More than a third of Americans in a new national survey said they think the heightened focus on diversity at work has overlooked white men, according to the consultancy firm Ernst & Young. Thirty-two percent of male respondents, meanwhile, reported feeling "personally excluded" in the office.
Employment data, however, show men continue to dominate the top ranks of virtually every field, including business, politics and academia.
Karyn Twaronite, EY's global diversity and inclusiveness officer, said the company wanted to better understand why some male workers said they did not feel engaged in efforts to boost employees who have been historically underrepresented in higher roles.
"It's a fair point that most of these efforts have drawn more airtime to women and ethnic minorities because there are real equity issues to solve," Twaronite said. "We also have to acknowledge that work is not always a walk in the park for men, either."
The survey, conducted between June and August, was small -- roughly 1,000 working adults from all racial backgrounds across the country participated -- but James Wright, a diversity and inclusion strategist in San Francisco, said the sentiment is prevalent.
"People in the majority don't feel like they're part of that dialogue," Wright said. "No one wants to feel left out, even though you may actually be a top person."
The EY survey found that 35 percent of respondents overall, including women, thought diversity initiatives left out white men. Of that group, 62 percent said they thought white men were missing promotions and other advancement opportunities.
The reality is: Men, and mostly white men, dominate the business world.
At the 16 Fortune 500 companies that share detailed employee demographic data, men hold 80 percent of leadership roles, a recent Fortune analysis shows. Seventy-two percent of that share is white. Three percent of senior executives are Hispanic, and two percent are black.
Ninety-six percent of chief executive positions at S&P 500 companies, meanwhile, are filled by men, according to Catalyst, which tracks gender data. Eighty-nine percent of directors at those firms are men. The majority, again, are white.
Men also comprise about four-fifths of seats in the House of Representatives. They make up about 80 percent of the Senate. Four in five voting members of the House and Senate are white, according to the Pew Research Center.
And while more than half of U.S. college students are women, men comprise three-quarters of college presidents, according to the American Council on Education.
Wright, the human resources consultant, said employers need to do more than highlight the demographic imbalance: They need to ask men, particularly white men, to be part of the mission to fix it.
"If I as an African American talk about it, someone might say, oh it's because you're black," Wright said. "However, when someone like a Bernie Sanders or Howard Schultz at Starbucks talks about race, people think, 'wait a minute ... This is a problem?' "
Female and minority advocates are leading a critically important charge, he stressed, but it's harder to create a healthier culture without everyone buying in.
Margaret Spence, president of Douglas Claims and Risk Consultants, said employers would benefit from being more blunt about diversity efforts.
"To create a different environment, we have to be willing to acknowledge that we're making them uncomfortable," she said. "They're afraid to say, 'I know you've been used to this norm, but that norm wasn't okay, and this is why we're going in this direction.' "
Twaronite emphasized that boosting women and minorities is an economically smart move. Companies can better avoid group think, and studies have shown more diversity can boost a firm's bottom line.
"The business benefits are really clear," she said. "If you have more diverse and inclusive teams, they're more accurate, they perform better and they're more innovative."