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American Journalism Review
"Angry White Men"  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Features :    FIRST PERSON    
From AJR,   September 1995

"Angry White Men"   

It will take strong leadership to make diversity a success in the newsroom. It's well worth the effort.

By Walterene Swanston
Walterene Swanston, a former print and broadcast journalist, is a consultant on diversity issues for media companies.      


The anxiety and anger white men are expressing over the push toward diversity in newspaper companies have been fueled by the national debate over affirmative action and recent Supreme Court rulings restricting it. That debate and those actions, coupled with slow growth or downsizing in many media companies, have prompted some white men to act on that anger.

Unless there is some intervention that persuades white men to buy into the positive aspects of diversity, the result will be a retreat from many of the gains media companies have made in diversifying their workforce.

The gains, once caused by the industry's efforts to do good, are now driven by changes in demographics and economics. Among them are:

n Dramatic shifts in immigration patterns. During the 1980s, one in four new U.S. residents were immigrants, more than half of them East Asians and Mexicans.

n Growth in the spending power of people of color. In 1994, ethnic minorities had $580 billion in annual buying power. Increasing numbers of people entering the workforce are minorities. People of color represent 22 percent of the U.S. civilian workforce.

Òhese changes come at a time when newspapers are fighting for readers, advertising dollars and talented employees. Newspapers that are responding are aggressively turning to communities of color for all three.

Anxiety and anger among white men are natural outcomes of diversity efforts. White men have been asked to absorb most of the diversity-driven changes, especially in hiring and promotion policies that include people of color, women, the physically challenged, gays and lesbians and others who are "different." Many white men feel they have played by the rules only to find their opportunities becoming increasingly limited.

Among people of color, women and others who are the target of the anger, there is a temptation to say to the white men who express their anger and fear, "Now you know how it feels." However, that would not be a productive response.

The next step in the process is for people on both sides of the diversity battle to try to understand one another. Until now, those who represent the new diversity have been expected to adapt to the existing corporate culture – that is, to blend in. Now it is expected that white men adapt to a culture that is diverse and values that diversity.

The white man, more often than people of color or women, tends to define himself and his value in the world in terms of his job, theorizes Thomas Kochman, a social psychologist who is a consultant on diversity issues to media companies. If his job is threatened, Kochman reasons, his worth in society is threatened. If Kochman's theory is correct, it explains the fear and, perhaps, the anger.

However, the angst seems disproportionate to the actual changes that are being made at newspapers across the nation. White males may feel threatened, but the threat is a long, long way from reality.

ýpecifically, 46 percent of U.S. daily newspapers have no people of color in the newsroom and 91.8 percent of supervisors and 88.1 percent of reporters are white, according to the latest survey by the American Society of Newspaper Editors. People of color represent 18 percent of all newspaper employees, but only 9 percent are executives and managers and 11 percent other professionals, according to the latest survey released by the Newspaper Association of America.

Without strong leadership by publishers, editors and senior managers, diversity is going to take a back seat.

The most important way for senior managers to drive the diversity issue is to become part of the solution instead of part of the problem. Here are some of the actions to take:

n Don't join the battle for diversity, lead it! At every opportunity, explain the advantages of diversity as a critical business issue.

n Lead by example. Hire, promote and develop people of color, women and others who add diversity to the staff.

n Make sure white men understand that diversity includes them and that successful diversity efforts depend upon their involvement and input.

n Anticipate backlash as a natural outgrowth of the diversity process, but don't excuse inappropriate behavior. Be proactive in encouraging staff members to discuss their fears or concerns about the changes diversity brings. Schedule one-on-one sessions with individual employees and small groups, including white men, who express concern about what is happening in the company.

n Be aware of your own prejudices and biases and learn how to manage them. Make sure you are comfortable with people who are different from you.

n Be responsible for your own learning about diversity. Share what you read with your staff and serve as a resource for others to learn from you.

n ´reate an environment in your department that is conducive for all employees to do their best work and that helps others become comfortable working in a multicultural environment.

n Provide diversity training for staff members so that they can recognize, accommodate and appreciate differences in styles of cultural communications, problem-solving and conflict resolution.

n úoach and mentor people of color, women and others who represent diversity. Share the unwritten rules of the corporate culture. Make sure they are included in the formal as well as informal networking activities of the company. Invite them to lunch.

n Make each of the people you manage understand that hiring, promoting and effectively managing diversity is part of their job and hold them accountable. Set measurable goals and timetables and then expect positive results. Review progress on a regular basis.

Getting white men to acknowledge, talk about and learn to manage their fear and anger are crucial steps toward making diversity work. At a time when newspapers are involved in increasingly competitive fights with other media, white men in leadership roles have the power to ensure the future of newspapers. It would be a shame if the battle is lost because of anger and a lack of leadership. l

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