3 Ways White Male Leaders Can Fight White Supremacy Identity-related work helps leaders build culture.
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If you're a white male executive like me, perhaps you are wondering how you directly benefit from a system centuries-old that centers your whiteness. When people see us as having "white privilege", they may be observing our advantages: momentum from an early age in education, opportunity, and financial well-being; violence that we do not experience (e.g., from police officers); and the prioritization of our voices over those of colleagues who identify as other than white and/or male.
Every day we see racial conflict play out, in the courts, in the court of public opinion and sometimes in our organizations. If you're a white guy like me, who wants to lead more inclusively and be part of the solution to racism, I recommend that you answer the hard questions. And then talk with other white men about them.
Have I, as a white man with leadership responsibilities:
- Permitted cruelty and discrimination toward those of other races, rather than worked to ensure care and kindness?
- Grown so intellectually lazy that all manner of race-related headlines, lies and conspiracies are accepted as true by people around me?
- Been so complicit in the norming of whiteness that I don't see myself as a racial being?
- Shown up as a white guy who seems fragile, guilty or ashamed?
White men are not the only quiet and complacent ones in addressing issues of race; white women, for example, have their own work to do. But let's not deflect away from our responsibility to use our privilege to make things better.
I have three suggestions to help that happen.
1. Care for others to drive transformative growth.
Empathy, especially across racial differences, leads to a dramatic improvement in performance and character. You likely have core values in your company that honor humans and their contributions. Center those in your leadership work and hold employees accountable for putting people first. Build a reputation for applied empathy and work to prevent and respond to behaviors that stereotype, wound with words or limit opportunities. Make sure that neither you nor members of your organization pay less for equal work, steal credit or expect less of someone because they are not white and male.
If you're a white man wondering what you can do to radically improve your point of view and brand as an inclusive leader, check out the Inclusive Leader Assessment. It's a tool that provides actionable insight so that people around you see you finding your courage and growing your inclusion skills.
Ground your care and transformative learning in relationships of trust and accountability with your colleagues of other races. Investigate how employees and customers are experiencing racism, by using conversation, surveys, listening sessions, community engagement and serving as an ally with members of company employee resource groups. Then respond with efforts that advance diversity, equity and inclusion in the company (in recruiting, development, innovation, promotion, engagement and retention).
When we focus on race, at least in the American context, we open doors to inclusion learning on every other aspect of identity: gender identity and expression, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, language and more.
You can disrupt deep-seated patterns of white supremacy by caring for everyone in ways that fuel personal and organizational growth.
Related: How to Leverage Emotional Intelligence and Empathy for Maximum Success
2. Require critical thinking and effective action.
Commit to rigorous study. What will you do to understand what white supremacy is, how it currently operates and how you can join in fighting hate? One world-class resource to consult is the Southern Poverty Law Center, a 50-year-old non-profit that researches and opposes more than 800 hate groups in the United States.
Attend to the news cycle and build an informed point of view that you share with your team, family, and friends. Here are some current issues to pay attention to:
- The fearful resistance to learning about white supremacy is driving many current conflicts over critical race theory. As white male leaders, we should model and speak in favor of learning the history and current impact of racism. Let's spend less energy hiding from the behavior of our ancestors, and more energy on making sure that we, our children and our organizations do not perpetuate the sins of the past.
- The recent acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse lays bare the intersection between white supremacy, American gun culture and the crisis in empathy for those of other races. Wherever you get your news, look behind the headlines and learn critically. Inclusive leadership requires the willingness to engage with complexity. We need people in our lives with whom we can engage in deep discussions about racial dynamics. It will take lifelong, substantive learning to understand and dismantle white supremacy — after all, it's a social construct over 400 years in the making.
Related: Are You Open to Opposing Viewpoints? 3 Tips for Improving Critical Thinking
3. Don't make bad decisions with race in view.
You'd think this one is obvious, but it's not. Be clear about the business reasons for leading more inclusively. Build a community of decision-makers who do their homework around race together. Make sure you have a racial mix of leaders involved with decisions that involve racial matters, such as hiring a DEI leader.
Work carefully with your internal legal counsel, recruiting teams and managers on practical ways to reduce bias and generate opportunity. Are you hiring, promoting or firing anyone because of their race, gender or other protected identity points? Are you accounting for what each person knows about diversity and inclusion, and how they perform with D&I in view?
A cautionary tale:
Do your due diligence around diversity, equity and inclusion. Memorial Hermann Health System in Houston offered a senior DEI job to Joseph Hill, a Black professional with many years of experience. It then rescinded the offer, in part, because it found him to be "too sensitive about race issues." Ouch.
The alternative to making ineffective decisions when race is in view? Extend the effective decision-making skills you already possess, by learning how to make good decisions when racial dynamics are present. Include a healthy mix of voices in the decision-making process.
This is a crucial method for white male leaders to be part of the solution and escape being part of the problem.
When it comes to fighting white supremacy, we must choose courage over comfort. We can acknowledge that our white ancestors did terrible things. We can commit to assessing our advantages honestly. We can care for humans across every difference in identity. We can make sure our intellect is aligned with our values. We can make decisions with disciplined fairness.
In short, we can lead more inclusively. I want future generations of white men and boys to look back at what white men do right now and say "Well, many of our ancestors participated in the genocide of people indigenous to Africa and North America. But some of the white guys we come from started to heal those wounds in history, and we will do the same."
Today is the right day to fight white supremacy. Right now is the time to build relationships of trust and accountability across races. Don't delay another second. Lead more inclusively from this moment on.
Related: How Can You Start Shifting Your Business to be Actively Anti-Racist?