Why Some Companies Are Saying ‘Diversity and Belonging' Instead of ‘Diversity and Inclusion'

Why Some Companies Are Saying ‘Diversity and Belonging' Instead of ‘Diversity and Inclusion'

Woodward, a 153 year old aerospace company, required that its male employees wear bow ties until the 1990s.

Paul Benson, chief human resources officer of the company, knew it would take a radical shift to create a diversity, equity, and inclusion program for the entire company. He said, 'Looking at our online org chart, we are a lily white leadership team of older males.' Employees were looking for a more diverse culture.

Mr. Benson stated that people want to feel as if they are part of the team. They want to feel welcome at work, and not have to check in.

Last summer, Benson began searching for a consultant with the right skills. He wanted to find an ex-executive who was relatable and had'seen the light'

A Google search instead led him to Karith Foster, a former media personality and Black comedian. She is the CEO of Inversity Solutions - a consultancy that rethinks diversity programming.

Ms. Foster stated that companies must address racism and sexism as well as homophobia and antisemitism at the workplace. She believes, however, that a focus on identity groups or a tendency to view people as 'victims' and villains can alienate and remove agency from everyone - including employees of colour. She claims that her approach lets everyone "make mistakes, sometimes say the wrong things and be able correct it."

Mr. Benson had a conviction. He asked Ms. Foster if she would give the keynote speech at Woodward Leadership Summit last October.

She asked everyone, shortly after she took the stage to close their eyelids and raise their hand in response to provocative questions. Had they ever locked their car when a Black person walked past? Did they think that Jews are really good with money, or was it just a stereotype? They had questioned someone's intelligence who spoke with a thick Southern Accent.


The people raised their hands with trepidation, and even fear. When Ms. Foster was finished, almost every hand -- even her own -- had been raised.

She said, 'You're certified as human beings.' It's not about right or wrong, but knowing when bias is at play.

Mr. Benson felt relieved. He recalled, 'I was sitting at a dinner table with someone who began the entire thing with his hands folded.' His body language told me that he wasn't a believer. He's clapping and laughing half way through.

He said that Ms. Foster helped people to 'feel okay with themselves', as if they hadn't ever been activists or had gone on this journey before. Let's look at how we can go forward.

She made them feel like they were part of the conversation.

In the ever-changing world of corporate diversity equity and inclusion programs, the question of belonging is now the focus of attention.

After George Floyd's death in 2020, the interest in creating inclusive workplaces increased. After George Floyd's murder in 2020, many corporations focused on addressing systemic racists and power imbalances - the factors that kept boardrooms dominated by white people and employees of colour feeling excluded from office activities.

Almost three years after that moment, many companies have changed their approach to D.E.I. Some even renamed their departments with 'belonging'. The age of D.E.I. B.

Some critics are concerned that the goal is to make white people feel comfortable, rather than address systemic inequalities. Or they worry that companies will prioritize getting along instead of necessary change.

Stephanie Creary is an assistant professor of Management at the Wharton School of Business, who studies corporate diversity and inclusion strategies.

She believes that a focus on belonging abstractly allows companies to avoid difficult conversations about power - and the resistance these conversations can often generate. Ms. Creary expressed concern that companies are using new terms such as belonging to try and manage resistance.

Ms. Foster argues that, in practice, equity will not be achieved if those who are in power - 'the straight male' - feel excluded from the discussion. Traditional D.E.I. She said that practitioners who are'most interested in enrolling people' are those they isolate and ostracize.

Business for America, a nonpartisan organization that conducts interviews with more than 20 executives from 18 companies, found this as a common theme. The way D.E.I. Sarah Bonk is the founder and CEO of BFA. It has caused some hostility and resentment.

Companies like Woodward hire consultants who are experts in "belonging" and "bridge building." They help executives who are worried that national divisions will infiltrate the workplace and cause tension between co-workers.

Professor Creary acknowledges that these are real issues. She said, 'I understand that corporations are interested in having a structured discussion about how allowing us all to thrive will benefit us all collectively.' She worries that 'belonging,' however, gives people cover who want to maintain the status-quo. She said that a significant number of people still have a zero-sum mentality. If I support you, then I will lose.


This obsession with belonging is a result of the corporate standard that has become so widespread: Bring your entire self to work. You will feel like you belong in your company if you are given the freedom to work where you choose and can discuss social and political topics that concern you.

Before the pandemic, companies were urging employees to bring their whole selves to work. But at its peak, they became a sort of mandate as they tried to stop a wave resignations. The companies were also reacting to the concern that many people feel excluded at work. A report from the Coqual think tank in 2022 found that roughly half of Black or Asian professionals with bachelor's degrees and higher do not feel like they belong at work.

The Society for Human Resource Management published its first survey about corporate belonging in 2010. Seventy six percent of respondents stated that their organization placed a high priority on belonging as part of D.E.I. Sixty-four percent of respondents said that they plan to increase their investment in belonging initiatives during the coming year. Respondents stated that identity-based groups like employee resource groups helped foster belonging while mandatory diversity training failed to do so.

Jonathan Haidt is a professor and social psychologist at the New York University. Stern School of Business wishes that we didn't have this conversation about belonging and identity. Mr. Haidt said, "At a moment of increasing political polarization many people don't feel like they fit in with their colleagues' whole selves." I've heard so many managers. They just can't take it any more -- the constant conflict about people's identity.

In 2017, he founded the Constructive Dialog Institute with Caroline Mehl. The main product of this institute is an educational tool called Perspectives. The tool is a combination of online modules and workshops that helps users understand where their values are coming from, and why people with different backgrounds may have opposing views.

CDI started licensing Perspectives in 2019. The annual fees range from $50 to $150 for each employee license. Live training is also available for companies for $3,500 - $15,000 per full day.

Allegis Global Solutions with its 3,500 employees was a pioneer in the adoption of this technology.

The platform has already helped the company navigate through some complex political situations. Shakara worrell, a 26 year old human resources coordinator was sitting in a meeting last June when she heard that the Supreme Court overturned Roe V. Wade. The meeting halted, said Ms. Worrell. "That's when my heart dropped. I wasn't the only one."

Ms. Worrell is a mixed-race woman who said that she chose Allegis in part because it prioritized belonging. She was unable to express her emotions when she read about police brutality in her previous position.

'I remember sitting in my cubicle and not being allowed to voice my opinion,' said Ms. Worrell. She remembered thinking, 'I really don't belong.'

Allegis is different. Elevate is the company's employee resource organization for women's empowerment, and Ms. Worrell leads it. She and her fellow members decided, after the Supreme Court's decision, to host an event series in order to help employees understand the ruling. They informed D.E.I. and human resources. When they informed the D.E.I.

Ms. Worrell stated that she wanted her people to be happy and feel good.

Was it? Allegis reported that around 200 people attended the virtual first meeting. After the meeting, Ms. Worrell spoke with the only attendee that had spoken in support of the court's ruling.

Ms. Worrell remembered her colleague saying that she felt the need to share, even though it was against the grain.


A 'Offensive focus on group labels'

Irshad Mahnji, founder and CEO of Moral Courage College says that a 'almost offending focus on group labels is a major problem for mainstream diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. It almost forces people to stereotype one another. She said, 'I am a Muslim and a loyal Muslim. But that doesn't mean I interpret Islam the same as every other Muslim.

Manji says that people use the word 'belonging,' to imply that D.E.I. The traditional D.E.I.

What is the best approach? Autodesk, an American software company with 13700 employees, started planning a cultural shake-up in 2018.

Andrew Anagnost, Autodesk’s president and CEO, said that some employees feared offending each other, so they resorted to being "fake nice" and "passive aggressive". Some employees felt they were not supported and refused to speak up at meetings.

Autodesk has renamed the team formerly known as 'Diversity and inclusion' to 'Diversity and belonging'. Managers were taught strategies to recognize and counteract their defensive thinking.

To avoid dominating the conversation, they were given poker chips that they could 'play' every time.

To demonstrate the value of these groups, the company gave bonuses to their leaders. And Mr. Anagnost positioned himself as the executive sponsor for the Autodesk Black Network.

The company has also addressed equity. It moved the new office hub to Atlanta from Denver, knowing that it would be better able to attract Black engineering graduates.

Autodesk surveys its employees regularly about their experience at work. After the culture change, Mr. Anagnost reported that scores of belonging increased for women and employees who are color. Scores decreased for white males.

"Then, that became normal," he said. "Yeah sure, OK. There will be some squeeze in certain areas when you increase representation in other areas. The threat level is reduced when there's a feeling of "we can all succeed together."