Dismantling White Male Bias at Work

by Julie Graber | on 7 Jul 2020

I have a friend who has long argued that when we talk about the gender (or racial) imbalance on corporate boards that we should use talk about the percentage of seats held by white men instead of those held by women or persons of color. 

Her point? That we should be talking about the overrepresentation of white men on corporate boards, not the underrepresentation of others. She knows that how we frame the conversation matters - it determines how we define the problem and what we identify as solutions. 

That’s one of the key messages in Race to Lead Revisited: Obstacles and Opportunities in Addressing the Nonprofit Racial Leadership Gap, a recent research report by the Building Movement Project (highly recommend). The report notes that in spite of all of the efforts to address diversity and inclusion in organizations, the fact remains that there is a “disparity of white privilege” that dominates organizations today (in particular those whose leadership is primarily white). The researchers use the term “white advantage” throughout the report to reference the “concrete ways that structure and power in nonprofit organizations reinforce the benefits of whiteness.” Most of what they uncovered would be true of any organization. 

Rainbow Murray makes a similar argument in her article, Quotas for Men: Reframing Gender Quotas as a Means of Improving Representation for All. Murray notes that our current ways of thinking about these issue continue to perpetuate the idea that men are the norm and women are the “other.” This leads, she says, to the never-ending conversation as to whether women are “qualified” and competent while men’s qualifications go unchallenged. 

Murray argues that the overall quality of representation is negatively affected by drawing most candidates from a more narrow pool of candidates than necessary (in this case, political officials). Her solution is gender quotas for men that establish a ceiling on their overall representation. The benefits, she says, would include an increased use of merit (not less as is often argued) by ensuring “proper scrutiny” of all candidates as well as improvements to the criteria used to evaluate candidates. I think it would also lead us away from the notion that we can add one or two women or people of color to a group and our work is done. 

CEOs, right and left, have been proclaiming their willingness to talk about racism and to address the inequities in society and in their organizations.

I wonder if that includes talking about how being a white male has gotten them to where they are today.

Tags:  By The NumbersIn the News