The increased presence of Generation Y in the workplace has also had an affect on white men’s employment and leadership, Carmichael says. Gen Y, the largest, most educated, and most diverse generation is entering the workforce at a rapid rate as well. While many still struggle to find permanent employment, technological savvy, innovation and creativity are hallmarks of this generation.
The skills that Generation Y possesses by mere virtue of when they were born stand to put older white men at a disadvantage. That combined with the generation’s growing racial and ethnic diversity has interesting implications for the role that white men will play in the workplace in the future.
“[Generation Y] has grown up in a time that is more diverse, and I think we will see racial lines breaking down,” Carmichael says. “So, there will be no way that the white man’s role in the workplace will not be declining in the coming years.”
Next Generation Diversity and Inclusion: White Men?
Long understood as the party that needs to be convinced of diversity and inclusion’s values, the shift in white men’s role in society and the workplace will require diversity practitioners to consider ways to create a more welcoming and sensitive environment for them.
Jo Ann Morris, founding partner of White Men as Full Diversity Partners, points out that many people forget that there is such a thing as white male culture—a culture that has been heavily based on unquestionable power and privilege. But as the economy has changed, so has society’s engagement with such a culture, Morris says.
“[White men] had good jobs, money and didn’t have to think about race and class,” Morris says. “But now, the world has shifted. With the economy the way it is, the loss of the American Dream, and a growing unbelief in meritocracy, white men are as angry as they were during The Great Depression.”
Such anger and frustration are also related to the growing prevalence of people of color, like Barack Obama, in leadership roles, Morris points out. “There are societal pressures that go beyond the economy, but have mounted over the past ten to fifteen years, and have been exacerbated by the loss of economic stability.”
What does this mean for workplaces?
For one, Carmichael says that companies will need to pay special attention to how being culturally inclusive can, and likely will, come into conflict with white male leadership—and white privilege more broadly conceived.
“The workplace is going to need to be sensitive to the needs of the white male as they are changing, as they lose their dominance in the upper echelons of the business world—and it’s not going to be easy,” Carmichael predicts. “There will be a lot of bruised egos, false senses of entitlement, not things that workplaces have had to worry about in the past.”
To address this, companies will need to work together to educate each other on differences and similarities, says Morris. Confronting and educating each other is the number one thing employees and leaders can do to successfully engage white men in diversity and inclusion discourses. “Companies will need to unearth beliefs that support the 21st century, global, work culture.”
Diversity Best Practices member PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) is just one company that recognizes the importance of partnering with white men in their diversity efforts. The organization has developed a “White Men and Diversity” DVD featuring diversity and inclusion experts speaking about the importance of engaging white men. The video is viewed by firm partners and discussed in a diversity awareness course centered on white male engagement.
Morris points out that companies will need to create supportive environments for white men, as well. While this, on the face, seems to run antithetical to what diversity and inclusion practitioners have focused on in the past, having a clear understanding that the tides are turning and that power structures are being reconfigured will lead to more productive conversations before problems arise.
As such, Morris believes that everyone will need to be retrained with a new awareness of what the future will likely hold for race, ethnicity, class and gender down the road.
“[Diversity practitioners] need to learn what people don’t know, and become interculturally competent,” Morris says. “Everyone’s journey is going to be different, but intercultural competence is at the cornerstone of any successful business.”