As part of a commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, CNA has trained a cohort of “DEI&B Ambassadors.” One of them, the director of CNA’s Resources and Force Readiness Division, shared his perspective on a perennial question.

The number one question I have been asked so far serving as a CNA Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEI&B) ambassador is what I consider to be the difference between inclusion and belonging. It’s a great question, and for me it goes to the heart of what we are trying to achieve in the DEI&B space. I really think the answer is pretty straightforward. Inclusion is having a seat at the table. Belonging is not only being at the table but having a voice that matters in the conversation and decision-making that takes place at the table. 

Back in 1993, I was working on updating a Marine Corps Order to institutionalize how the Marine Corps would manage career recruiters. As usual, Sergeant Major Gary Lee and I were tackling this task together. One day, my phone rang, and it was Brigadier General Charles Krulak’s administrative chief. He asked me to come down to their front office to meet with Colonel Woodcock, who was Krulak’s Chief of Staff. Woodcock was a gruff man whom no one wanted to go see.

I walked down the hall in the old Navy Annex and could hear a spirited discussion in Colonel Woodcock’s office. As I peeked around the corner, Colonel Woodcock, Lieutenant Colonel Jim Mattis (ultimately General and Secretary of Defense Mattis), Colonel Jan Huly (ultimately Lieutenant General Huly) and Lieutenant Colonel Clyde Slick (ultimately my boss years later as Colonel Slick) were having a spirited argument about the Marine Corps’ career recruiter program. Colonel Woodcock noticed me and invited me into the room — I stood in the corner out of the way, but at that point I guess you could say I had been “included.”

A couple of minutes later, Colonel Woodcock stopped the conversation and summoned me to take a seat in the chair next to his desk. He said, “I want to hear what Captain Peterson thinks about all of this.” No sooner had I started to talk than did everyone in the room but Colonel Woodcock start talking over me. I stopped talking, at which point Colonel Woodcock abruptly told Mattis, Huly and Slick to stop and gave me back the floor. I offered my thoughts, and Colonel Woodcock thanked me and was clear that he thought my perspective was on target. The updated Marine Corps Order was approved largely as Gary and I had crafted it.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but that day I learned the difference between being included and feeling like I belonged. Inclusion alone can actually be quite humiliating — “here is your seat at the table, but please be quiet.” Inclusion that is intent on giving people a voice that you are going to listen to and appreciate gets you to belonging. It has now been almost 30 years since Colonel Woodcock gave me a voice in a meeting filled with “elephants,” but I still remember how his actions made me feel — I belonged in that room, and he made that crystal clear in how he treated me.

People from marginalized groups face far more obstacles to belonging than I have. My goal as a DEI&B Ambassador is to help create an environment where everyone at CNA — regardless of their race, gender identity, sexuality, religion or ability — feels like they truly belong in the room.

A seat at the table is not enough — a voice that matters is the real prize in DEI&B.


Jeffrey Peterson is the Vice President of CNA's Resources and Force Readiness Division and a CNA Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Ambassador.