September 6, 2021

Dear White Male Leader, Here’s Why You Need to Read My Book (or Someone Else’s)

Equity in the Workplace

I imagine that the readers of this headline will think that I’m attempting to increase my book sales. On the one hand, they are correct, but it’s likely not for the reason you think.  Anyone who has written a book– a singular book – knows that one does not become wealthy, or even close, by writing a book, no matter how good a marketing team they have.  And, it’s a good thing because that was not my motive.  Was it altruism?  Partly because it cost a lot of money – mine– to bring the whole project to fruition. Was it ego?  Definitely not.

More than anything, I wrote this book because I was tired of hearing over and again the importance of diversity and how much leaders cared, but still, many companies continued to show little-to-no progress.  All that caring was nice, but as my mother would say, ‘that and two bucks will get me a Happy Meal and little else.’ (No disrespect to @McDonald’s – a cheeseburger Happy Meal happens to be…well …my happy meal).  I wrote the book because I needed to tell my truth and because I wanted to move “diversity” and “inclusion” from being buzzwords to being action items and meaningful progress — and this is where the engagement of the WML (white male leader) is vital.

Black women and all women of color need you to keep caring, and if you don’t care enough, we need you to start. Progress will not happen overnight, but it definitely can’t happen without you, your voice, and your leadership. Your voice matters more than ours.

Underneath the humorous and, sometimes, alarming anecdotes in my book lies the unvarnished truth of what Black women (and others)experience in the workplace. The same kind of workplaces where leaders speak boldly about the business case for diversity and their commitment to improving Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DE&I), and belonging.  You see, while CEOs and other leaders are using their platform to commit or re-commit to change (thank you), it’s not enough.  Black women are still being marginalized.  

A woman I spoke with recently told me that she felt like she “lived in the basement at work” and was trotted out as a showpiece when needed and then sent back to the basement (figuratively) after she was no longer helpful.  Black women hear “no” more often than “yes” reportedly when it means stepping into the C-suite or positions of leadership.

Recent articles in The New York TimesThe Washington Post, Business Insider, and many others are all pointing to the same thing: the relief Black women feel by working remotely from the office because they are no longer subjected to micro-aggressions, and the welcome safety – and peace – they now enjoy because they no longer have to pretend to be okay when they aren’t.  According to Business Insider, some Black women are opting out altogether to avoid workplace racism.  What does this mean for diversity in the workplace five or even ten years from now? As you might imagine, these articles and countless others are met with empathy, doubt, and even vitriol.  Of course, this may not be the experience of every Black woman, but if you hear something often enough, you have to consider that somewhere in these stories lies the truth. A survey from Slack’s Future Forum noted that Black workers – not just women – said their sense of belonging increased 50% once they began working from home.  I find these statistics and anecdotes startling and disheartening.

So yes, WML, I want you to read this book because I want you to know what’s going on below the surface of your well-intentioned programs and efforts.  I want you to learn first-hand what is likely happening within your company and why your traditional DE&I efforts might be failing you, your company, and especially Black women.  Please read this book (or someone else’s) so that you can become an advocate for Black women (for all people, really), particularly for people who have been repressed, oppressed, silenced, ignored, and marginalized.  I want you to read this book so that your DE&I strategies are informed, thoughtful, and ultimately successful – which is good not just for all the humans in your organization but for your organization in general.  

Alan Murray, CEO of Fortune Media, said it better than I ever could in writing about my book, “All those executives reading Isabel Wilkerson and Robin DiAngelo who are trying to understand why their black employees are so angry now need to add Charlene Wheeless to their bedside tables. Charlene is a “first Black woman to,” many times over.  And while she isn’t a whiner and has no regrets, she offers a view of corporate America that will open your eyes.”