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Businessweek Archives

Diversity And White Men



Every manager who hires, promotes, and fires will soon confront the issue of diversity--if he or she hasn't already. To be blunt, managers need to train and promote women and minorities. Why? Partly to redress historic patterns of discrimination, partly to comply with equal opportunity mandates, and partly because it is good business. The basic fact is that the composition of the U.S. population is changing rapidly. That means a different labor force and a different customer base.

Yet managing diversity can be hell. In a world of fast economic growth, there would be jobs for all. But with downsizing, choices become tough and casualties tend to be white males. To those brought up believing that discrimination of any kind is bad, affirmative action and the reverse discrimination it implies is ethically troubling.

And if there is discrimination against white men, it's hardly surprising to see white male backlash. What can managers do? First, bring white males into the process, explaining that the contacts, friendships, and school ties that lubricated their business careers aren't always available to women and minorities, who need an extra boost.

Second, reassure white males that they have a future with the company. One lost promotion can be made up in the future. The worst thing that companies can do is have diversity training programs that blame white men personally for the historical ills of society. That route will only alienate and anger them.

If diversity is important--and it is--then companies must institute training programs that make a difficult and morally ambiguous task a little less daunting.

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