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Joanne Lockwood

SEE Change Happen Ltd

Inclusion and Belonging Specialist

Read more from Joanne Lockwood

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Talking about diversity and inclusion with our ‘straight white male’ colleagues

It is time to encourage the 'straight white man' to join the discussion on diversity and inclusion
Man standing alone on a rock with devastation all around

When it comes to talking about DEI, at first glance, the discourse can appear to be dominated by people who are part of a minority group, or those from a marginalised background. The subject often gives a voice to the voiceless or provides some form of justice for those who are fighting a cause to right wrongs.

However, one demographic that appears to be omitted from these discussions is the 'straight white man'. This seems counterintuitive because in order to be able to drive real change, the people who hold the privilege need to be centred in these conversations as enablers of that change.

People need to learn, make mistakes and be corrected without fear of retaliation, rejection or humiliation

Start by bringing everyone together

I am a great believer in the mantra that you can’t be inclusive by excluding or leaving people behind. We have to first appreciate that racism is a white problem, sexism is a male problem, and homophobia is a 'straight' problem to realise what needs to be done and to step up to solve these issues.

Tasking those who hold these marginalised characteristics to solve the problems of discrimination through societal and structural constructs is not only unfair but also unachievable.

And so to the original protagonist of this article – the 'straight white man', how can we involve them and empower them to join in the conversation and feel confident to contribute to diversity and inclusion? I recognise that one of the key barriers to getting involved is the fear of getting it wrong, saying or doing something that could be offensive or clumsy. 

We see examples on social media and the press where people are vilified for making an error, causing a microaggression through lack of awareness, poor judgement or simple ignorance. It is simply not a conversation or topic that was in their lived experience.

For me, we can start by ensuring all voices are welcomed into the room and around the table and to create a safe space for people to learn, make mistakes and be corrected without fear of retaliation, rejection or humiliation. 

Emphasise that understanding someone’s perspective is more valuable than changing minds

Welcome vulnerability and humility and educate – learn how to call people in, not just call people out. Businesses can implement allyship programmes where everyone can learn about language, culture and historical significance and events.  

Some ways businesses can start these types of conversations are:

  • Allow space for people to make sense of the information they have learnt and a learning environment in which to develop their cultural intelligence skills
  • Implement inclusive leadership training that centre on cultural intelligence and emotional intelligence, both of which are skills that can be learnt
  • Focus on conscious inclusion training, rather than unconscious bias training where people can learn to change their thinking
  • Emphasise that understanding someone’s perspective is more valuable than changing minds. Understanding why someone has a view is the key to understanding another’s lived experience and challenges
  • Question the role of the media – examine the biases and stereotypes that are amplified and propagated and create polarised debates and sell division
  • Further allyship programmes internally and recognise how the organisation can demonstrate allyship by speaking up and putting its weight behind injustice

In 1918 the United Kingdom Representation of the People Act was passed, allowing women over the age of 30 who met a qualification to vote. But it was not until the Equal Franchise Act of 1928 that women over 21 were able to vote and women finally achieved the same voting rights as men.

People who hold the power and privilege in society have to step up and enable change to occur

Listen, understand and collaborate

In order for these two acts of Parliament it took 'straight white men' to listen and create change, today we are in the same position. People who hold the power and privilege in society have to step up and enable the change to occur – they need their ears to listen and voices to bring change.

Start by listening, and understanding injustice, discrimination, and marginalisation. See beyond the diversity media polarisation, and become aware of people’s perspectives and their 'why'. Use your voice and power to support, amplify and enable change. That is why the 'straight white man's' role is critical in diversity conversations.

Interested in this topic? Read What will DEI look like in 2023.

One Response

  1. Fantastic article Joanne. I
    Fantastic article Joanne. I love the phrase calling people in, not just calling people out. I’ve long argued that the only way to build bridges is through communication and education, which may mean being prepared to engage and answer questions that might sometimes seem awkward, as long they come from a ‘good place’ of wanting to self-educate. I’m going to share with my LinkedIn network.

Author Profile Picture
Joanne Lockwood

Inclusion and Belonging Specialist

Read more from Joanne Lockwood

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