Human Resources

“Belonging” – Merely Pandering or a Better Version of Inclusive?

24 August 2023



How do we stop diversity from becoming divisive?  

This is the primary concern clients share with me when we talk about DEI. And I like to address it by focusing on belonging.  

Belonging is one’s perception of acceptance within the work environment. I like it because it prioritizes the comfort experienced in an inclusive workplace – for everyone. 


Inclusion vs. Belonging 

Inclusion is about ensuring equal access to opportunities and resources in an organization.  

Belonging goes beyond this. It’s about being valued and involved – not just present or invited. About having influence – not just a seat at the table. And about being celebrated and supported rather than tolerated or accepted. 

Inclusion is typically focused on external factors, such as policies and representation. In contrast, belonging encompasses internal aspects, such as psychological safety and shared values. It can help resolve the deeper systemic issues hindering an organization.  

Belonging also shifts focus from a collective to an individualistic perspective. So individuals themselves decide the success of interventions. And have greater accountability for their design. Such activities enrich inclusion activities. So, for example, we don’t just hire diverse candidates. We ensure their smooth onboarding and provide mentors and buddies, regular feedback, and career development opportunities. Instead of just offering diversity training, we create spaces for employee dialogue.  


Measuring Belonging 

Belonging is a subjective and emotional experience. It is based on people’s feelings, not just what they do or have. It’s also dynamic and contextual, varying on the situation, group, and individual. So it requires regular, qualitative measurement.  

I usually include belonging as part of a comprehensive culture survey. But for a standalone assessment, Harvard’s 2019 10-Question Belonging survey is an excellent place to start.   


Is Belonging Just Pandering? 

Recently, belonging has received some bad press. Particularly in response to Uber’s now infamous “Don’t call me Karin” sessions. Critics say the approach hasn’t helped shift power away from privileged policymakers. Instead, it has allowed non-marginalized individuals to co-opt the process. (In Uber’s case, for White women to “play the victim”.)  

But DEI has always required practitioners to walk a fine line. Of course, we must work with existing power structures without allowing them to undermine our efforts. But the idea that only specific individuals can validly be part of the conversation is crazy. We can’t allow DEI to become a zero-sum game.