Diversity Done Differently: Uniting, Not Dividing, with Karith Foster

The following was presented as part of a session at Philanthropy Roundtable’s Annual Meeting in October 2022.

As Americans across almost every sector, including corporations, institutions of higher education and nonprofits, seek to address diversity in the workplace, comedian, speaker and founder of Inversity Solutions, Karith Foster, is leading the way by sharing her alternative and positive philosophy on how to approach the issue. In addition to her other credentials, Foster spent nearly a decade in Human Resources at a global enterprise. Today, she teaches organizations around the country there are better ways to achieve diversity than often polarizing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts.

During this Big Idea talk at Philanthropy Roundtable’s Annual Meeting, Foster focused on her desire to help Americans recognize what we have in common, rather than what divides us, in order to achieve True Diversity. “I am of the opinion that diversity has been hijacked,” said Foster. “We know having a diverse environment means new ideas, experiences from multiple people who make something better. Unfortunately, when we talk about having conversations around diversity in corporate America and in our schools, we are looking at what is actually furthering the divide … focusing on just one aspect of who we are – be that our ethnicity, our sexuality, our gender.”

Instead, Foster said people should broaden the concept of diversity to include thoughts and ideas, concentrating on the things that bring us together to encourage meaningful and productive dialogue. 

“Let’s focus on what we have in common, how we can be truly inclusive of one another, but most importantly and most powerfully, teaching people how to be introspective to understand their value and their worth,” she said. “Their connection to humanity so they can see it in someone else.”

To do this, Foster suggested organizational leaders use the C.A.R.E. approach in their interactions with others to build a healthy environment. C.A.R.E. stands for conscious empathy, active listening, responsible reactions and environmental awareness. 

Conscious empathy

Foster said conscious empathy requires asking two questions, “What is it like for them and how might that feel?” She recommended considering how a situation might affect someone, a tool she said will help you get to know your audience and communicate more effectively.

Active listening

Active listening involves making eye contact, asking good questions and being curious, said Foster, things that will lead to meaningful conversations. “I hate that in so many conversations around diversity that, well, you can’t ask that question. You can’t say that. This ‘cancel culture,’ that’s absolute nonsense, needs to be obliterated,” she said. “We should be curious about one another. We can be curious, and we can be courteous.”

Responsible reactions

Foster also advocated for reacting “responsibly,” meaning with self-control, in order to have successful relationships with others, even those who don’t share our viewpoints.

“Invoking responsible reactions … means being able to have a conversation with someone you don’t agree with but you still respect them as a fellow human being. You still understand that just because we don’t see eye to eye on something doesn’t mean we can’t work together,” she said.

Environmental awareness

Finally, Foster said embracing environmental awareness by not being afraid to start constructive conversations with those of opposing viewpoints is integral to achieving True Diversity. That means  “step[ping] out of that comfort zone a little bit sometimes and engag[ing] with people who we don’t see eye to eye with all the time.”

In closing, Foster said the CARE approach cultivates a level of mutual respect across the diversity conversation by including all thoughts and ideas, providing the opportunity for true progress to take place.

“When you can get that conscious empathy, the active listening, responsible reaction and environmental awareness of Inversity, you get more caring. You get communication, acceptance, respect, engagement,” she said.

To learn more about Karith Foster and INVERSITY, check out this Roundtable interview about Foster’s approach to diversity training.

Check out other Annual Meeting videos at the links below.


Ken Griffin Receives 2022 Simon-DeVos Prize for Philanthropic Leadership and Discusses Approach to Charitable Giving

Leaders Discuss Future of Conservative Movement at Philanthropy Roundtable’s 2022 Annual Meeting

Elise Westhoff Gives Welcome Address at Philanthropy Roundtable 2022 Annual Meeting

How Philanthropy Can Defend American Values and Support Smart Foreign Policy

Big Idea Talks:

Philanthropy and Civics Education: Hanna Skandera on How Civics Bees Can Help Inform Today’s Students

Philanthropy and the Dignity of Work: Reimagining Reentry with Brandon Chrostowski

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