Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

NY Times: Why Some Companies Are Saying ‘Diversity And Belonging’ Instead Of ‘Diversity And Inclusion’

New York Times, Why Some Companies Are Saying ‘Diversity and Belonging’ Instead of ‘Diversity and Inclusion’:

The question of belonging has become the latest focus in the evolving world of corporate diversity, equity and inclusion programming.

Interest in creating more inclusive workplaces exploded after George Floyd’s murder in 2020. Many corporations turned their attention to addressing systemic racism and power imbalances — the things that had kept boardrooms white and employees of color feeling excluded from office life.

Now, nearly three years since that moment, some companies are amending their approach to D.E.I., even renaming their departments to include “belonging.” It’s the age of D.E.I.-B.

Some critics worry it’s about making white people comfortable rather than addressing systemic inequality, or that it simply allows companies to prioritize getting along over necessary change.

“Belonging is a way to help people who aren’t marginalized feel like they’re part of the conversation,” said Stephanie Creary, assistant professor of management at the Wharton School of Business who studies corporate strategies for diversity and inclusion.

She believes an abstract focus on belonging allows companies to avoid the tough conversations about power — and the resistance those conversations often generate. “The concern is that we are just creating new terms like belonging as a way to manage that resistance,” Ms. Creary said. ...

The nonpartisan nonprofit Business for America recently interviewed more than two dozen executives at 18 companies and found this to be a common theme. “The way they’ve rolled out D.E.I. has exacerbated divides even while addressing valuable issues,” said Sarah Bonk, BFA’s founder and chief executive. “It has created some hostility, resentment.” ...

Professor Creary agrees these are real problems. “I can see that corporations want to have a structured conversation around how allowing all of us to thrive will help us all collectively,” she said. But she worries “belonging” gives cover to people who would rather maintain the status quo. “There’s still a large percentage of people who have a zero sum mind-set,” she said. “If I support you, I am going to lose.” ...

The belonging obsession is the result of a now-widespread corporate standard: Bring your whole self to work. If you have the flexibility to work wherever you want, and the freedom to discuss the social and political issues that matter to you, then ideally, you’ll feel that you belong at your company. ...

Last year, the Society for Human Resource Management conducted its first survey on corporate belonging. Seventy-six percent of respondents said their organization prioritized belonging as part of its D.E.I. strategy and 64 percent said they planned to invest more in belonging initiatives this year. Respondents said that identity-based communities, like employee resource groups, helped foster belonging, while mandatory diversity training did not.

Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist and professor at N.Y.U.’s Stern School of Business, wishes we weren’t having this conversation about identity and belonging. “At a time of rising political polarization, many people’s whole selves don’t fit with the whole selves of their colleagues,” Mr. Haidt, a self-described centrist, said. “I’ve heard from so many managers. They can’t stand it anymore — the constant conflict over people’s identities.”

In 2017, he and a colleague, Caroline Mehl, started the Constructive Dialogue Institute, whose main product is an educational platform called Perspectives. The tool uses online modules and workshops to help users explore where their values come from and why people from different backgrounds might have opposing values.

In 2019, CDI began licensing Perspectives to corporations. Annual fees are $50 to $150 per employee license. Companies can also book a menu of live training options for $3,500 to $15,000 for a full day. ...

Irshad Manji, founder of the consultancy Moral Courage College, says an “almost offensive focus on group labels” is a big problem with mainstream diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. “It all but compels people to stereotype each other. I happen to be Muslim and a faithful Muslim,” she said. “But that does not mean I interpret Islam like every other Muslim out there.”

Ms. Manji believes that people now use “belonging” as a “tacit acknowledgment that traditional D.E.I. hasn’t worked well.”

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