To Male Leaders Who Say Diversity Is A Danger To White Men

fba7814d1685d7dad8dbe65303c7acdb-originaWhat They’re Missing

By Michael Kaufman. Dear male corporate leader,
I won’t mention your name, but I recently heard you comment how white men in corporate leadership are losing out to diversity. Your comment was greeted with howls of protest. You said you meant it as a joke.
I actually believe you because I’ve heard the exact same “joke” far too many times.
I wish I had a minute to sit down with you to talk about why I, as a man, and a white man to boot, have been concerned for many years when I hear comments like that one. But, since I don’t have that opportunity, let me share these thoughts with you.
First, the idea is based on a faulty, even if implicit, premise. The premise is that board rooms (along with halls of government, leadership bodies in unions, professional associations, and places of worship) belong to men and, especially, men with a certain skin tone, religion, sexual orientation, and accent. When others arrive, it’s seen as a threat to the natural order of things. Even though I’m sure you didn’t mean it, the joke would suggest to many people that women and people of color were either benevolently admitted by people who look like you and me, or they have somehow invaded our God-given spaces.
One implication of this premise is that if we diversify our leadership bodies, the new arrivals often feel immense pressure to adopt the same leadership styles as their (male) predecessors in order to be listened to and respected.
Second, the joke ignores history. Men, after all, have benefitted from an 8,000-year-long affirmative action policy. That policy is called patriarchy. Even though the vast majority of men have not received the keys to board rooms, male-dominated societies have given all men, to one degree or another, forms of privilege and power that women don’t enjoy. It’s what Peggy McIntosh, talking about white privilege, has called an invisible knapsack full of keys and passwords that let some of us in the door.
Of course, this gets much more complicated because our societies are not only based on the power of men over women, but of some groups of men over other groups of men, and so forth.
My third concern is how your joke makes me feel as a man. The joke is a nudge-nudge, wink-wink to other men. The assumption is that we all feel the same concern that we’re going to be screwed by the march of women’s rights and greater diversity in leadership positions.

"Men, after all, have benefitted from an 8,000-year-long affirmative action policy. That policy is called patriarchy."
But I have to tell you, I’m totally thrilled by these changes. True, I increasingly have to compete with the whole human race for jobs and the airwaves. But my love for the women in my life—my wife and daughter, my sisters and friends, my mother when she was alive, my female workmates—easily trumps any sense of loss I could possibly feel. Along with a rapidly increasing number of other men, I’m deeply concerned about the second-class status women still face; I’m equally concerned about the violence that far too many women experience at home and the harassment they experience at work. And I’m terrified when I see men who want to take away the victories and the hard-won rights achieved by the women I care about. I hope you feel the same.
And as a white person, especially in this political environment, I have the same thoughts about the importance of the fight against racism. Even if I don’t personally benefit (although if I had more space, I’d argue that I do), many other people will benefit by achieving equal rights and respect and, for many of us, that is argument enough.
There’s another reason why I as a man am totally thrilled by the victories of women, including increases (even if coming much too slowly) in leadership roles. That’s because I’ve long believed that feminism is the greatest gift that men have ever received. That, too, would be a long argument—and it’s something I’ve written and spoken about for the past three-and-a-half decades—but believe me, we men will be far better off in a world where we have jettisoned our current assumptions about what it takes to be a man and when we can live and work in true partnership with women.
My fourth concern is much more practical. I believe strongly that a society’s organizations should look like the society itself. They should not only reflect diverse interests and needs, but, literally, their leadership teams and managers should look like the people they serve.
Luckily, an increasing number of businesses are starting to realize there is a strong business case for diversity on boards and in all levels of management. Such a business will better understand the needs of its diverse clientele and workforce—and that leads to greater success.
Well, there we go. Do get in touch if you’d like to share a word about this.
5c3eb8bea4c3d0bdfd06857af4883767-huge-miMichael Kaufman is the author of eight books and has worked with the UN, governments, and corporations for three decades to engage men to promote gender equality. His website is
Posted by Jared Cline on Apr 12, 2017 2:06 PM America/New_York

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You know I have to wonder why if the comments were so concerning why the author couldnt find the "minute" to talk to the person involved. Its amazing that society now finds it acceptable to be so concerned with negativity that heaven forbid we speak directly to the souce of the concern. No we dont find the minute to do the direct thing but we find 15 minutes to write a bloody blog about it !!!
Change is hard and it is slow but for as long as people hide behind keyboards rather than direclty challenge we will be forever pushing an elephant up the stairs.
  • Posted Thu 13 Apr 2017 09:40 AM EDT
Excellent artice.
  • Posted Fri 28 Apr 2017 03:42 PM EDT
Thank you for offering a perspective on one of the most difficult and freqeuntly necessary conversations I encounter with my colleagues - both as part of my leadership mandate but also supporting my colleagues in their own efforts to reconcile what diversity means to them.
  • Posted Tue 02 May 2017 12:23 PM EDT
Richard Nicholson‍, thanks to you (and to Leanne Bellegarde‍ and Elwood Watson‍) for your comments.

To Richard Nicholson‍, specially: I totally agree about the importance of speaking directly to people involved. The blog was sparked by a story in the media about the CEO of a large company making that “joke.” Originally, I wrote it as an open letter to this CEO and ended with that “get in touch” simply as a way of saying this is a dialogue male leaders need to have. But the folks at MARC wisely suggested it would be best to make it a more general open letter since this type of thing is symptomatic of a pervasive problem. They wanted the blog to give others some of the language and encouragement to speak out. I retained the personal tone of an open letter, including the “get in touch” to reiterate the importance of dialogue.        

Let me add one thing: although I agree that it is great to speak directly to people involved, many people are not able to do so (either because of disposition or position), especially if they are confronting someone they report to or much higher up. As I’m sure you know, the reason such comments (and many forms of harassment) happen is because of imbalances of power. That’s why we need allies (male and female) in our workplaces, why we need clear rules, procedures, and good training of managers and staff, and why we need people who staff at every level can speak to in order to get support.     

And on a personal note: as someone active for almost four decades engaging men to promote gender equality, although I've certainly used the keyboard, hopefully I've never hidden behind it.     
All the best! Michael     
  • Posted Wed 03 May 2017 01:22 PM EDT


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