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Calling All White Men (to Diversity Training)

Monday, October 1, 2012
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Want to know what you should do to truly make a dent in diversity and workplace-culture improvements?

According to a recent study from New York-based Catalyst, you should rev up your diversity training among your organization's white males.

Though critics have long debated whether training could really make corporate cultures dominated by white men more inclusive, Catalyst says in its report, these results show "training [white males] can produce a measurable shift in workplace attitudes and behavior -- and begin to create an environment where women and minorities can advance."

The study, Calling All White Men: Can Training Help Create Inclusive Workplaces? sent white-male managers of Milwaukee-based Rockwell Automation's North American sales division to learning labs that were focused solely on the role of white men in diversity efforts.

According to the report, the men were studied before the lab, one month later and then four months after that, and showed improvements in five different measurements: critical thinking about differences, taking responsibility for being inclusive, inquiring across differences, empathetic listening and addressing difficult or emotionally charged issues.

In an interview with Melissa J. Anderson of theglasshammer.com, a professional women's support blog and online community, Jeanine Prime, Catalyst's vice president of research, said she "was really surprised that there was measurable change in such a short time frame."

"At each survey point," Prime told Anderson, "we found participants were really making improvements in their behaviors, and increasingly acknowledged white-male privilege."

Some key findings of the study include:

* In some work groups, participants' colleagues rated the incidence of workplace gossip as much as 39 percent lower after the labs.

* After the labs, there was a 17 percent increase in how much managers agreed that white men have greater advantages than women and racial/ethnic minorities.

* Those who cared the least about exhibiting prejudice changed the most.

"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," says Ilene H. Lang, president and CEO of Catalyst.

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"We can't rely only on women and minorities to advocate for culture change," Lang says. "The results are much more powerful when white men, who are most often in leadership positions, are also role models."

Larry Turner, a partner in Morgan Lewis' labor and employment group in Philadelphia and co-chair of the firm's diversity committee, says he finds "the general conclusion [of the study to be] sound."

"White males," he says, "need to be involved in the discussion about -- and implementation of -- diversity. All business leaders, regardless of their hue, need to be able to motivate their workforce. They must understand and be able to communicate a sense of genuine respect for all of the cultures within their working environment."

Turner says more companies need to include white men in the dialogue about diversity, as well as in the design and implementation of diversity efforts. Doing this, he says, "will only increase the ultimate effectiveness of the diversity effort and their working environment."

That the program used in the Catalyst study could produce such a shift, Prime said in her glasshammer interview, "is a testament to the approach."

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