. "Unfortunately, what
sometimes happens is a diversity policy becomes a
discrimination policy [against] white males. There's no doubt
in my mind that misuse of diversity programs and policies is
causing a significant problem."
Bob Nobile, an employment-law partner with Winston &
Strawn in New York City, says that mentoring systems for women
and minorities are good things, but "[companies] are excluding
males and nonminorities from the process. So then someone
turns around and says, 'What about me? Am I chopped liver? Why
can't I get mentored?' Men need to be mentored as well as
Nobile says if you want to start a mentoring program, that
program should be open to all employees. Doesn't giving men
formal mentoring just perpetuate the promotion of more white
males? Nobile puts it this way: Yes, you may be enhancing the
skills and contacts of white males. But you're also enhancing
the skills and contacts of women and minorities, so they can
compete on an equal footing with males, which is the purpose
of most diversity programs. Nobile's final word? "You can't
have special-interest groups - no programs only for minorities
or women or the disabled. In other words, it's got to be
across the board."
If you need affirmative action, back it up with numbers.
Another situation to handle carefully: recruiting by the
numbers. If your company has decided to place a percentage
number on the number of women and minority hires it'll make,
you'd better have a statistical analysis that shows
underrepresentation. Even if you know anecdotally that there
are too few women for such hiring to be legal, you must have
the stats. The EEOC guidelines state that companies can't
establish an affirmative-action program to sanction the
discriminatory treatment of any group of people, including
If there's a substantial imbalance in your workforce, you
can make special efforts to correct it. Just do your homework
first. Compare the number of women and minorities in your
company with the available labor pool of women and minorities
- nationally if you're recruiting nationally, or locally if
you're recruiting around town. You've got a case if your
company's numbers are significantly lower than the available
labor pool's. If you're going to do a statistical analysis,
however, you may want to have legal representation. This
offers what's called "a self-critical analysis privilege" to
help protect your statistics from later use against the
company in a lawsuit.
Remember, says Nobile: "[Past problems] don't mean we can
now turn around and start discriminating against white males.
Have mentoring programs and training programs, but don't
exclude any group from participation. Still, at the end of the
day, you're going to yield the same positive results."
Some simple steps can make a big difference.
Few people, not even angry white males, are asking
companies to toss out diversity programs altogether. They're a
necessary burden in organizations still reaching for true
equality. But a few basic considerations can avoid many
To begin with, reevaluate your training. A team approach
has fewer hurdles than an individual trainer approach does. If
a white male gives the training alone, he's easily dismissed
as not understanding the problems of women and minorities. A
woman or minority as sole trainer can be seen by white males
as forwarding a personal agenda. When they're put together,
though, they make sense. "It's wonderful to have white males
on a training team," says Dreachslin. "They really model the
change that the organization is asking the male employees to
Make sure the training involves white male employees, but
doesn't target them. If the group is doing an exercise on
stereotypes about women and minorities, it should also do one
on stereotypes about white males.
Focus on changing behavior rather than changing white
males. Lynch says some of the better diversity sessions he
attended while researching his book focused on respecting
diversity in a customer-service sense.
Whether the customer is internal or external, respect is
necessary to do a good job. The training focused on behavior,
and spurred discussions on whether the behavior was
appropriate or not. Such training warns those who are guilty
of inappropriate behavior to cease and desist while providing
clear examples of such behavior. It also allows white males
who aren't guilty to feel less harassed.
Also be sure to treat white males as fairly as you would
treat any other group. If you want mentoring programs to give
women and minorities a better chance of joining the executive
ranks, remember that not all white males have those same
opportunities, either. They may lack the same educational
levels or connections as other white males making it to the
And even if you think "not at my company," make sure
there's no reverse discrimination. Conduct a careful
statistical analysis, and if it proves there isn't reverse
discrimination, share those numbers to dispel any
White males need a place to voice their concerns, too.
Another crucial element is communication. Let white males
talk about what's going on, even if it sounds like complaining
to some. E.I. DuPont de Nemours based in Wilmington, Delaware,
a leader in diversity, has gone so far as to introduce a Men's
Forum to complement its massive diversity efforts of the
"Because white men were the dominant group at DuPont, as
with many organizations, they became the forgotten entity,"
says Bob Hamilton, diversity consultant. "When people talked
about diversity, they talked about women and people of color.
We started to realize there are issues for men, too."
The Men's Forum, a three-day meeting of males, gets at some
of those issues. Gathering in groups, men talk about their
interactions with their fathers and other men, cross-racial
relations between men, intergender relations and how the
workplace is changing for men.
Just as the company taps homogenous groups of black women,
white women, black males and so on for feedback on their
experiences at the company, so does it chat up white males.
Hamilton sees many benefits to keeping the lines of
communication open. The approach helps disseminate anger, fix
inequities and defuse issues. As Hamilton says, there's less
of a "woe-is-me" attitude.
It's also, as they so often say about diversity, the smart
business thing to do. "For multicultural work to be
successful, you have to involve men," says Hamilton. "Women
aren't going to be able to do it by themselves, and people of
color aren't going to be able to do it by themselves. Until
businesses realize that fact, they're never going to really
make that transition to a fully inclusive work environment."
Or as Faure, the disaffected HR professional, says, "If you
tell me that diversity is treating everyone as an individual
with individual strengths and weaknesses, I say I'm with it.
I'll preach it from the rooftops."
A good start would be to just begin preaching it at work.
Gillian Flynn is the editor-at-large for WORKFORCE. E-mail
firstname.lastname@example.org to comment.