Getting Old White Guys To Come To Your Diversity Training

“Where are all the old white guys,” I blurted out, accidentally voicing what I was thinking. Everybody in the room looked at each other and grew quiet. It was a terrible question. Terrible because it was true.

This past week, I was facilitating a Diversity and Inclusion training for a major corporation in a major market. Out of the hundreds of people at the location, only 15 had signed up. Of those, 6 showed up. Everybody in attendance was a person of color, and predominantly female.  They were the same people who hold positions of leadership in employee resource groups, who show up to all of the Diversity activities, to all the trainings, to all the conversations.

“Where are all the old white guys?”

So where were all the old white dudes? The young white dudes? The leaders? Where was everybody else?

This is a company with a Declared Commitment to Inclusion which probably has phrasing like “We value all people” and “We believe that our differences make us stronger” and “Diversity is at the heart of who we are!” When people of authority don’t come to the Diversity and Inclusion training, there is something amiss in this ‘commitment’ to inclusion. Platitudes without action are about as effective as thinking about exercise: Good intentions, but you’re not getting your steps in.

“When people of authority don’t come to the Diversity and Inclusion training, there is something amiss in this ‘commitment’ to inclusion.”

Said another way: If you are in a leadership position at your company, and you don’t attend training on diversity and inclusion, you are sending a mixed message on how the company prioritizes diversity: It’s a really important bullet point on your vision statement but not important enough to warrant some time on your calendar.

I’d go even farther to say that if you don’t go to your D&I training, you are complicit in the subtle behaviors of bias & exclusion. You are sending the message “I have nothing to contribute” or, worse yet, “I don’t care: This doesn’t affect me.” You are sending this message to the people who look to you for leadership.

“If you don’t go to your D&I training, you are complicit in the subtle behaviors of bias & exclusion.”

Of course, not all leaders are Old White Guys, but there seems to be a substantial intersection of leaders who are a.) White Guys b.) 40 plus and c.) Deathly allergic to Diversity & Inclusion Training.

Not that these trainings seem very attractive to old white guys. (I’m a 48 year old white dude, so I can speak with some authority on that perspective.) Why should we come to an inclusion training? We don’t see an inclusion issue.  Why should we take time out of our day of making up the majority of the C-Suite to go to a training that has nothing to do with us? Besides, diversity conversations are a failure trap for old white guys. It’s all going to be trick questions that expose our racism and misogyny. We’ll be shamed and blamed and asked to answer on behalf of all people of privilege. What if we show up and are the only white guy in the conversation? The token person of our kind? Faced with the choice between an open enrollment workshop on Diversity and Inclusion and anything else, us white guys choose anything else: Catching up on expense reports; reorganizing the black binder clips in their desk; clipping black binder clips to our eyelids. We can make a more immediate impact (and a safer one) by micromanaging our team’s PowerPoint decks and saying “Let’s mix up the races & the faces in the stock photos, please!”

“There is a lag between knowing it’s important and understanding that it’s important enough for an individual to show up to learn more.”

There’s no easy way to lure busy people of any stripe to take time for training, especially when it doesn’t have an immediate and easy applicability. It’s hard to see how Diversity and Inclusion is more important that the Fire Du Jour that threatens the bottom-line. Fortunately, organizations are beginning to realize that impacting Diversity and Inclusion make the company more adaptable and successful. It’s a slow awakening, like drowsy teenagers on a Saturday morning. Even then, there is a lag between knowing it’s important and understanding that it’s important enough for an individual to show up to learn more.

Here are some ideas to speed the process and get more of everybody – and especially Old White Guys – to show up to your D&I session:

Stop having Open Enrollment Diversity & Inclusion training.

Stop it. To make it ‘optional’ undermines your Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion. What if CPR was optional for medics? If diversity is at the core of who you are, show it. Put your money where your Commitment Statement is and require all people in leadership positions to attend.

Turn attendance into a Pyramid Scheme.

Choose a shortlist of people who typically attend these kinds of events and trainings. Coach them on contacting a key leader or colleague directly by phone, e-mail or in person to make a powerful request that they attend the session. Here’s a template –

“Tony. I’m planning to attend the Inclusion Session coming up at the end of the month. I am hoping that you can come to the session with me. I feel it would send a powerful message to the rest of our group, and to your peers on the executive team. It would also mean a lot to me personally, because you have had my back on more than one occasion and I feel you could add a lot to the conversation. I know it’s not easy to take time away from client work, but I feel we all have so much to learn to fulfill our company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. Also, it would be great if you could further invite Cheryl Jenkins, Ron Woody and a couple other members of the executive team there.”

Start at the top.

Reach out to the highest ranking person you know to reach out to the highest ranking person they know to request/require their team to attend. Or take advantage of the Employee Resource Group Underground: Network your way through the LatinX group to the leaders who can assert real influence, and suddenly you’ve networked right to the top, like going through the Secret Passage in the game “Clue.”

Create Fear (In a Good Way)

Advertisers have known for years that asking the right question can generate fear: “Are your floors really clean?” “Are your kids getting the vitamins they need?” “How safe is your family car, really?” Leading up to your Inclusion training, distribute a quick survey. Calibrate the questions to raise questions that need to be answered. “On a scale of 1 to 5, what is the priority of Diversity and Inclusion for the company, with 5 being the highest priority? What rating do you think a person who is not in the majority would give? What rating would your clients give?” “Are you aware of subtle behaviors that show discrimination?” “Do you feel like you have the skills & confidence to speak up on somebody’s behalf?” “Do you have your team’s trust when it comes to inclusion?” “Do you feel like other people can come to you with issues of inclusion – even when the issue is about you?” “On a scale of 1 to 10, how aware are you of how your behavior impacts others, with 10 being the most aware?”

Client business will always come up at the last minute.

Minimize it by letting your clients’ know that you’ll be taking a morning to learn more about Diversity & Inclusion. Enroll them in the importance of it. Don’t spring this on them, but spread the word months in advance. Remind them a week before. Change your autoreply while you’re in the session: “Thank you for your message! I am currently in a Diversity and Inclusion workshop. I’ll get back to you after 12:30 today.” Not only can this create a clearing so that participants can be present in the session, you’ve also shown your clients that you’re serious about your commitment to inclusion.

“No way, no how, I can’t take that much time away from my work!”

You will inevitably hear this, regardless of whether your training is 1 hour or a full day. Here are some approaches you can take to diffuse this scarcity thinking:

  • The Sales Approach: “What would this session need to provide to make it worth that much time?”
  • The Strategic Approach: “I can’t give you that time back, but I can promise it will be the most valuable time you’ll spend all month.”
  • The Reality Check Approach: “Do you think there might be people in the organization for whom inclusion is an issue?”
  • The Hard Nosed Approach: “Everybody’s busy. But if nobody comes, we basically guarantee that our company gets no closer to our goals in diversity and inclusion.”
  • The Bottom Line Approach: “What will happen if a competitor emerges who is lightyears ahead of us in diversity and inclusion, would that give them an edge?”
  • The Empathy Approach: “What would it feel like for you if you were the only person of color in your team, and nobody else showed up to a session like this. What message does it send?”
  • The Philosophical Approach: “What would be the best possible outcome of taking the time to go to the session?”

Now – provide these questions to your leaders to prepare THEM to  encourage their teams to attend.

Do people at your company have the “I took a bias training back in 2008, I’m woke!” attitude?

Do they look at Inclusion as a checkbox conversation? Do people say things like, “Hey, I read some James Baldwin last year, I’m good for 10 years. Like a tetanus booster shot!” Help people understand that understanding Inclusion isn’t like learning basic Excel. It’s less of a destination and more like a horizon. We can do the work to approach understanding, but we always have farther to go. The mix of diversity in the workplace will change and change again, the company culture will shift, and there will always be more to learn.

Finally, remind the Old White Guys that they have a role in these sessions.

Their perspective is integral. Of course, so is their understanding, which won’t progress unless they put themselves into new and sometimes uncomfortable conversations. Help them understand that they have a role to play. Because the conversation about inclusion can’t evolve to one of belonging as long as the old white guys don’t feel that they belong.

About the Author:

Andy Eninger is a writer, director and performer based in Los Angeles . For Second City Works, he designs and leads learning programs for Fortune 500 clients. He was the head of Second City’s Writing Program from 2011 to 2016.

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