Should men get involved in diversity work?
Is diversity for everyone? Does it apply to men? Or is it something men should keep out of?
Before we answer that question, we should probably answer a different one: what is diversity?
If you’ve ever been to the cereal aisle at an American grocery store, I don’t have to tell you: diversity literally means “the condition of being different or varied.”
That sounds like it includes men, right?
Now, let’s take the idea of diversity and put it in an organizational context. What assumptions do you make about who diversity refers to?
Diversity at Work
Think diversity, think minority. This assumption arises from the idea of “diverse groups” within organizations. Essentially, “diverse groups” are defined in relation to majority groups.
So how did we arrive at this narrower idea of diversity?
Systemic biases are partly to blame. We all have them—they’re perfectly natural shortcuts in the brain—but they tend to benefit some while impeding the progress of others. This is why minority groups are so often told to “go along to get along”.
It’s not that these groups don’t want to be a part of the team. Rather, they want to participate more fully. This is difficult when core aspects of their identity, like their sexual orientation or their natural demeanor, are undervalued or even taboo in the workplace, which can lead them to hide who they are.
This is ruinous for individuals and businesses. Ignoring the breadth of diversity is tantamount to ignoring a competitive advantage—trusted research consistently finds that well-managed diverse and inclusive workplaces make for better business.
Make sure that your company is doing everything it can to improve diversity and make everyone feel welcome, with our Unconscious Bias Training.
Are Men Diverse?
Think about it this way: do extraterrestrial life forms think we’re the aliens? Of course they do. Because it all depends on context.
I’m based in the United States. Here, heterosexual white men are often in the majority.
Being in the majority can make others seem more diverse, relatively speaking. As a result, heterosexual white men are often perceived (and perceive themselves) as less diverse.
So where does that leave them?
Disengaged from diversity work, in the majority of cases. If you’re a man and you’ve ever felt like advocating for gender equity was reserved for women, join the club (yes, even if you thought you were being respectful to women by doing so).
But guess what? Heterosexual white men also have a gender, race, and sexual orientation (gasp). Because they’re in the majority, however, these qualities often go unexamined, including by heterosexual white men.
What Can Men Do About It?
Start with some self-examination. What questions do you have about diversity, inclusion, and men?
In the MARC Community (and in your workplace), you’ll find plenty of tools:
- Masculinity? There’s a lesson plan for that.
- Want to hone your perspective-taking skills? Bring MARC Teams to your organization
- Wondering about how men specifically benefit from this work? Here are 10 cool perks you can expect from greater personal investment.
Put your principles into practice with actions like these:
- Notice the assumptions you make about men and women (and ask yourself whether you’re really drawing the right conclusions).
- Ask a trusted male coworker whether he thinks women at your company get a fair shake (“Have you heard how often she gets interrupted in meetings? Next time it happens, I’ll say something—and I need you to back me up.”).
- Bring another man to a women’s group meeting and check in with each other afterward (“How did that go for you? I was a little nervous at first, but everyone was so nice.”).
But what about our central question: are men diverse?
For now, I’ll answer a more important question: should men feel they’re able to join the conversation about diversity without checking their own identities at the door?
For the record, no one really wants them to—heterosexual white men are one-of-a-kind humans with their own thoughts and emotions. In fact, showing up as a man is critical to forming better teams.
Why? Men tend to listen to other men. That’s why role modeling inclusive behavior, like championing diverse voices and taking paternity leave, is so important.
More than that, men’s involvement makes diversity efforts more successful. Take it from these four guys who joined Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) that weren’t “for them,” ranging from ERGS for women to LGBT. One interviewee explained it this way: “I’m able to say, ‘This is going to be the reaction from guys in the field.’ We can then change the way we tackle something and get men involved.”
To that end, I’ll leave you with a quote that I hope will frame your thinking around this topic (and maybe even give you a talking point to use in conversations with other men):
“[Diversity] is the application of our collective intelligence—our uniqueness coming together. To put it in the terms of a military leader: Diversity is a force multiplier.”—Lieutenant General Jay Silveria, US Air Force
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Originally posted in MARC