White Males See Diversity's Other Side

By Flynn, Gillian | Workforce, February 1999 | Go to article overview

White Males See Diversity's Other Side


Flynn, Gillian, Workforce


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 middleaged 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 initiative.

"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 [things] worse."

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 troublesome bundle.

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 Sexismall of which regard workplace negativism toward men as an issue.

Even more portentous is a visit to Prairielaw.com (http://www.prairielaw. corn), an online legal community in which almost half the sex-discrimination postings are from men.

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 prove it.

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 counterproductive."

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 true 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. …

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