In September 2017, I served as a panelist at The Better Man Conference, an annual event in the San Francisco Bay Area focused on engaging men in conversations around inclusionary leadership for women and minorities. On stage, I was joined by a diverse group of fellow panelists: Dr. Ronald Copeland of Kaiser Permanente, Nadia Chargualaf of Telestra, Lesley Slaton-Brown of HP, and Dale Thomas Vaughn of the Gender Leadership Group.
To my surprise, during the Q&A session, an audience member raised her hand and asked me, “As a white man, why are you on this panel? Why do you care about diversity?”
I didn’t see it coming. I felt her comment seemed to question my credentials as PwC’s Chief Diversity Officer. Almost as a reflex, I responded by saying: “As an out gay man, I understand exclusion because of my sexual orientation.”
But as I thought more and more about my response, I realized that it shouldn’t matter if I was gay or not. I shouldn’t have to be part of a minority or underrepresented group to care about diversity and inclusion. And if anything, we should want more straight white men to be allies and to be engaged in discussions about diversity and inclusion.
Indeed, everyone should strive to learn from the experiences of those who are different from us. And the more allies we can make by having open dialogues and conversations with each other, the more impact we can truly have.
By engaging in conversations with those who are different from us, we are able to challenge assumptions and break down unconscious biases. This is an important first step in becoming allies and supporting others — which includes speaking up for them, giving them opportunities to speak for themselves, and listening and learning from their unique experiences and perspectives.
As a white male, who is a partner at a major firm like PwC, I am able to use my political capital to advocate for diversity and inclusion in Corporate America. That’s why I am always committed to being an ally for others, to elevating conversations around D&I, and to giving underrepresented and minority groups platforms to be heard. One great example of how we’re doing this at PwC is our HeForShe Ally Champion Network, where we educate both our male and female staff members to come together to support global gender parity.
When fighting for greater inclusion, we have to remember that it takes everyone’s involvement to really make societal change happen. As journalist and immigrant rights activist Jose Antonio Vargas reminds us:
You don’t have to be gay to fight for LGBT rights, you don’t have to be an immigrant to fight for immigrant rights, you don’t have to be a woman to be a feminist. Inequality is a two-way street. My equality is tied to your equality.
This all brings me back to why having conversations about diversity and inclusion at work is so important. These conversations can be uncomfortable for everyone (white, black, brown, gay, straight, cis, transgender, male, female, etc.). You don’t want to misspeak or ask a question that might offend someone. But it’s important that we build the trust that is needed to have these conversations so we can move forward toward greater diversity and inclusion as allies. I’m proud that at PwC, we haven’t been afraid to have these conversations because we know it is a first step to bringing allyship into the workplace and hopefully beyond.
A version of this post was originally published on LinkeIn and is republished here with permission from the author.
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