Episode 2: Howard Ross

Episode Notes

Welcome to our second episode of Create Belonging. This is my interview with Howard Ross, author of “Our Search for Belonging:  How Our Need to Connect is Tearing Us Apart”

About Howard:

Howard Ross is a lifelong social justice advocate and is considered one of the world’s seminal thought leaders on identifying and addressing unconscious bias.  He authored and co-authored many books on diversity and inclusion, including, Our Search for Belonging:  How Our Need to Connect is Tearing Us Apart, which won the 2019 Nautilus Book Award Gold Medal for Social Change and Social Justice.

Howard’s writings have been published by the Harvard Business Review, the Washington Post, the New York Times, Fast Company Magazine, Diversity Women Magazine, Forbes Magazine, Fortune Magazine and dozens of other publications. Howard has served on numerous not-for-profits boards, including the Diversity Advisory Board of the Human Rights Campaign, the board of directors of the Dignity and Respect Campaign, and the board of the directors for the National Women’s Mentoring Network.  

Howard has been the recipient of many awards, including the 2009 Operation Understanding Award for Community Service; the 2012 Winds of Change Award from the Forum on Workplace Diversity and Inclusion; the 2013 Diversity Peer Award from Diversity Women Magazine; the 2014 Catalyst Award from Uptown Professional Magazine; the 2014 Catalyst for Change Award from Wake Forest University; the 2015 Trendsetter in HR by SHRM Magazine; and the 2016 Leadership in Diversity Award by the World Human Resources Development Conference in Mumbai, India.  He was also named an Honorary Medicine Man by the Eastern Cherokee Reservation in N.C., and given Medicine Holder designation by the Pawnee Nation.

Howard founded Cook Ross Inc., one of the nation’s leading Diversity and Inclusion consultancies.  He sold the company in July 2018 and founded Udarta Consulting, LLC.

Question (Q): “The essential dilemma of my life is between my deep desire to belong, and my suspicion of belonging.”  What does this quote by Jhumpa Lahari mean?

Answer (A):
– We are encoded to belong as a human imperative for survival

  • Yet in modern times we are taught to be independent, and we focus on being individualistic. 
  • For this reason we tend to go towards the groups where we have a lot in common with, so that we are able to express our individuality within the group.

Q: Udarta is the name of your current organisation, where does the name come from?

A: The name is a Hindi word roughly translated as “Generosity and Kindness”. More than half the work we do at Udarta is pro-bono and charitable. 

Q: Where did you get started to work for a more equitable and fair society?


His origins in activism is a result of his family’s history, with his parents being the fleeing worn-torn eastern Europe for the united states and he considers social justice work a  “family business”, with over 35 years experience working in this field. 

Q: How has exclusion and discrimination evolved over the decades? What has changed in the last decades?

A: History repeats itself, and MLK jr. said “The arch of history bends towards Justice”. So society has improved over the long history. However more recently, things have been changing quickly.
– The role of new media in cultivating more tribal belonging

  • The shift in politics from an “issue orientation” to a “identity orientation”. 
  • The role of fear, and how people retrieve to their “tribes”. 
  • Tribal belonging is more clearly defined and fear of being excluded causes us to act “against others that are outside out tribe”
  • We shift from an “issue orientation” to an “identity orientation”. 
  • Othering is a lot easier when we are reduced to our tribes

Daniel Goldman, father of emotional intelligence and the amygdala hijack. Fear gets in the way of rationality, causing people to act in their subconscious bias that keeps safe. 

How fear makes things Personal, Persistent, and Permanent

Q: Why did you use 3 fictional characters to explain your points?

A: Using 3 archetypes to explain the complexity of relationships – why identify and affiliations are not so clear-cut.
– The characters are an archetype of “intersectionality” (Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw)

  • It explains the difficulty of categorising people and how one person can be in an in-group and out-group a the same time. 
  • Jon Robert Tartaglione collaborated with th

Q Why is belonging in the workplace so important?

A: Most of us cannot choose who our workmates and we are somehow “forces us” to find ways to relate with others and work together towards a common work. 

Solving belonging in the workplace can have a deeper impact in society, since many of the lessons from the workplace can be transplanted to society.

Q: Why company culture cannot be “like a family”

-the workplace is more like a community 

  • The importance of contribution for belonging in the workplace. 

Q: How can leaders accelerate move towards becoming more diverse and inclusive?

  • The problem with always trying to “fix” things, or “fix people” this causes people to be reactive.
  • Change makers become fatigue of “fixing things” always trying to figure out what is wrong. 
  • People don’t want to be fixed and fixing things require a lot of energy 
  • Instead, having a vision can help address many of the root causes and helping people unite under a common vision.

To be proactive, it’s necessary to have a vision of “belonging”. All great change makers managed to act behind a vision: MLK, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi. 

Having a vision is 1 of 8 “Path ways for belonging”

[In chapter 9 of his book “Bridges to Bonding”, Howard provides the 8 pathways to belonging]

The 8 pathways to belonging are: 

  1. A Clear Vision and Sense of Purpose
  2. Creating a Container
  3. Personal Connection, Vulnerability, and Consciousness
  4. Inclusion and Enrolment
  5. Cultivate Open-Minded Thinking
  6. Develop Shared Structures and Forms of Communication 
  7. Honouring Narrative
  8. Tools for Negotiation  and Conflict Resolution

Exploring #7: Honouring Narrative

  • Understanding the narrative, the story we tell ourselves
  • If we are aware for the narratives that we are raised, we can find a different story for ourselves. 

Leaving our own identity is incredibly difficult. 

Understanding Bridging vs. Bonding relationships

Robert PuttnamBowling alone on Social Capita

Some people believe they are bonding when in fact they might only bey bridging. The example is bonding amongst women, with the black women are not bonded, but rather bridging. 

How bridging can lead to bonding relationships. 

“Rapid Fire” questions 

What is one country to visit?

China and Tibet

Favourite meal?


What’s a movie or show that you are currently watching that would recommend?

13th” by Ava DuVernay about the 13th amendment. 

I am in my element when…

“When I am with my family”

Final words:

We are in a very “special” time. Many refer to this time as a Syndemic

During these time it is specially easy to slip us into an “othering” and seeing others as a threat. This opportunity also opens up the opportunity to become more compassion and empathy is important. 

Here is the Google Talks Video of Howard talking about his book: “Everyday Bias”: 


Thank you to Aidan McCullen (host of “The Innovation Show” podcast) for your support and making this interview happen. 

Thank you James Robinson, Emmy® Award Winning Sound Designer & Engineer for helping me salvage the audio quality.

Music by Ergy, aka Hugues CoudurierFacebook


Thank you for listening! 

I would love your Feedback: Please send me an email at and let me know what you thought of the episode. 

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