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Companies focus diversity training on white men

Tim McNichol leads a workshop called
Tim McNichol leads a workshop called "Small Acts of Inclusion" at the Oregon Department of Transportation.
Oregon Dept. of Transportation / Flickr

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Across the country, plenty of businesses are looking for ways to make their staff more diverse, and their workplaces more comfortable and equitable for their employees. 

But how to do that? 

How do you have those difficult conversations about race and gender with white men without making them feel really uncomfortable?

One strategy is to put the focus squarely on white men, with learning sessions comprised of - and led by - other white men.

Bill Proudman is CEO and co-founder of a Portland-based company called White Men as Full Diversity Partners.

He says he first got the idea to focus diversity training on white men when he was doing cultural competency and diversity trainings back in the 1990s.

"I would watch the same dynamic happen, regardless of the industry, where I'd work with a senior team or a management team, and I'd always see really well-intended white male leaders always sort of outsourcing the topic of inclusion and diversity to anybody else on the team who wasn't white and male."

That tendency to put the onus for diversity education on women and people of color, Proudman says, sets up "a mindset that the issue of diversity and inclusion is only about some, at the perceived expense of others."

In workshops that White Men as Full Diversity Partners leads for white men, the focus is on three main elements: "their self-interest, reducing fear and anxiety, and replacing ignorance with cultural competency, and if not competency, certainly curiosity."

The overarching goal, Proudman says, is to help white men see that the issue of race in this country is something that impacts everyone. 

"It's bringing the group of white men more clearly into seeing how this issue impacts them personally, their organizations, and then changes their leadership behaviors and their partnership practices."

To hear the full interview with Bill Proudman, click the blue player above.