White Men and Diversity—A Closer Look
The goal of this column, which is scheduled to continue in the four remaining issues of Diversity & the Bar in 2008, is to provide a frank and forthright forum to explore the views of majority attorneys regarding diversity initiatives, as well as to examine the role that white men can and should play in redressing inequalities in the legal workplace. This premiere column presents the executive summary of MCCA’s forthcoming Creating Pathways to Diversity research report on the topic.
Although white men constitute the majority of lawyers in private law firms and corporate legal departments, they are disproportionately underrepresented in the dialogues and efforts on creating a more diverse workplace.
On the surface, it can appear that white men are merely not interested in the issue of diversity, but a closer look at white men and diversity illustrates a more complex relationship between white men and diversity—a relationship in which white men have widely disparate perspectives on diversity, including support for diversity, fear of diversity, misunderstandings about the consequences of diversity, and unanswered questions about their involvement with diversity. By examining this issue through a series of articles on white men and diversity initially published in Diversity & the Bar and elsewhere, current research on invisible privilege, and the findings of MCCA’s Mentoring Across Differences: A Guide to Cross-Race and Cross-Gender Mentoring, White Men and Diversity—A Closer Look is an edited compilation of essays, research, and recommendations on how to:
- Engage white men in a candid dialogue on white privilege, male privilege, and heterosexual privilege, as well as the ways in which these privileges simultaneously are affected by and affect the dominant cultural beliefs in legal workplaces today;
- Encourage white men in the legal profession to think of themselves as invested and necessary stakeholders in creating a more diverse workplace; and
- Expand collective efforts on diversity that include meaningful and inclusive contributions from everyone in legal workplaces.
This edited compilation of essays, research, and recommendations highlights the underlying proposition that diversity benefits the organization as a whole, and it is not just about meeting the needs of women, minorities, or LGBT lawyers.
By exploring the often-ignored concepts of dominant cultures, invisible privileges, and the need for diversity efforts to be inclusive of all stakeholders in the organization, White Men and Diversity—A Closer Look underscores the negative impact of white male disengagement from diversity efforts, and includes strategies on how to engage white men as necessary players in creating more diverse workplaces. Those strategies include the following measures:
- Ensuring diversity and inclusion efforts are defined and communicated in a manner that invites white men to be a part of the dialogue and efforts;
- Not blaming white men for racial and gender inequity;
- Expecting white men to be capable and willing diversity partners;
- Encouraging white men to take on direct diversity-leadership positions; and
- Calling upon women and people of color to examine their own negative reactions and assumptions about the motives of white men who are engaged with diversity efforts.
In taking a closer look at white men and diversity, this study examines how white men simultaneously contribute to and are shaped by the dominant culture in legal workplaces. This duality of experience for white men allows them to benefit from being part of the dominant culture in law firms, yet also feel ostracized by diversity efforts that they see as benefiting only women, -minorities, and/or LGBT lawyers. This report illustrates through various examples how white men genuinely view the standards of excellence in their workplaces as gender- and race-neutral and that they may not realize how those standards often are based on their preferences. As white men realize that the majority’s standards of excellence may not be as race- and gender-neutral as they had perceived, the workplace can become increasingly open to differences in a truly inclusive way.
Finally, this report focuses on solutions, through strategies such as cross-race and cross-gender mentoring, by making the following recommendations.
- Workplaces should take the initiative to institute formal mentoring programs that match senior white male lawyers with diverse lawyers.
- Mentoring pairs must communicate their expectations to each other in a candid way.
- Mentoring pairs should take proactive steps to build trust in the relationship.
- Mentees are obligated to build trust through excellence and reliability in their work product.
- Mentors are called upon to give good work and opportunities for mentees to excel, along with meaningful and constructive feedback.
- Mentors must be open to different styles and approaches.
- Mentors should practice active empathy and active listening with their mentees.
This report delves into additional strategies to provide concrete ideas for institutions to build positive attitudes on diversity among white male staff, as well as specific suggestions for white men to get and stay more involved in ongoing diversity initiatives. DB
From the March/April 2008 issue of Diversity & The Bar®