The Conference Board uses cookies to improve our website, enhance your experience, and deliver relevant messages and offers about our products. Detailed information on the use of cookies on this site is provided in our cookie policy. For more information on how The Conference Board collects and uses personal data, please visit our privacy policy. By continuing to use this Site or by clicking "OK", you consent to the use of cookies. 

07 Feb. 2013 | Comments (0)


For further analysis on this topic, we invite you to watch the on-demand recording of the webcast, Advancing Diversity and Inclusion Through White Male Leadership, featuring this blog's author, Chuck Shelton, Managing Director at Greatheart Leader Labs, and Gena Lovett, Chief Diversity Officer at Alcoa, Inc.


In my previous blog, New Research: The White Men’s Leadership Study, I reviewed the purpose and findings of the just-released Study on White Men Leading Through Diversity & Inclusion (D&I), sponsored by PwC, Alcoa, Intel, PepsiCo, Bank of America, Egon Zehnder, Exelon, Marsh & McLennan, and Wal-Mart Stores.

The intent of this research was to equip companies with the information they need to get white male leadership development right. Please find the study’s recommendations and prioritized next steps below.

1) Commit to white male leadership development as an integral thread in the enterprise D&I strategy.

Fueled by the position power and leadership skills that white men possess, the global strategy for diversity and inclusion will deliver a stronger competitive advantage for customers and talent. The White Male Leadership Development strategy will emphasize readiness, innovation, and scaling.

2) Hone the business case and career advantage every day.

Continually quantify financial results from the D&I capability, in terms of money made and money saved. Develop and market examples specific to your business and competition. Identify high-value qualitative measures – in, for example, retention, innovation, and productivity – and build compelling story lines that stick in the minds of all leaders. Support white men as they define their own self-interest in leading through diversity and inclusion. As one white male respondent indicated, “I do not react well to sticks, and would prefer to understand where the carrots are.”

3) Build out credible metrics and accountability.

Measuring diverse talent in hiring and promotion is an essential tool for tracking progress in the pipeline. But there are many additional metrics that demonstrate D&I’s value, such as:

  • Opening global markets
  • Multicultural product development, marketing and sales, and customer service
  • Cost savings from retaining top talent

A more robust accountability system will improve the effectiveness of white male leaders across the twelve key competencies evaluated in this research.

4) Acknowledge that we come from different places, as we move forward together.

When it comes to white male inclusion, we are all learning to speak a new language. Perhaps this analogy can fuel our fluency: 

There’s a new territory that globally effective leaders must learn to live in – the land of D&I Savvy. Every effective leader will learn how to integrate D&I into their work with individuals and teams, with customers and business partners, and across the systems and culture of the company. White men tend to enter this land as immigrants either by choice or as refugees by force of circumstance. Leaders who are not white men are more likely native-born to their savvy with D&I, having metabolized a lifetime of learning through the experience of their difference from the leadership normativity of white men. Such a neutral analogy – native-born, immigrant, refugee – can make safe the conversations of candor and respect that will move us forward together.

5) Evoke peer learning among white men.

White guys learn some of what they most need to know alongside other white men. And they can hold white male peers accountable in ways no man or woman of color or white woman can. One white male respondent commented, “There are white male leaders in my company that D&I comes naturally to, and for others it’s a challenge. It would be good to have the successful leaders share their experience and learning with the others. White-guy peer power is vital.”

6) Women and men of color and white women are crucial co-learners in this adventure.

There are plenty of learning opportunities ahead for ‘diverse’ colleagues – those who are not white and male. One of the clearest data points comes from a question showing that almost 7 in 10 white male leaders confirm this challenge: Exclusion – For a lot of white guys, it’s not clear that diversity includes white men. When white men feel excluded, the integrity of diversity and inclusion is at risk. Diverse leaders must still attend to connection in relationships of collaboration, candor, and forgiveness.

7) Educate white male leaders (and their diverse peers).

  • Focus on learning with white male leaders without spotlighting them. This means training that includes everyone. An array of learning resources and support will be useful.
  • Since listening is the heart of inclusion, employers should train on D&I-infused listening skills, include employee ratings of their manager’s listening skills in performance appraisals, and evaluate these ratings by dimensions of diversity.
  • Focus the development of D&I leadership competencies on hiring, coaching, team development, and sponsoring (which includes mentoring, promoting, and advocacy).
  • Conflict resolution training focused on diversity and inclusion issues is strongly recommended.

8) Scale the listening process and globalize the learning.

Use of the White Men’s Leadership Survey should be augmented with listening groups – composed of White Men, All Others, and a mix of both – along with executive interviews and advising. From the outset, widen the conversation about white male inclusion to global operations and stakeholders. One international respondent said, “We certainly have our own opportunities and challenges with white male leaders, but they are by no means identical to what’s going on in the States.”

Next Steps:

Organizations seeking to ensure that inclusion truly includes everyone, even the white guys, should first focus on readiness.

  1. Integrate white male inclusion into the enterprise strategy for global diversity and inclusion. This must not be a stand-alone topic or an HR fad.
  2. Invest in executive development and sponsorship, through education, listening, and a focus on growing the business.
  3. Listen to white male leaders and their diverse colleagues, through a benchmarking survey and focus groups.
  4. Prepare to scale the conversation into the company, with a customized Conversation Starter video and team process.

For each of us, our leadership on white male inclusion should demonstrate disciplined respect, listening, and candor. As white male leaders more fully engage, fear will dissipate, and courage and confidence will grow. Then global diversity and inclusion will deliver even more powerful results.

For the free Executive Summary and Results Report (available for purchase), visit


View our complete listing of Diversity & Inclusion blogs.

  • About the Author:Chuck Shelton

    Chuck Shelton

    Chuck Shelton is the Managing Director at Greatheart Leader Labs, and author of Leadership 101 For White Men. He also serves as the Principal for The Study on White Men Leading Through Diversity and I…

    Full Bio | More from Chuck Shelton


0 Comment Comment Policy

Please Sign In to post a comment.

    Support Our Work

    Support our nonpartisan, nonprofit research and insights which help leaders address societal challenges.