In the fall of 2016, sitting in a classroom full of change practitioners at the Kansas Leadership Center, I was reminded that some changes are harder than others – in this case we were talking about “white privilege” and all that it entails. That week was a catalyst for me to lean into the space of equality and inclusion. It turned out that I was not alone and it was powerful to know many of my classmates had been pushed into a space of discomfort too.
One white male colleague revealed a year later that as someone who grew up in poverty, he grappled with the question of whether he indeed was privileged. But after some deep reflection, he was able to articulate that there are structures in place from which he derived some benefits. These included among other things, the influence of an elementary teacher that looked like him (studies show having one black school teacher between the 3rd and 5th grade can increase graduation rates by 29%), having a father in the home, and not being in fear for his life at a routine traffic stop.
This revelation shared by my white male colleague, inspired me to take action. What if other white males got it too? Now that feels like it would be a force for good. In one of those moments of serendipity, I was introduced to an organization called White Men as Full Diversity Partners (I know it’s a mouthful, so they go by WMFDP). What attracted me to WMFDP was their audacity to tackle societal issues head on, starting at the source. Another reason for my attraction was their genuine interest in me and what I had to offer as a person of color with more diverse stripes than average. It was probably one of the first times in my own career I felt the power of having a white male ally. Within a few months they offered me a chance to join their facilitation team, which is not for the faint of heart — but the work is very rewarding.
WMFDP flips traditional approaches to diversity and inclusion on their heads by shifting the mindsets of leaders — typically, white males — and exploring their unconscious behaviors and behavioral patterns. That’s what I experienced in Kansas and I wanted to be part of doing it in a more concerted way.
Why focus on white men?
When Michael Welp and Bill Proudman found WMFDP, they set out to develop methodology for bringing about cultural change by including white male leadership in the experiential learning process. The WMFDP Way is built on the premise that everyone has a vital role to play in co-creating inclusive work cultures. Given white men’s majority hold on business leadership, they are often in the strongest position to drive any type of enduring organizational change. Rather than singling out white men as targets and separating them from the diversity conversation, WMFDP begins the discussion by calling on white men to be active participants and partners. Their perspectives are heard; their unconscious bias revealed; their patterns understood – even when that means having uncomfortable conversations.
Engaging the head and the heart
The difference with the WMFDP approach is in the experience: engaging the head and the heart. In the learning labs, participants aren’t just listening to content, they are actively engaged and learning from each other. Hands-on, leaders learn to manage difficult conversations; self-reflection and vulnerability are encouraged; and empathetic breakthroughs regularly occur.
WMFDP’s experiential approach inspires leaders to develop their own and others’ competency, which leads to meaningful and lasting change in the workplace. They emerge with the curiosity to ask questions, the courage to act without having all the answers, and the confidence they can make a difference.
Eight critical leadership skills
Through this process of experiential learning, leaders discover their unconscious biases and develop new perspectives at an intellectual and emotional level. Most importantly they develop the eight critical leadership skills needed to transform the culture of their organization.
- Integrating Head & Heart
- Balancing Key Paradoxes
- Leveraging Ambiguity and Turbulence
- Managing Difficult Conversations
- Seeing and Thinking Systemically
- Being an Agent of Change
Starting with white male leaders, once the dominant workplace culture shifts, it becomes impossible to return to the status quo. Teams and individual employees are all eventually engaged in the process of changing the organization’s diversity and inclusion DNA.
Anita is the founder and CEO of Sage Ways and a senior consultant for White Men as Full Diversity Partners. Connect with Anita to learn more about this unique approach to achieving diversity and inclusion in the workplace.