20 September 2018

How are we going to save the Great White Male?

Seldom in my life have I recognised the signs of social change as they happen. Normally the change is pointed out after, and I’m like – oh yeah I can see that in hindsight. Hindsight is fabulous.

So I have surprised myself recently, when I started to notice a social change, as it’s happening, and witnessing the impact. And I feel a sense of responsibility to raise the alarm.

I also wanted another point of view, as I believe this is the most important subject I have written about in the past 12 months. Sue Johnston has been generous enough to give a female perspective which I am very grateful for, especially as I am writing about my own demographic.

So here goes.

The Great White Male (GWM) is struggling to cope with the complex and changing world we live in, and there is carnage already.

November last year I wrote in my Blog about the world of traditional Dominants. https://www.collectiveintelligence.co.nz/blog/the-world-of-the-traditional-dominant-is-a-changing/ This is a direct quote:
‘In some way I feel for the dominants, as they struggle to adjust to the emerging world, where status and money are not as respected as collaboration’.

This Blog is a follow on, but more specific.

First – Here’s a reality check:

  • We have the largest demographic group in the workforce the world has ever experienced before. They are called Millennials.
  • Millennials are now in 20% of all leadership roles.
  • 25% of New Zealanders were not born in Aotearoa.
  • Women are determined to gain Gender Equality – and making huge inroads.
  • Most Corporate and Social structures have been designed by men, which often favour men – often unconsciously.
  • M?ori are working their tails off to make up for lost opportunities caused by colonisation.
  • All of these are having a direct affect on The Great White Male.
  • As Bob Dylan would say ‘The times they are a changin’

In my position as Founder, sitting in the heart of a growing diverse community that is Collective Intelligence, I have realised the group that is struggling the most with the changing scene in our country are the white males aged 45 years and above.

It’s like watching a marathon race, where a runner is passed late in the race and just can’t change tempo to keep up. And it’s agonising to watch. And it’s worse if you’re the runner being passed. Ironically men started this marathon early, and with better shoes, which illustrates how hard woman have worked.

So what have I specifically observed? Well here’s a sample from the past 12 months within our diverse community.

  • Watching a late 50’s bloke struggle with being challenged by a 30 something year old female, and not knowing how to respond, resorted to bullying. And thought that was okay.
  • A male CEO asking for more people like him to come into his Collective Intelligence team, and when this was not agreed to, not understanding why this was not the best option to extend his development.
  • Introducing an accomplished young M?ori woman to an existing Collective intelligence Team, and having three older white men question the value of her contribution. They simply did not get it. And still don’t. And they left.
  • This has happened a number of times – a GWM not wanting to make the effort to attend a Collective Intelligence host meeting because they couldn’t see what was in it for them? One recently couldn’t be bothered travelling to the lower South Island.
  • I have witnessed a good ‘bloke’, leave a senior corporate position, and within seven years, move backwards three times, not realising he was not the formidable corporate ‘bloke’ any more.
  • A chap from a rural background ringing me, complaining that the woman in his team were not respecting his viewpoint on a number of issues. I asked if he had asked them why – the answer was no he hadn’t. I suggested that he bring it up with them, which he still hasn’t. His female facilitator rang him to discuss, left a message and he hasn’t replied.
  • Another 50+ has lost his job, as he was unable to work for a 30+ year old female boss. He has vanished from all communication and will not engage with me. I could go on, but this is painting the picture of what I am experiencing.

It’s the last two points that concern me the most. When the world pushes in on these males, and they disappear from engagement – what then? This is the tip of the iceberg and these men are everywhere.

I heard a great quote recently from a knowledgeable chap from the Tertiary Education Commission. He made a very sage comment “we are all four bad choices away from being unemployable”. Spooky, but I think very accurate. My concern is that one particular demographic is making more poorer choices than the rest combined.

The other observation is the bewilderment by the GWM’s, around the call for diversity on governance boards. I even heard one blurt out at a meeting – “don’t forget the wonderful experience we bring to the table.” Experience in what? Bullying and poor performance? Who needs it.

Even the result of our last general election is mystifying to many GWM’s. I have heard them say many times,”but Labour didn’t get the majority of votes”. Which of course is true. But they had a leader who’s a natural collaborator, which is a very Gen X thing to do. Whereas, the National Party have formed coalitions in the past, and then gone on to decimated their partners, by ignoring, or worse dominating them. This new style of Government is all about collaboration, and it is what the future generations will regard as mainstream. Meanwhile in Australia we can observe the past.

Enough of the beat up. What to do about this?
A National Federation of Men? Possibly? The big issue is that the people who need the most assistance, are not seeing that it’s an issue until it affects them negatively, and then it seems too late. They go into fight or flight and it’s a long way back from there.

There is a very cool company in Wellington, called Double Denim www.doubledenim.nz who are into training companies in the art of Gender Intelligence. Highly recommend if you want to lift performance of your company or organisation.

So to all you Great White Males – collaboration is here to stay. The days of dominating to get your point across will be gone within 5 years. So what skills are you going to develop to replace these? It will be fun and rewarding if you take up the challenge.

From Sue Johnston

In this blog post Harv is focusing on ‘the great white male.” He’s noticing how some of his mates who he shares this label with are struggling to adapt and change to the new world. You’re right Harv, it does matter what happens to our mates when they are struggling.

You asked for my views as a woman who grew up in the same generation. I’ve written a letter for you and our mates Harv.

Dear GWM,

You grew up in a generation where white men ruled the roost. There were two key messages that were running strongly through our society about men in those days.

  1. Status matters and you get status in New Zealand from being good at sport (particularly rugby), or having enough wealth to provide for your family.
  2. Don’t show weakness – of any kind – ever. “Big boys don’t cry.”

So unless you grew up with very enlightened parents, the script that you built about yourself and who you are, will have these two messages embedded in it. So you worked hard, made sacrifices, pushed through, sucked it up and soldiered on. So that your family could eat, holiday, and get a good education.

You built a reputation as a great farmer/accountant/lawyer/engineer. Your peers promoted you as a ‘good bloke.” The world you excelled in taught you that the best way to lead people was the command and control way. You are/were making a wonderful life. You are doing your best. You have experienced struggles.

I have two questions for you, that may be the starter to help you to navigating the confusing and changing world you occupy.

How do you deal with your struggles?

The script you grew up with hasn’t prepared you so well for dealing with struggles. Firstly the fast paced and complex world we live in is different from what you expected or imagined it to be like at this point in your life. It also wasn’t usual to give any of us growing up in those days the tools that we needed to deal with tough times – other than suck it up and get over it. And if that didn’t work for us, we were left with nothing other than the message “I’m not strong enough/good enough because I can’t get over it”. You grew up learning that you don’t show your ‘not enoughness’ to anyone.

If you grew up in a home where showing strong emotion was frowned upon, then you may not know that what drives the first response to a tough situation is our emotions. Our thoughts, and actions are driven by our feelings – at work, on the sports field, and at home. So if you don’t have the ability to deal with strong emotion it will be ruling your thoughts and actions. And what that looks like for others is a thrown tennis racket, yelling at a work colleague, inability to take feedback, blaming and shaming. The good news is that understanding emotion to navigate life can and is being learnt by men like you.

“There are healthy techniques to choose your fights, vent pressure and salve your ego. Most of all there is tolerance and forgiveness, which comes with maturity and lead you to understand that the idiot who didn’t indicate when turning in front of you wasn’t out to get you.” Alan Weiss.

Who are you – really?

It’s common for us to describe ourselves by what we do. For example, “I’m a farmer.” “I’m a lawyer.” These are short cut ways of saying to people things like “I have status”, or “I have money” “I am trustworthy”. Those things that you grew up hearing were important.

Take away those labels. Now who are you? What do you stand for? What is your character? What are you fundamental values? I have known men who have been so attached to the labels of what they do, that they cannot separate them from who they are. It can be an uncomfortable process to take off the armour of a job title. The reward is worth it.

You have decades of wisdom to share. Would you like to be able to share it in a way that old, young and peers alike will seek out? Here’s some ideas to make that happen:

  • Start getting curious about yourself, who you are under the armour of a job title.
  • Start asking questions and listening to people who have a different view of the world than you.
  • Develop the capacity to deal with strong emotion.
  • Take responsibility for your struggles.
  • Explore what your ‘not enough’ messages are.
  • Act in ways that are aligned with your values.
  • Learn what 21st leadership looks like.
  • Find places where you can interact with people of a different generation, ask questions and be curious about what makes them tick.
  • Continue to be your best.
  • Share your years of wisdom in a way that others will seek you out.
  • Ask for help

As Harv says it will be rewarding if you take up the challenge.

“The wise man doesn’t give the right answers, he poses the right questions.” Claude Levi-Strauss

Ian Harvey (Harv)


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