By Julie Kampf
President and CEO, JBK Associates, Inc.
Early in my career, I had some experiences common to women. I once worked for someone who told me to ignore a child-care emergency. I once worked for someone who handed me high-level responsibilities without the title or pay of the last person in the job. Each of these bosses was a white male, as were most executives at the time. I promised myself that I would help create a different, better business environment.
Today I run a company that helps organizations find and keep diverse talent. I see many companies talking diversity, but only to a point. A company might prioritize diversity for a mid-level position but go silent when a senior-level spot opens. It might bring in a chief diversity officer and then limit the power of that position. And, as in the past, a company might use race and gender to choose between two equally qualified candidates, only today the disadvantage more often goes to the white male.
In each case, the decision-makers believe they are advancing diversity, but the resulting business environment does not help employers attract the best diverse talent. More often, it compartmentalizes people based on race or gender and leaves simmering resentments between groups blocked from power and insiders who fear giving offense. I believe that roadblocks to diversity won’t budge until there is a real dialogue with business leaders, and that has to include white men. They are the leaders and will be for some time: research from the social science project The Society Pages suggests that white males make up about two-thirds of those who are one step away from a Fortune 500 CEO office. Besides, inclusion means including everyone.
Leaders need to ask the right questions. The most effective organizations are the ones that ask bigger questions: Who do we need to run this organization? What does our bench strength look like? How do we create a workforce that uses the best talent on the market and includes a mix of backgrounds, genders, races, generations, lifestyles, and experiences?
The answers may be hard, but they can drive real change. I have seen white-male-dominated cultures shift, sometimes following a single senior-level hire. Companies that have the crucial conversations with people from all groups stand the best chance of attracting the diverse talent that drives profitability—a result that any business leader can champion.
There’s nothing wrong with the practices per se. The problem lies within the cultural foundations. We must examine that. If White males continue to reign at the top of the food chain, it’s because we are recycling institutional culture. That becomes a part of organization socialization, and to a further extent one’s nature to choose who looks, acts, and thinks like me to ensure the company’s values spoke and unspoken. That’s what is most evident at the senior level.