Cancelling White guys is not “progress” toward diversifying leadership

“Cancel Culture” by markus119 is marked with CC0 1.0

Cancelling White guys is not the way to diversify leadership. Don’t get me wrong, the cancel culture push has ensnared plenty of individuals who deserve this reckoning, such as the creeps and predators held accountable in the me too movement. I’m instead talking about creating a sustainable strategy to uplift people who have the talent, qualifications, and drive to effectively lead organizations and advance society, but have been denied these opportunities based solely on race, gender, sexual orientation, or other non-majority identifiers.

After reading White Fragility, I will no longer devote bandwidth to sharing my own interest and experience in teaching social justice — you can do your homework, if you’d like, by visiting my Wordpress page. Rather, I’ll cut right to the point:

The way forward is to get behind those with expertise (i.e. knowing things), with cultural capital (i.e. knowing how things work in a particular context), with positional authority (i.e. the permission to get things done), and those who are part of broad networks of diverse peoples. Because the system has been stacked against women and mostly every minority group, seemingly forever, this invariably means turning to PWAMs: those who identify as privileged, White, Anglo males. It is this group that carries the responsibility and means to open up the path for others, and then to step aside and take the role of coach, mentor, and enabler.

The pool of non-PWAM talent is simply too shallow to continue to cancel White men, or to create a hostile and non-inclusive environment toward those who believe themselves to be White, or to try to cancel those upon hire. The thin pool of diverse talent is at no fault of its members, meaning that it is not a lack of intelligence, ability, or ambition, but rather a historically unequal access to education, wealth, and opportunity, not to mention systemic discrimination and bias against them.

A healthy society is a just society, and the proverbial pendulum has been stuck on one side for far too long, artificially rigged against too many Americans. There is hurt, anger, and resentment, which need an outlet. We must allow for the venting, but we must also move through it.

The pendulum has started to swing, now that the friction from discrimination has been reduced. The laws of physics brings it to the other side, because decades of bigotry created such a large amplitude. But the bob won’t just naturally stop at the equilibrium position that it craves (the point where we have achieved equality). We must tolerate this cyclic motion, even if it results in a degree of discrimination those in power have not experienced before. There will be unfortunate casualties.

Canceling brings us sharply to the other side of the arc, however. Canceling runs the risk of maintaining the pendulum’s momentum, thus creating backlash to the backlash, and further polarizing society. The last decade has provided ample evidence of this phenomenon, and we seem no closer to equity and an inclusive society.

Full disclosure: I am writing from a position of stark privilege. What sparked this essay is not any significant hardship, or awakening, but rather wanting to articulate a subtle sea change in my own sphere of influence, not to mention my unwavering passion for social justice. Cases in point:

  • In the past several years, I found it curious that I was often asked in interviews for leadership positions, “Why can’t we find more qualified POC or female candidates for this position?” My response was always, “If you have just one, then I’d urge you to hire them over me and everybody else (and by the way, you should refrain from ranking candidates when the pool is diverse).”
  • Last year, I was being groomed for a board position at a respected non-profit institution serving international schools and universities, only to have the door close on the opportunity through a sincere apology email that stated I was not the right profile of candidate (read between the lines: I was a White male and that profile was no longer viable). My response to this was, “Good. You should diversify your board. I’m happy to serve the organization in any formal or informal way. No apologies needed.”
  • And just this year, in determining what I would teach in the fall semester with a leading provider of online courses, instead of being offered a race and society course (which I’ve taught in brick and mortar schools for ten years), I was instead offered a positive psychology option (for which I have less experience with, but for which I am no less passionate about). I was not upset, but again, see this as progress, as a race course should be taught by people-of-color, and no longer by While allies.

It is my sincere hope that I’ll have the opportunity to do my part in diversifying leadership, so my children have the chance to live not just a life of privilege, but rather an authentic life in a just and equitable society, one rooted in merit, respect, and inclusion. I will commit to moving the pendulum of equity toward its resting equilibrium by influencing a deep and diverse pool of talent, to practicing affirmative hiring, to snuffing out bias in the workplace, and to being mindful of my unearned privilege.

I just hope I don’t get cancelled in the process.

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Paul Richards

Having some fun blogging, taking the writing seriously, but not myself.