I was chatting with a mentor of mine a couple of months ago— a veteran in the DEI space– and in passing, the topic of white male ERGs (employee resource groups) arose. He shared with me that while leading diversity and inclusion efforts at a former employer, a white male ERG was implemented under his leadership. To be honest, I was shocked.
Knowing the purpose with which ERGs were created, I struggle to understand the rationale for DEI offices to create additional spaces for a majority population to be supported in an organization that reflects that majority in number. ERGs are an equitable practice, in my mind, that organizations put into effect to provide specific support, professional development, exposure, and more to communities underrepresented within their organization. A community not harmed by a significant degree of inequity and marginalization does not need these equity-seeking spaces, right?
It is safe to say that DEI writer and career strategist, Kimberley John-Morgan of Junxure Consulting, certainly agreed. Her perspective, however, like mine, was challenged at Friday’s LinkedIn audio event that I had the pleasure of hosting entitled The DEI ER: White Male ERGs— Should They Exist?. My desire through this conversation was to gather the DEI community to think critically, and maybe even debate respectfully, about the existence of white male ERGs. I was joined by Dan Mahle of Wholehearted Masculine and Jim Morris of White Men As Full Diversity Partners. Boy, did they spur critical thought.
Unfortunately, this event was not recorded, as LinkedIn Audio does not yet offer that feature. John-Morgan, however, a dear colleague and frequent visitor of The DEI ER, beautifully captured her takeaways and how the event impacted her in the below blog post on her website.
[The below is written by Kimberley John-Morgan of Junxure Consulting]
In recent months I have been in conversation with several DEI practitioners about the idea of an all-white employee resource group (ERG). And the prevailing reaction has been:
"What oppression do white people face that necessitates a white-focused ERG?"
"Why do white people need yet ANOTHER space in which their lens is centered?"
"Who would be expected to organize and run a white ERG as non-white staff are beyond over-burdened?"
From anecdotal accounts, attempts to establish a white allyship group often result in one of the following:
- A book club that exclusively reads material written by white comfort-protecting authors.
- Sessions of commiseration in which privileged overwhelm and feelings of affliction are discussed ad nauseam.
- Saviourship strategy workshops in which "allies" share stories of having "saved" their Black friends.
Centuries of white male patriarchy have created the current social condition. As such, it is challenging for groups harmed by this ideology to conceptualize how the privileged can safely participate in effecting change. So, beyond sitting down and passing the mic, what else can white people - specifically white men - do to dismantle the status quo? These are legitimate questions for which Raven Solomon facilitated an audio event to unearth some answers.
Due to the technological limitations of the new LinkedIn audio feature, the event was not recorded and is not available for replay. As such, I have compiled and shared my key takeaways for those who could not attend. So much food for thought was dished out, and I invite you to chew on these seven ideas.
- If an all-white, all-male advocacy group is created, they must understand that their work differs from other affinity groups -- their primary function is to address the harm caused by centered male whiteness in the workplace.
- Discussions in the group need to educate about how white supremacy and patriarchy harm everyone (including them) through hyper-masculinity, notions of stoic maleness, and perfectionism.
- White men need a space to learn about and process the harm they have caused. White male groups must provide a safe setting for its members to learn from their mistakes, heal from internalized shame, and re channel that energy into change.
- The work within white male groups needs to be led by an equity-educated external white male facilitator to keep people from other groups out of harm's way and not taxed with more emotional labor.
- White male groups should hold a few open sessions to avert suspicion, thus creating transparency about their purpose and goals.
- Members of white male groups should attend other ERGs as participants (not leaders) to learn about the experiences of marginalized people.
- The efficacy of a white male group will be reflected in how many men join the group year over year, the reduction of harm, and how they mobilize policy changes within the organization.
Let's all take a breath, shall we? Has your brain been bent?
Have you been challenged to think about this idea differently? I know I have.
The only qualm I have at this *junxure* is the group's name. I do not think a white male advocacy group should be called an employee resource group (ERG). To call it such (in my opinion) co-opts the intention and purpose of the original ERG created in 1964 at Xerox in response to racial tensions in the United States. Other names shared during the audio discussion were a "White Male Caucus" or a "White Male Alliance Group." Whichever iteration of the name that is chosen must reflect its alignment and accountability to equity-excluded groups.
So, my answer is "yes" -- white male allyship groups have a place within DEI, provided their mandate and members understand their assignment. Once we cut through the foolishness of those who are brand new to equity work, there are pockets of white men who are invested in DEI and want to dismantle systemic disparity. And those men should be the ones schooling other white men on how to do this work. Much more can be said on this topic, and I hope that there will be a second part to this event. Shout out to the talented orator, educator, and DEI Strategist, Raven Solomon, for applying grace and scalpel-like precision to help navigate a negated yet necessary topic of conversation with guests, Jim Morris and Dan Mahle.
I left Friday’s event thinking differently about white male groups in support of DEI and agree with Kimberley– there is indeed space for these groups in DEI. We should perhaps simply not call them ERGs.
There WILL be a part 2 of this conversation to come.
The DEI ER audio events happen every Friday at 11AM EST, gathering the DEI community of LinkedIn to collaboratively discuss important topics impacting the work and the people doing the work. Simply follow me on LinkedIn for event postings. If you’d like to support bringing The DEI ER to life, let us know how you’d like to participate.
To learn more about Kimberley John-Morgan– the writer of the above synopsis– her work and her resources, visit www.junxureconsulting.com.