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

Jennifer Miller / The New York Times
Inversity Solutions CEO & Founder, Karith Foster, was recently featured in The New York Times.


Woodward is a 153-year-old aerospace company that required its male employees to wear bow ties into the 1990s.

So Paul Benson, the company’s chief human resources officer, knew that creating a companywide diversity, equity and inclusion program would require a seismic shift. “Look at our org chart online, and we’re a lily-white leadership team of old males,” he said. But employees were eager for a more inclusive culture.
“People want to feel like they belong,” Mr. Benson said. “They want to come to work and not feel like they have to check themselves at the door.”

Last summer, Mr. Benson started searching for a diversity consultant who was up to the task. He hoped to find a relatable former executive “who had seen the light.”

Instead, a Google search led him to a Black comedian and former media personality named Karith Foster. She is the chief executive of Inversity Solutions, a consultancy that rethinks traditional diversity programming.

Ms. Foster said companies must address racism, sexism, homophobia and antisemitism in the workplace. But she believes that an overemphasis on identity groups and a tendency to reduce people to “victim or villain” can strip agency from and alienate everyone — including employees of color. She says her approach allows everyone “to make mistakes, say the wrong thing sometimes and be able to correct it.”

Mr. Benson was convinced. He hired Ms. Foster to give the keynote address at Woodward’s leadership summit last October.

Shortly after taking the stage, she asked everyone to close their eyes and raise their hands in response to a series of provocative questions: Had they ever locked the car when a Black man walked by? Had they thought, yes, Jewish people really are good with money? Had they questioned the intelligence of someone with a thick Southern accent?

People raised their hands tentatively, even fearfully. By the time Ms. Foster finished, nearly every hand — including her own — was up.

“Congratulations. You’re certified human beings,” she said. “It’s not about being right or wrong but understanding when bias comes into play.”

Mr. Benson was relieved. “I was at a table with somebody who started the whole thing with his arms folded,” he recalled. “His body language said this dude’s not a believer. Halfway through, he’s laughing and clapping.”

Ms. Foster, he said, helped people “feel OK with themselves, like maybe you haven’t been an activist or on this journey in your past, but let’s see how we can move forward.”

In other words, she helped them feel that they belonged in the conversation.

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.