• | 8:57 am

What does it mean to really ‘belong’?

Porter Braswell explains why “belonging” is the most valuable and elusive quality in the modern workplace and why he’s started a new the members-only network for influential professionals of color.

What does it mean to really ‘belong’?
[Source photo: Delmaine Donson/Getty Images]

The B in DEI & B gets thrown around easily, often as an appendage to the more familiar trio of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. But ask anyone who works in the field and they’ll tell you “Belonging” is the most valuable—and elusive—quality in the modern workplace.

Most corporations are simply not built to ensure employees belong. The concept that they even should is relatively new. But study after study has shown high levels of belonging are linked to better job performance, less turnover risk, and massive reductions in sick days and absenteeism. All of which come with quantifiable upsides in cost savings and revenue, especially in larger businesses where belonging (or a lack thereof) impacts the workforce at scale.

For professionals from underrepresented backgrounds in America, the situation is even more acute. We come from communities where belonging means sharing the same context and supporting each other through mutual solidarity and recognition. It’s an immediate and visceral form of emotional connection.

Corporations find it hard to create that kind of community for us with credibility and consistency. Truthfully, I don’t believe they’re able to create it in a way that serves our professional and personal needs. There’s only so much an employer can do (or has the right to do) in the eyes of their talent.

This week, I’m announcing the launch of my latest venture, 2045, which is designed to address this costly, avoidable gap. 2045 is a members-only network designed exclusively for the nation’s leading professionals of color. Through executive coaching, peer-led interest groups, members-only programming, and our physical Clubhouse, 2045 advances the personal and professional growth of our members.

We are building a powerful community where leaders of color—in every field and industry—can always feel like they belong.

At 2045, “belonging” is not a nice-to-have or corporate HR babble. It’s the crucial missing link that costs organizations billions in employee attrition, lack of engagement, and lower productivity. We are uniquely poised to address these issues and their outsized impact on talent from underrepresented backgrounds.

In many corporate environments, professionals of color are statistical “minorities” (a word I generally deplore and am only using here in a mathematical sense). That means we often don’t see ourselves represented at the highest levels of leadership. It’s hard to invest yourself in a career path if you don’t see someone like you already at the end of it.

Employees of color are mentored and sponsored at much lower rates than their white counterparts, and the rates are lowest for Black professionals. It’s difficult for us to feel like we belong when we have so few opportunities and conversations where our colleagues and mentors “get it” without additional context or education.

Finally, while companies all around the world continually make grandiose pledges to change, they don’t necessarily know how best to spend their money. In 2021, less than 1% of the $50 billion pledged to Black communities after the murder of George Floyd had been meaningfully deployed. Organizations of all kinds continue to throw money at DEI and bias trainings, even though we know these initiatives don’t make diverse talent feel seen, heard, or valued in ways that demonstrably help retain them. I know good intentions are often behind these programs, but they’re not having enough of—or the right—impact.

2045 exists to counter all of these challenges and fill these voids. We provide mentorship opportunities to our members, and connect them to the most successful professionals across industries. Through our digital platform and physical Clubhouse, we create spaces online and off where our members can feel seen, heard, and valued—without extra context. And with our exclusive content and programming, we give leaders of color everywhere a direct line to industry expertise and cultural icons.

My passion for 2045 crystallized after I attended Davos in 2022, representing the Technology Pioneers community within the World Economic Forum. I was amazed at the caliber of people around me, not to mention the timely and fascinating content presented by world leaders.

But it was a powerful reminder that, in settings like Davos, it’s still rare for me to see “my people” represented—people who get my context without me having to explain it. While I was there, I kept wondering: what if there was a place where we could experience all of this—the connectivity, the networking, the content, the access to influence—where professionals of color were in the majority?

Having worked in this field for the last decade, I know a lot of focus is given to acquiring diverse talent and investing in talent pipelines. I built my first business, Jopwell, around that corporate need. But serious investment in retaining mid- to senior-level professionals of color, who have unique needs in the later stages of our careers, remains untapped.

There’s a macroeconomic imperative driving 2045’s mission as well. Our name is inspired by the prediction that the year 2045 is when America will become majority racially diverse. This is the simplest, most obvious reason we have to invest in leaders of color starting now. The nation is changing. By 2045, for the first time in history, white people will not represent the majority in America. How can any organization operate unless its workforce and leadership reflect that tectonic shift in our population?

2045 is the first organization of its kind to invest specifically and exclusively in the nation’s leaders of color. The crucial missing link in corporate America is this ability to create a true sense of belonging for professionals from underrepresented backgrounds, across industries, seniority levels, and roles. By enabling corporates to invest in their leading diverse talent, we create new opportunities for employers to help employees develop within a network that truly understands them.

Our vision is to provide a level of career and personal support for professionals of color that improves retention and productivity outcomes for employers while also – and much more importantly – creating a network that serves leaders of color first.

I know we can’t fail to deliver against our vision of building the future of leadership to the year 2045.

A future where people like me can truly feel like they belong.

2045 is now accepting applications.

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Porter Braswell is the Co-founder and Executive Chairman of Jopwell, Founder of 2045 Studio, author of Let Them See You, and host of the podcast Race at Work. Subscribe to his weekly content pieces at Diversity Explained. More

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