Inclusion vs. Belonging at Workplaces: What’s Different?

Miroo Kim
2 min readAug 18, 2023

--

A friend of mine was so excited about her new executive role at a famous platform company. She marveled at how smooth and easy the entire process was, describing the hiring process. She never “applied” for this role but her acquaintance who was a CMO at this company recommended her for this position. She was invited to a series of interviews and got this role after a week. My friend wondered what made it so easy for her. She said:

“The majority of the C-Suite of this new company is women of color. The CMO who referred me for this role is also a woman. I wonder if this was how it’s always been for men in the Corporate America — being in the “right” network of men just made it easy.”

This is not to say that this company preferred women — they didn’t. The important point here is how critical it is to shift our diversity strategy at workplaces from diversity & inclusion to belonging.

How is Belonging Different from Inclusion?

Below image from Othering & Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley discerns belonging from inclusion.

Image: Othering & Belonging Institute, UC Berkeley

Belonging constantly expands and pushes out the boundary of circle, whereas integration or inclusion presupposes an existing order that is more restrictive. Belonging is also a never-ending process, because there will be always new entrants who want to belong. This notion of belonging is developed out of criticisms of previous frames for addressing persistent patterns of injustice and exclusion such as inclusion or diversity.

Let’s be clear — inclusion isn’t bad; it’s a necessary step for belonging. If some people are excluded from certain institutions or communities, then belonging cannot exist for those people. However, it is not enough to simply welcome people into the existing structures and processes determined by people who have been on the “inside” the circle from the beginning.

Belonging means both people who have been inside the circle and new entrants can co-create or re-create structures and institutions together. It allows everyone to have a stake in the systems. Ultimately it enables the system to evolve organically so that no one is pushed to the outside.

What Belonging Does for Workplaces

In my friend’s experience with the new role, what made the difference was that her company board redefined the boundary of the circle with new entrants (in this context — female executives). This is belonging. It’ll continue to help her company rewrite the unspoken norms and correct unconscious biases. This change is critical for establishing psychological safety & the sense of wellbeing in the culture, ultimately influencing the bottom-line of the company with higher productivity.

--

--

Miroo Kim

I teach how to be emotionally intelligent to live a life of wellbeing. I am curious about how to design wholehearted life for everyone.