White Males Have Needs Too

Julie Shenkman
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One of the biggest challenges facing both diversity professionals and meeting planners is how to couch the diversity message in such a way as to make everyone – regardless of background – comfortable with what we are trying to accomplish. I am faced with this problem everyday. Most recently, I was asked to do a speech for a manufacturing company which wanted to expose its staff and managers to the latest thinking on the topic of diversity. My charge: To convince the audience that diversity efforts carry practical benefits for everyone and that those benefits are not – as has been traditionally thought – only for women and minorities. The program went well and I headed back home. Upon arriving back at my office, I began that lengthy process – the one you all know so well -- of plowing through the e-mails that had accumulated in my absence. Among the items was a message from one of the attendees at the program. Although he didn’t say so outright, judging from his comments, the writer was a white male. As I read his words, it was clear that he was thinking a lot about the benefits of diversity. He believed, he wrote, that diversity was good for his organization, but admitted that he was struggling to understand how he personally could benefit from increased opportunities for women and minorities. In fact, it was obvious that he felt at a disadvantage and was concerned that diversity might retard his own advancement opportunities. It may seem strange that I was absolutely thrilled to receive this e-mail, I was even thrilled to hear his points of view. In fact, the first thing I did was to thank him. You see, the point of that speech was to let people know that it is safe to disagree, safe to express doubt, and, most important, safe to ask the kinds of questions that can sustain an open and productive dialogue. Those questions may not always be “politically correct,” but it is those questions that keep us talking with each other and it is in that talk that the answers lie. Come to think of it, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the mystery writer again – you know who you are. Sondra Thiederman is a speaker and author on diversity, bias-reduction, and cross-cultural issues. She is the author of Making Diversity Work: Seven Steps for Defeating Bias in the Workplace (Chicago: Dearborn Press, 2003) which is available at her web site or at www.Amazon.com. She can be contacted at: Sondra Thiederman, Ph.D. Cross-Cultural Communications 4585 48th Street San Diego, CA 92115 Phones: 619-583-4478 / 800-858-4478 Fax: 619-583-0304 www.Thiederman.com / STPhD@Thiederman.com Copyright Cross-Cultural Communications. Should you wish to re-print this article, you may do so as long as long as the current copyright statement and all contact information is included.
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