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March 7, 2018 / WRAG

Diversity is not the answer

By Katy Moore
Managing Director of Corporate Strategy
Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers 

Have you ever heard something so profound that it challenged your entire understanding of a topic? That happened to me recently with regard to diversity – a topic quite familiar to me after 10+ years working on corporate social responsibility (CSR).

In a spirited discussion about racial equity, Avis Ransom of Baltimore Racial Justice Action said, “Plantations were diverse. Diversity is not the answer.”

Whoa.

I carried that statement with me for weeks…regularly returning to it, mulling it over, trying to figure out what it truly meant for my work in the CSR space.

In the 1960s, in response to racial tensions, American companies began establishing race-based employee resource groups (ERGs) as a forum of support and professional growth for discrete, racial communities. Overtime, ERGs expanded to focus on other sub-groups: women, LGBTQ, and veterans, just to name a few. In more recent years, the conversation has evolved and expanded and is generally referred to as diversity, equity and inclusion – DEI.  Inestimable numbers of companies have hosted countless DEI trainings, launched innumerable DEI initiatives, and commissioned a plethora of DEI research. And, yet, on average women still earn 20 percent less than their male counterparts[1], black men earn a third less than white men over their lifetimes[2], there are only four black CEOs in the Fortune 500[3], and on and on.

So, as Avis said, and as I have come to understand, diversity is not the answer, or at least, it’s not the entire answer. My frame is being challenged. ERGs and DEI initiatives are important, but they are not enough to address the deep inequities that exist in our society. And those inequities are often mirrored to varying degrees in our business community.

As I have a tendency to do, I started digging deeper. What was the fuller story?  I was pleased to learn there are a number of companies that are beginning to go beyond traditional DEI efforts, but one stands out for taking a position that, on its face, is counter to popular thinking.

Deloitte is making a bold attempt to reframe its DEI efforts by actively including… men. That may seem ridiculous at first, but let’s look more carefully. Men, white men to be specific, hold the majority of leadership roles in the corporate sector; they set the workplace culture, frame the corporate infrastructure, and define the measures of success. This also means that white men are in the strongest position to drive organizational change. But, based on the statistics I shared earlier, it doesn’t seem that they are currently wielding their power and influence to actively make change in the equity sphere.  And, that’s exactly the reason that by intentionally including men in its DEI efforts, Deloitte could succeed where others have not in truly achieving a more equitable workplace.

Of course, there are a few *small* challenges to address such as the blatant power dynamics, privilege, unconscious bias, etc. before white men can serve as full diversity partners. But, I would argue that this is a learning curve that, while steep and ever-evolving, is definitely not unreachable.

For years, DEI work in the corporate space has predominately been the realm of women, people of color, LGBTQ individuals, and other marginalized communities. Calling on white men as active participants and partners is a bold and powerful strategy.  I look forward to tracking this initiative and others as the business community works to make real change in the equity arena.


If you’re interested in going deeper on this topic, check out the recently launched CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion which has more than more than 350 company CEOs who have signed the pledge. And, White Men as Full Diversity Partners is a robust, national organization that offers a host of tools, trainings, and experiential learning.

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