Jeanine Prime
Jeanine Prime

Sharpening the skills needed to lead in a diverse business world

Diversity and inclusion education can have a measurable impact on corporate culture.

September 20, 2012
by Jeanine Prime, Ph.D.

Can diversity and inclusion education really help make white male-dominated corporate cultures more inclusive?

Critics have cast doubt on whether such programs are effective. But a new Catalyst study indicates that diversity and inclusion education can have a measurable impact on workplace attitudes, behavior, and culture.

Catalyst surveyed people managers—mostly white men—from the North American sales division of Rockwell Automation, a global engineering company. These managers participated in leadership development programs created by White Men as Full Diversity Partners (WMFDP). Rockwell’s top leadership believed that these programs would engage white men as advocates and leaders of the organization’s diversity and inclusion efforts, ultimately helping them become more effective managers overall.  

Key findings of Catalyst’s study include:

  • An increase in workplace civility and decline in gossip (such as snide remarks and behind-the-back comments). In some work groups, participants rated the incidence of workplace gossip as much as 39% lower after the training, signaling improved communication and respect.
  • Managers were more likely to acknowledge that inequality exists and let go of the myth of meritocracy. After the training, the degree to which managers accepted the idea that white men have certain advantages that women and racial/ethnic minorities do not increased by 17%.
  • Managers improved on five key inclusive behaviors. From seeking out varied perspectives to addressing emotionally charged matters more directly, managers sharpened several skills critical to leadership in today’s diverse business world.
  • Having cross-racial friendships mattered. Managers without many prior cross-racial relationships changed the most after the training when it came to thinking critically about different social groups—they demonstrated a 40% increase in critical thinking, vs. a 9% increase among managers who already had such relationships.
  • Those who cared the least about exhibiting prejudice changed the most. After the training, the managers who were the least concerned about appearing prejudiced initially registered the most significant change—a 15% increase—in taking responsibility for being inclusive.

When companies begin to view white men as part of the solution rather than as part of the problem, the results can be dramatic indeed. This latest study in our Engaging Men series demonstrates the power of this perspective.

According to WMFDP’s co-founder Michael Welp, “WMFDP’s approach grows the awareness, courage, and skills needed to create a level of partnership most leaders don’t realize is possible. … As they address the complex and sometimes messy topics of diversity, they grow the critical leadership skills needed in today's global business reality.”

“Companies can see a major shift in inclusive behavior when white men acknowledge inequalities and accept that while they didn’t cause the problem, it’s their responsibility as leaders to be part of the solution,” said Ilene H. Lang, president and CEO of Catalyst. “We can’t rely only on women and minorities to advocate for culture change. The results are much more powerful when white men, who are most often in leadership positions, also act as role models.”

The study’s findings reinforce Catalyst’s belief in engaging men as champions of gender diversity. In service of this goal, Catalyst recently launched MARC (Men Advocating Real Change), an online learning community for professionals committed to achieving gender equality in the workplace. Since its founding, MARC has grown to include more than 350 members.

For information on the study’s methodology, visit Calling All White Men: Can Training Help Create Inclusive Workplaces? For a video introduction to the report, click here. To learn more about MARC, click here.

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Jeanine Prime, Ph.D., leads studies on leadership, change management, and organizational effectiveness and spearheads Catalyst’s research and programs on engaging men in gender equity initiatives. Founded in 1962, Catalyst is a nonprofit membership organization expanding opportunities for women and business.