White Men and DE&I

5 Minutes

I feel like a fraud writing about DE&I, fearing groans of “what could he know”? Perhaps that...

I feel like a fraud writing about DE&I, fearing groans of “what could he know”? Perhaps that’s why we don’t hear enough from people ‘like me’ on the topic. And let’s face it, any groaners would be right. I’ve never myself experienced deficits of respect, safety or equity just because of who I am, how I look, or who I love. As I write this, I realise I’ve likely benefited, directly or not, by others being held back; leaving the field on which I play, a little less crowded maybe? It’s not a nice thought. Aware, but not aware enough, I hadn’t approached DE&I consciously enough until certain events this last decade brought endemic discrimination to life for me. Of course, these events weren’t new, they just added up for me for the first time. By simply asking questions I hadn’t before, I was soon confronted by the experiences of loved ones and those in my charge. Cat-called, followed, marginalised, belittled, passed over. Stories shared were confronting enough, but what really surprised me was the casual nature with which such behaviour was dismissed as normal. Worse still, I found myself questioning… “Really? Surely not, could you have misread that”? And so the problem compounds. You don’t need to be among the marginalised to appreciate that barriers to equal access and treatment are wrong. If you’ve ever felt that subtle relief that this doesn’t affect you, you’ve answered the question of whether you should care already. Those of us in positions of leadership have an obligation to do right by our people and by our business. Speaking and acting on DE&I is key to both. Beyond the moral obligation, diversity in team and leadership has been shown over and over to improve results. I work in tech sales; a largely male-dominated space, although it really shouldn’t be. Despite any ‘machismo’ reputation to the contrary, sales requires curiosity, listening, empathy, solving problems and having great attention to detail. I happen to have observed that the women I have worked with often best their male counterparts in these areas and despite a male majority, women have led the pack in individual sales performance and leadership. Bigger brains and datasets agree; in 2019, a BCG study found that “Sales organisations that don’t actively promote women into positions of leadership run the risk of underperforming.” If, like me, you’re male, pale and tasked with growing the top line, removing barriers for others is key to your success. In recent years, my action toward gender equity in particular has been more conscious. Balanced representation has been hard to achieve, but committing to tip the scale away from a male-dominated norm has never backfired. The sales leaders I work alongside today are 50% female. We experience less groupthink and a broader range of ideas, skills and collaboration. Given the hyper-growth our business is experiencing - and this may sound familiar to Fintech readers, this ratio may be hard to maintain in the short term as we race for talent in a field that is largely male, but commitment to diversity will remain. This formula works. Action is more important than words in so many regards, but in this connected world, words can travel a lot further. White men are too quiet on this topic. For all the groups, forums and movements on DE&I, the voices are almost entirely of those who are under-represented and fighting for a seat at the table. Women advocating for women, LGBTQ communities, black and Asian forums demanding access. These efforts will drive real change and are a major learning resource for people like me opening their mind to what others are experiencing. Throughout history, the oppressed have had to challenge the established to affect change. It’s been slow and bloody, but it’s happened. Wouldn’t it be better for the established to advocate change, to welcome it, to heed the data, to improve their businesses and to contribute to the betterment of society today, rather than clinging on to a status quo that will see naysayers displaced over time? I haven’t known where to add my voice, or whether it would always be appreciated, but it’s obvious that overcoming my own discomfort is essential if I want to contribute. The more I engage, the more I learn, the more I realise the fear of getting it wrong is insignificant compared to the value of participating and being an ally. Having asked my female peers to proof my words, a theme emerged. “So what’s the call to action here?” Gulp. Ask more questions and learn what others have experienced. What comes back may surprise and motivate you. Don’t dismiss something as untrue just because you don’t experience it yourself. Engage in forums where white men aren’t present enough. Company diversity councils, Women’s groups on LinkedIn. Ironically, these groups which advocate for diversity and representation often do so without the presence and support of enough white men. Change needs to happen together. Build networks of future colleagues ahead of positions needing to be filled. When we hire reactively and need to fill roles fast, picking from a candidate pool that represents the status quo leaves little room to affect change. And speak up. I can’t profess to have gotten this right yet. But if we wait until we’ve ‘got it right’ to speak up on DE&I, we’ll leave those who deserve our support without it for too long.
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