Can training really make corporate cultures dominated by white men more inclusive?

For years, critics have debated its impact, but a new Catalyst study with employees of the global engineering company Rockwell Automation, “Calling All White Men: Can Training Help Create Inclusive Workplaces?,” shows training can produce a measurable shift in workplace attitudes and behavior – and begin to create an environment where women and minorities can advance.

Catalyst surveyed Rockwell employees – mostly white male managers – who participated in leadership development programs run by the organization White Men as Full Diversity Partners. In an industry dominated by white men, Rockwell hoped the programs would equip and inspire its white male employees to play a more central leadership role in creating an inclusive work environment.

The study supports Catalyst’s belief in the importance of engaging men as champions of gender diversity. Catalyst recently launched MARC – Men Advocating Real Change – an online learning community for professionals committed to achieving gender equality in the workplace.

Key findings of the Catalyst study include:

  • An increase in workplace civility and decline in gossip (e.g., snide remarks and behind-the-back comments). In some workgroups, participants’ colleagues rated the incidence of workplace gossip as much as 39% lower after the labs, signaling improved communication and respect.
  • Managers were more likely to acknowledge that inequities exist. After the labs, there was a 17% increase in how much managers agreed that white men have greater advantages than women and racial/ethnic minorities.
  • Managers improved on five key behaviors for inclusion. From seeking out varied perspectives to becoming more direct in addressing emotionally charged matters, managers improved on critical skills for leading in today’s diverse marketplace.
  • Having cross-racial friendships mattered. Managers without many prior cross-racial relationships changed the most after the labs when it came to thinking critically about different social groups – a 40% increase in ratings versus a 9% increase for those with more of these relationships.
  • Those who cared the least about exhibiting prejudice changed the most. After the labs, managers who initially were the least concerned about appearing prejudiced were the ones who registered the most significant change in taking personal responsibility for being inclusive, as evidenced by a 15% increase in ratings.

“Companies can see a major shift in inclusive behavior when white men acknowledge inequalities and accept that while they didn’t cause the problem, it’s their responsibility as leaders to be part of the solution,” said Ilene H. Lang, president and CEO of Catalyst. “We can’t rely only on women and minorities to advocate for culture change. The results are much more powerful when white men, who are most often in leadership positions, are also role models.”

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