For A More Inclusive Workplace, Train Men First, Specifically White Male Managers

August 29, 2012

For many years I’ve listened to cynics challenge the results of diversity and inclusion efforts in the workplace and question whether the programs produce enough positive measurable results to continue funding them. Now, findings from a Catalyst study released last month in July 2012 reveal “training can produce a measurable shift in workplace attitudes and behavior – and begin to create an environment where women and minorities can advance.”

However, the study’s positive results were not achieved by providing diversity and inclusion training for all employees. The results were achieved by focusing on one workplace group first – white male employees, which is “the group most likely to be resistant to diversity and inclusion training.”

Inclusion Really Can Be Taught

Training large numbers of employees can be difficult and expensive so the authors of this research study, Jeanine Prime, Heather Foust-Cummings, Elizabeth R. Salib, and Corinne A. Moss-Racusin, studied a group of mostly white male employees “and examined the effect of diversity and inclusion education in these employees’ work lives as well as in the work lives of their closest colleagues.”

Who were these men? Mainly white male managers in the North American Sales division of Rockwell Automation, a global engineering company. Over a four-month period, these managers attended learning labs conducted by a leadership development group that were called White Men as Full Diversity Partners.

What the researchers discovered was the experience had a transformative effect by shifting the men’s mindsets as well as behaviors. In addition, the colleagues of these men also noticed their behavior and attitude changes and these shifts created a positive effect on diversity and inclusion in the work climate.

The Training Goals for the White Male Managers

The senior leaders of Rockwell were hoping the training labs would create a more inclusive work climate in two key ways:

  • Teach the white males how to “play a central role in creating inclusive work environments without relying on women and non-whites to lead this work.”
  • Help the men “recognize themselves as a collective with privileges and cultural norms that disadvantage women and non-whites.”

In the press release for this study, president and CEO of Catalyst, Ilene H. Lang, stated, “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.”

Key Findings From the Catalyst Study

Several months after the training labs, the following cultural changes could be seen:

  • Increase in workplace civility and decrease in gossip
  • Managers were more likely to acknowledge that inequities exist
  • Managers improved on five key behaviors for inclusion: “From seeking out varied perspectives to becoming more direct in addressing emotionally charge matters, managers improved on critical skills for leading in today’s diverse marketplace.”
  • Having cross-racial friendships mattered
  • Those who cared the least about exhibiting prejudice changed the most

Bottom Line

While Rockwell management took a risk with this approach, it appears to have been worth the effort to actively engage white male managers first. As Ilene H. Lang, President and CEO of Catalyst commented, “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.”

Putting all employees in a company through diversity and inclusion training can be costly and time consuming. To get the biggest impact in the shortest amount of time and at the least expense, it could be helpful for companies to consider following the lead of senior management at Rockwell by first focusing inclusion training on white male managers and then expanding the training outward within the company.

~ Lisa Quast

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Photo credit: Microsoft Free Clip Art

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