By Chuck Shelton

This four-week series builds on the findings, recommendations, and learning from the ongoing Study on White Men Leading Through Diversity and Inclusion. This is the first research to analyze and improve the effectiveness of white men as they integrate diversity and inclusion into their leadership work. For more on the study, and to download a free copy of the Executive Summary, go to

In the previous article we considered a core skill for all D&I work: how to hold courageous conversations. This final piece looks at emerging strategies and practices for inclusive leadership with white male executives.


Innovation precedes best practices. Each approach must be tested, when mistakes are made and lessons are learned, before business strategies and tactics can be rightly identified as ‘best practice’, or ‘best in class’.

In other words, there has to be a wealth of practicing before the best comes to the fore. That’s where we’re stand in 2013 with innovation for white male inclusion.

To be sure, practitioners have been working on white male engagement for more than a generation. A few examples:

• Many white men have served as thought leaders on diversity and inclusion – an incomplete list includes Joe Feagin, Lewis Griggs, Frank McCloskey, Howard Ross, Leonard Steinhorn, David Tulin, Luke Visconti, and Tim Wise; further back, Bill Bradley, Abraham Lincoln, and William Wilberforce

• Judith Katz published ‘White Awareness’ in 1978; Peggy McIntosh wrote her piece on ‘White Privilege’ in 1988

• Bill Proudman and Michael Welp have pioneered educational work with white men as full diversity partners – see the research from Catalyst

• The 101 essays in my book, Leadership 101 For White Men, come from engaging D&I since 1968

We should also recognize that innovation for white male inclusion is grounded in the disciplines of executive leadership: strategy, competencies, culture, change, learning, and succession, to name a few. We know what best practices in these areas look like.

So the challenge of white male inclusion may be new to us and to our organization, but engaging and equipping white male leaders is not new to history. Let’s acknowledge that, while we are still early in the learning curve on inclusive leadership with white male executives, we stand on solid ground.


One of the primary lessons of the 2012 research was the sensitivity around benchmarking – companies are still learning about their own challenges and competitive advantages in white male inclusion. Consequently, they are wary about sharing their learning. So, in this article, organizations pursuing the following strategies and practices are identified generally by industry and/or geography.

Clients have indicated that they will be ready to be named after more learning, when they will begin to tell their own stories.

1. Strategy: Align White Male Engagement with the D&I Strategy

Practices –

1.1 Expand the scope of D&I to encompass talent and customers.
Business-to-consumer companies tend to pave the way, recasting D&I in service to the customer, with talent as one vital resource, rather than diverse talent as the purpose of the commitment. A global food products giant is exploring how inclusive leadership – that purposely includes white male executives – will deepen D&I capabilities with diverse customers and talent.

1.2 Assess the challenge and opportunity, by listening with respect.
This was the explicit purpose of the companies sponsoring the White Men’s Leadership Study, including Alcoa, Bank of America, Exelon, Intel, Marsh & McLennan Companies, PepsiCo, PwC, and Wal-Mart Stores.

1.3 White male executives step up.
This spring, in a large consumer service company, a panel composed only of white male executives will discuss the firm’s D&I strategy at an internal corporate leadership conference. Now that is something new.

1.4 Globalize the learning.
A fast-growing financial services company is engaging white men in a way that recognizes that being white and male manifests differently for leaders across national cultures.

2. Strategy: Assure Safety in Relationships and Conversation

Practices –

2.1 Emphasize empathy.
Organizations which value emotional intelligence enjoy a vital advantage – the permission to pragmatically care for people makes inclusive leadership possible. One intriguing step into white male inclusion at a low-empathy leadership culture: one old-line manufacturing company in the Midwest is pursuing the idea of ‘competitive inclusion’, where leaders – most of whom are white guys, it should be said – are competing with one another to see who can be the most inclusive.

2.2 Define the discussion.
Another financial services firm has invested two years in meeting with white male leaders in small groups, always clarifying:

• What white male inclusion does and doesn’t mean
• What it will do for the organization, and
• The career advantages for white male leaders who lean into diversity and inclusion.

2.3 Invest in respect and commit to candor.
Progressive programs in white male leadership development address:

• Motivating through praise and recognition
• Providing corrective feedback on performance to diverse employees to support development and avoid discrimination
• The effectiveness gap, which looks at the differing ways white men and diverse others view the effectiveness of white male leaders
• The perceived tension between the qualifications of diverse employees and the company’s diversity imperative

There are at least four retail firms now investing in respect and candor in this manner.

2.4 Provide tools for a new way to talk about diversity and inclusion.
Care, safety, respect and candor are starting to make conversation about white male inclusion possible. A West Coast technology company is experimenting with metaphors and paradigms that equip their people for constructive conversations. The conceptual tools they’re trying include:

• Reframe D&I as a commitment to building Trust, defined as “the making and keeping of promises over time.”
• The Fundamental Filter, a saying which teaches that “Each person is Like All Others, Like Some Others, and Like No Other”; to create a way of thinking about humans universally, culturally, and individually (explicated in Leadership 101 For White Men)
• Native-Born, Immigrant, Refugee – in the new territory that globally effective leaders must navigate, this Land of D&I Savvy, white men tend to enter as immigrants by choice or refugees by force of circumstance, while those who are not white and male are more likely native to their D&I savvy, having metabolized a lifetime of learning through their experience of their difference from the normativity of white men. This metaphor encourages non-blaming D&I discussions.

This emerging area of practice seeks to establish a new language frame, so we can start talking about things we’ve been avoiding.

3. Strategy: Focus on Communication and Education

Practices –

3.1 Rebrand diversity in the context of inclusion.
White male engagement gives D&I professionals the opportunity to invite white men in. Inclusion opens the door to view diversity as a leadership asset for understanding each person. This gently interrupts the white male tendency to externalize diversity as a program for ‘others’. One consumer electronics firm in the Northeast is diligently communicating that white men are included in inclusion as part of their internal branding plan.

3.2 Brief executive teams.
Schedule 1-hour sessions with executive teams throughout the year, with topics and tools focused on personal executive narrative, strategic leadership on global D&I, and developing senior direct reports. This approach is underway at one of the largest consumer products corporations.

3.3 Strengthen conflict resolution skills.
A professional services company is integrating D&I-related case studies into their new leadership course on understanding and resolving team conflict, requiring all managers to take the class, and connecting conflict resolution more measurably to performance appraisals. This is a key part of their white male inclusion work.

3.4 Develop the leadership skills of white men.
Without shining the spotlight too brightly on the white guys, my company’s curriculum on Trust-Powered Leadership is designed to equip white male leaders and their diverse peers to integrate diversity and inclusion into their daily leadership work, for measurable results. This approach was piloted in the insurance and telecommunications sectors.

4. Strategy: Organize Peer Power

Practices –

4.1 White men lead among their own kind.
This isn’t so much about launching an ERG with white guys – which a number of companies have attempted, with little success – as it is about focus groups, advisory committees, break-outs in training, and white male executives accepting personal responsibility to mentor other white men on diversity and inclusion. Several companies are setting up inclusive leadership strategy teams, to guide their strategic engagement with white male executives and their diverse peers.

4.2 Move from allies to mutuality.
A Texas company is expanding the idea of mentors, champions, and allies, in the direction of sponsorship and peer mentoring. The thinking: transition away from the assumption that white men, even executives, have a lot more to give than get; and move toward interdependence, where everyone continually appreciates what they gain from mutual learning and trust.

4.3 Grow real friendships.
In the most effective companies tracked in the White Men’s Leadership Study, white male leaders with at least one close career confidante who is a person of color were more than twice as likely to mentor, promote, and sponsor employees of color. A non-profit in Colorado is putting together a web of options (informal choices like volunteering and employee events, and structured opportunities like agency project assignments) to invite people to build friendships across dimensions of difference. White men in the agency are enthusiastic, because it’s safe, personal, and unforced.

4.4 Launch an Inclusive Leadership Roundtable.
One professional services firm is planning to organize a network of white male executives and their diverse peers to own and drive white male inclusion in lines of business, departments, and across the enterprise.

5. Strategy: Build Out Credible Metrics and Accountability

Practices –

5.1 Introduce the Inclusive Leadership Profile.

To provide executives with insight for their own development, a Midwest corporation is preparing to gather data from five sources: self, 360 raters, cumulative responses from the executive peer group, data from a larger cohort of leaders in the business, and the aggregate from the White Men’s Leadership Study. Most of these senior leaders are white men.

5.2 Establish the Retention ROI.
Pioneered with a technology client in 2007, this rigorous metric identifies the cost to replace the unintended loss of diverse talent. One early application determined a $7M annual cost to replace the unintended loss of diverse talent reporting to white male managers.

5.3 Construct meaningful measures to show how white male executive development drives revenue growth.
A New York-based company is now developing a metric to track how much of revenue growth can be legitimately traced to their investing in the global D&I savvy of white male leaders in the sales and marketing group.

5.4 Utilize the Diversity and Inclusion Performance Goal tool.
This simple five-step exercise gives white male (and all) leaders a structure to experiment with personal and professional growth across dimensions of diversity and behaviors of inclusion. The DIPG is now in use by, among others, construction companies in New York and Illinois.

These strategies and practices offer simple snapshots, telling just a small part of the story on current corporate innovation around white male inclusion.


My friend and colleague, Ancella Livers, currently a senior member of the faculty at the Center for Creative Leadership, likened white male inclusion to the appearance of the fitted sheet. “Before we had fitted sheets,” she noted, “everyone just tucked in the corners. But as soon as the fitted sheet was invented, everyone thought it such an obvious innovation that we wondered why it hadn’t come along sooner.” By the end of this decade, it will be obvious that inclusion includes white men. The next generation of employees will be mystified that it wasn’t always obvious that diversity and inclusion means everyone’s in, including the white guys.

That’s not the case today: in our study, almost 70% of white male respondents agreed that white men in their companies faced the challenge of “Exclusion: For a lot of white guys, it’s not clear that diversity includes white men.”

We’ve got work to do and we’ve got questions to answer. These four articles have outlined the opportunity:
• Why is white male inclusion important? There are eight problems to solve.
• How will we handle fear and create safety? Understand behaviors and build relationships.
• How will we hold courageous conversations? Lead through care and focus, respect and candor, and a maturing approach to conflict.
• What strategies and practices are emerging? This article is the first answer to that question, identifying five emerging strategies and twenty practices.

Why should we invest in inclusive leadership with white male executives? To grow the enterprise through global diversity and inclusion, by fueling the leadership skills that white men possess, and by aligning their position power with the D&I strategy.

This is the leadership of constructive disruption, infused with boldness and humility, and leavened with listening.

Let’s get to it.

Chuck Shelton is the managing director at Greatheart Leader Labs, the author of Leadership 101 For White Men, and the principal of the Study on White Men Leading Through Diversity and Inclusion. He has spoken, consulted, trained, and advised on leadership development and global diversity and inclusion for three decades, through more than 300 projects and presentations.