Diversity, Equity and Inclusion –is Belonging the end goal?

There has been so much attention being given, quite rightly to the topic of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and related concepts that it is difficult to summarise what has been written and where the real work lies in bringing us together and ensuring that all individuals are thriving.

The reality is that where differences exist, biases, past experiences, and lack of understanding can all contribute towards a negative experience and interaction – often for both parties.

There are a few definitions of terms and ideas that can help us understand this very complex area and give us greater understanding of the challenges we face – as organisations, as people and as coaches!

Firstly, it was brought to my attention that apart from “diversity”, “equity” and” inclusion” there is a fourth term that has its own place in the discussion and that is “belonging”.

Authors Liz Fosslein ad Mollie West Duffy explain:
“Diversity is having a seat at the table, inclusion is having a voice and belonging is having that voice heard.

So a person may think, “hey I’m now part of this team” but at the same time ask, “but am I being heard?”

We all seek a sense of belonging or affiliation in order to thrive and experience true wellbeing. Yet with the diversity of populations how do we ensure that this happens?

Belonging is deeply rooted in personal and social identity. It involves feeling understood, supported and valued by others, as well as having a senses of shared purpose, trust and emotional connection. Belonging is often fostered through genuine relationships, mutual response and a culture of empathy and inclusivity. This wisdom was created in chatGPT. Seems like AI gets it when perhaps we don’t!

What can we do as coaches to ensure we are working in a way with people that goes beyond asking clever and sensitive questions?

LaTonya Wilkins suggests that coaches need to be more than a friend or supporter, but instead become allies or champions for minority groups. Yet as humans we tend to stay in a safe space and it is common for coaches to either overcompensate, only focus on things we have in common with clients and avoid uncomfortable topics.

The reality is that we all have biases. Three common ones for coaches are:

  • Affinity bias – only coaching the people we “know” – perhaps our niche clients?
  • Confirmation bias – like everyone in the world we seek evidence that our assumptions are right.
  • In-group bias – happens when larger groups or cultures dictate where empathy should lie – only for those people in the “group” as opposed to the out-group – the others!

She goes on to suggest a model for checking into our practice which involves listening, not judging, seeking permission before making suggestions, finding new and unconventional ways of connecting with people who are different to us. We need to understand that change is a process and doesn’t come quickly.

To help us understand the depth of what has to happen we can draw from the difference between being culturally competent and culturally humble. In the past DEI training has focused on teaching cultural competency which comes with a level of arrogance as we hold ourselves to be experts with an endpoint in learning about how different cultures (from ours) operate – suggesting that it was the cultures that were “foreign or different” that needed understanding, never our own! We gained knowledge and skills and applied them respectfully and appropriately. Yet so much is missing in that term.

Dr. Mara Gottlieb describes culture as being conceptualised to accommodate “every identity that is significant to us or our clients, including skin, colour, race, ethnicity, religion, body size, socioeconomic status, sexual identity, general identity, age, family constellation caregiver status, citizen status, addiction history, trauma survivorship, ability and beyond”.
Which means that every relationship becomes “cross-cultural” in some way. Cultural humility involves recognising and respecting cultural differences without assuming that one’s own culture is superior. Humility, according to the dictionary is “the feeling or attitude that. you have no special importance that makes you better than others”.

And this is the point that really stands out for me when we consider this important topic. We need to spend much time understanding our own biases and not assuming that the other person is the one that will benefit from our thinking and instead, that they can challenge us and offer the wisdom of a different perspective. Until we step outside our known community and work and talk with others we will simply not grow and come to understand our previously unquestioned biases. Once again, the overwhelming need for coaches to continue to experience personal growth and development becomes evident


Fosslien L, West Duffy M (2019) No hard feelings: emotions at work (and how they help us succeed). Penguin Publishing, New York

Gottlieb, M. (2020) The case for a cultural humility framework in social work practice. Journao of Ethnic and Cultural Diversity in Social Work.

Meyer, EH. (2019) What is Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging? https://www.nasdaq.com/articles/what-is-diversity-inclusion-and-belonging-2019-10-21

Wilkins, LaTonya (2023) Webinar presented to Institute of Coaching, “Coaching elow the surface”.

Chatgpt (2023)

Blog written by Fiona Cosgrove, Managing Director of Wellness Coaching Australia