Navigating the future of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) – from inclusion to belonging and beyond

During a keynote last week at the Google Cloud Next conference, leaders from Google delved into the evolving landscape of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), emphasizing the significance of moving beyond inclusion to foster a sense of belonging across organizations and society.

The conversation, hosted by Melonie Parker, chief diversity officer for Google, brought together Juan Rajlin, vice provost and treasurer for Alphabet and Google, and John Powell, director of Othering and Belonging Institute and professor at the University of Berkeley. The talk unfolded as they explored the transformative journey from conventional diversity and inclusion efforts towards a more profound and impactful approach to DEI.

Shifting the focus

In a society that values interconnectedness and collaboration, the concept of belonging is rooted in understanding the uniqueness and commonalities of all individuals. Powell emphasized that belonging doesn’t just entail including individuals, it involves valuing their full participation and co-creation.

“I don’t know about all of you, but it was certainly inspirational and aspirational to learn in recent years, belonging has become of greater importance and a focus of the work we do at Google,” says Parker. “And now, belonging isn’t just about making sure that people are included, but it’s ensuring that they really belong, that they actually feel that they belong, and that’s what they are experiencing.”

The conversation highlighted Google’s approach to psychological safety and community building, especially in the context of remote work and digital interactions. The speakers noted that fostering a sense of belonging requires not only ensuring psychological safety within teams, but also creating spaces for genuine connection and shared experiences among employees.

Othering, bridging, and targeted universalism

The conversation touched on the concept of “othering,” which occurs when individuals or groups are treated as lesser or different. This behavior, Powell explained, reduces people to mere caricatures and denies them their full humanity. To counter this, he proposed the idea of “bridging,” which involves building connections and understanding across groups, thus emphasizing the importance of empathy and curiosity.

An essential framework discussed during the conversation was “targeted universalism.” Unlike traditional equity efforts that aim to close gaps between favored and marginalized groups, targeted universalism emphasizes universal goals that benefit everyone while acknowledging the diverse contexts in which different groups are situated. The concept challenges organizations to address disparities while accounting for the unique challenges each group faces.

Implementing change

The keynote highlighted initiatives such as designing products that cater to diverse user needs, including live captions for those with hearing disabilities, and accurate skin tone representation in camera technology. The approach was framed around the idea that addressing the needs of specific groups enhances the experience for everyone.

The speakers concluded by offering actionable takeaways for individuals and organizations looking to advance DEI 2.0, including:

  1. Intentional Inclusion: Start by intentionally including diverse perspectives at the very beginning of product design, ensuring that different voices are heard from the outset.
  2. Embrace the universality of humanity: Recognize that all individuals and groups have inherent value and capacity for contribution. Embrace targeted strategies that uplift each group while working towards universal goals.
  3. Practice bridging: Cultivate curiosity, empathy, and the willingness to listen. Understand the stories and experiences of others to build bridges of understanding.
  4. Empower full participation: Focus on building spaces and initiatives that enable full participation and co-creation, moving beyond mere inclusion.
  5. Targeted universalism: Implement strategies that work towards universal goals while acknowledging the unique circumstances of each group.

To watch the full DEI keynote, please visit this link.

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Breanna Schnurr
Breanna Schnurr
Breanna Schnurr is a recent journalism graduate of Toronto Metropolitan University. She loves writing about all things data, travel, tech, lifestyle and subculture. You can reach out to Breanna via [email protected].

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