Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging: What Morehouse can teach Harvard

by Grace UengSavvy Growth

This event took place last fall the week my father passed away. So this post has been sitting in my drafts for months. Given the events of the last week, I decided it was time to pull out and publish in my father’s honor.

Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging

It was such a treat to sit next to our guest of honor, John Silvanus Wilson, Jr. at the Harvard Alumni Association of our region’s annual luncheon. A renown thought leader in higher education, Dr. Wilson serves as Senior Advisor and Strategist to Lawrence Bacow, the President of Harvard University. His primary responsibility is bringing the Presidential Task Force for Inclusion and Belonging report to life and ensuring its enduring impact. Bacow’s predecessor, President Faust, led the move for Harvard to get inclusion and belonging right and to lead the country and the world in figuring out what inclusion and belonging means on a campus. For 340 years, Harvard welcomed privileged sons of New England aristocracy and other white males. In the last 50 years, Harvard started to bring in new audiences previously excluded: women, people of color and others including international students. The Case for DiversityInclusion, and Belonging being made at Harvard is important for “the Beyond” – the broader community and world we live in.

Finding your “second day”

Wilson started his higher educational leadership career at MIT, while I was still a student there, and most recently served as the 11th President of Morehouse College. Under President Obama’s administration, he was named to head the White House initiative on Historically Black Universities and Colleges. He has stated that his 4 years at Morehouse were the most psychologically wholesome years of his life. There, he was not “othered,” rather he felt like the college was built for him. He was “in focus.” What drew him there was that Martin Luther King, the picture of character, was a graduate. Morehouse set a man up not only for making a living but also for life; to become a force for good. He likes to reflect on Mark Twain’s quote: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” He found his “second day” at Morehouse.

After speaking one-on-one with him and hearing his remarks, I clearly saw why he was chosen for this critical role. Compassionate, dynamic, and articulate, he was easy to talk to, and it was just as easy to listen to his message. His children said they considered Harvard’s President Bacow to be woke on the issues at hand. Together, they thought their father and Bacow formed a strong team for this important cause.

Wilson rattled off the men of fame in his Morehouse Class of ’79 including Spike Lee, Jeh Johnson and Martin Luther King III. Spike Lee stood out to me. When I took film classes in New York City, Spike came to speak to us about a racially charged movie that he had just produced. In ensuing years, I would include his movie poster Do the Right Thing in my talks as his title just made sense to me as a broad life mantra to seek to live by. Spike also found his “second day” at Morehouse. He floundered the first two years until he found a camera and realized his calling.

Character and Perspective

Wilson was quick to point out that character is more important than color and perspective is worth 100 points of IQ. He believes that Harvard can become the premiere “second day”institution in the world – helping students discover why they were born. To position them to do their best work while becoming their best selves. He would like to take Harvard’s character preeminence to the same level as its capital preeminence. By getting the right things going in inclusion and belonging, he believes that Harvard will arrive there.

Harvard believes that diversity is an instrument toward creating academic excellence. Diversity goes well beyond race and gender. In Do you have a Best Friend at Work?, I discuss companies embracing accommodations for neurodiverse candidates in the interview process. Harvard’s Task Force went on to discuss diversity dimensions along many lines: race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, religion and spiritual experience, political viewpoint, socioeconomic and immigration status, geographic origins and language, disability, veteran status, and discipline and scholarly methodology.


We must keep in mind, however, that diversity does not imply inclusion. Diversity is quantitative. Are there a diverse mix of people in the environment? And inclusion does not imply belonging. Inclusion and belonging are qualitative. How well do these different people interact and learn from one another? Diversity is a precursor, however, to inclusion and belonging. Inclusion, incorporation and participating, in and of itself does not necessarily achieve academic and social integration. Women may be included in a decision making committee, but find that they are not given opportunities to speak. In these cases, people are included but do not yet experience full integration, or belonging. Why Dr. Wilson emphasized “DIB” for “DiversityInclusion AND Belonging” and encouraged us to visit their site

Belonging is the experience that flows from participating fully in many of the chances Harvard offers to learn, to create, to discover, and to achieve. The journey from diversity to inclusion and then to belonging is critical. Ensuring everyone feels at home in their roles is much harder than just getting them into that position, and belonging is the place where the most progress can be made out in the world. Achieving belonging isn’t an easy or quick task due to the differences in each person and their definition of “belonging” to a group, but nothing worth doing is easy or quick.

Wilson’s first year in his role allowed him to build the infrastructure, including strategic planning and initial surveying. Continued ongoing surveying will allow Harvard to track progress of uplifting of Harvard’s 5 Core Values: (1) Respect the rights, differences, and dignity of others (2) Demonstrate honesty and integrity in all dealings (3) Pursue excellence conscientiously in one’s work (4) Be accountable for actions and conduct in the community (5) Cultivate bonds and bridges that enable all to grow with and learn from one another.

D + I +B are all important.

And by ensuring diversity leads to inclusion which then incorporates belonging, the culture created will cause more individuals to discover their “second day.” In this environment that inspires the highest levels of excellence, students will do their best work and become their best selves.

Businesses can learn from Harvard’s DIB efforts with capitalism being often cited as the greatest force for good.


About the Author

Grace Ueng is Founder & CEO of Savvy Growth, a boutique management consultancy and leadership coaching firm whose mission is to help companies and their leaders achieve their fullest potential.

Ueng and Savvy’s Managing Director, Rich Chleboski, a clean tech veteran, develop and implement strategies to support the growth of impact focused companies. Their expertise spans all phases of the business from evaluation through growth and liquidity. Savvy works with your team from discovery through implementation to ensure the success of your venture.

Savvy supports senior executives and investors at impact focused for profit companies as well as non-profit organizations including higher educational institutions. They are hired by the board of directors or the CEO of companies at inflection points. They become an extension of the C-suite and develop and implement growth and transition strategies. Savvy Growth has served 200 clients from emerging growth to the Fortune 1000.

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