e039. Belonging & Connection with Dr. Rosalind Cohen

Dr. Rosalind Cohen (she/her) is the Founder/CEO of Socius Strategies. Socius Strategies is a San Francisco-based consultancy that helps new businesses, startups, and established companies develop inclusion and belonging in their work culture through collaborative leadership assessment and mentoring.

Including You Interview with Dr. Rosalind Cohen

e039. Belonging & Connection with Dr. Rosalind Cohen

[00:00:00] [00:00:48] Amy: Welcome back to Including You. I’m Amy C. Waninger, the Inclusion Catalyst. My guest today is Dr. Rosalind Cohen. She’s the founder and CEO of Socius Strategies, a San Francisco based [00:01:00] consultancy that helps new businesses, startups, and established companies develop inclusion and belonging in their work culture through collaborative leadership assessment and mentoring.

She’s a sole proprietor and I’m excited to have her as my new friend. Welcome to the show, Dr. Cohen.

[00:01:15] Dr. Cohen: Thank you so much for having me. I’m super excited to be here.

[00:01:20] Amy: I am excited to talk to you because we share a passion for inclusive leadership. And while I have some experiential and anecdotal data on this topic, you’ve actually done all the work to get your Ph.D. in exactly this.

And I wanna dive into this a little bit today because I think your work is so fascinating and I think the lessons that you have uncovered along the way are gonna be very valuable to our viewers and listeners. So can you talk a little bit about the research that you did for your thesis? And I’ll ask some follow-up questions once we establish a premise here.

[00:01:53] Dr. Cohen: Yeah, absolutely. Happy to do so. My research centers around inclusive leadership and employee engagement, there are two [00:02:00] questions,, that I ask. One, are they connected? And two, does identity play a role in any of it? Spoiler alert, they are connected, and spoiler alert, identity does play a role in it.

The- what the research that I conducted found was there are eight behaviors of inclusive leaders. And let me just reframe the fact that I this was an established premise that I reinstate, that I reinforce. So these behaviors of inclusive leadership are not new. I didn’t come up with them but reinforced them in the context of my study.

I also found that there are three types of engagement that organizations should be aware of when they are going through a talent acquisition or when they’re looking to hire people. So the first, and in no particular order actually, one is called positive cognitive engagement or the “I think.” The other is positive effective engagement, or “I feel,” and the other third is shared social engagement, which is “I am connected.”[00:03:00]

So what my research found was that inclusive leadership and behaviors of inclusive leadership can affect the “I feel” and “I connect.” So when managers act in specific, They will be able to affect how people feel about their work and how they feel about the people that they’re connected to in so much that they become or, and can be more engaged.

The interesting thing of this is managers’ behavior have no effect on the cognitive piece of engagement. So how I think about my work or my internal motivation. So what I did was I founded a model that is called TAMEE, T-A-M-E-E. It’s the talent acquisition model for employee engagement. And what this model says is that when you create a talent acquisition process and job descriptions and so on, you can affect the type of people who have the right cognitive [00:04:00] engagement to your job.

And then when you train people, your managers, and such within organizations, you can then affect both the, “I feel” and “I feel connected to” in type of engagement. So it’s really exciting, particularly in this time when you have talent acquisition issues. People are trying to get the, to get smart, talented people into organizations.

The ability to be able to affect those types of engagement is, I think, pretty exciting.

[00:04:28] Amy: So it’s really about the chemistry; not about the person and not about the manager, but about the combination of those two components, right?

[00:04:36] Dr. Cohen: That’s right. That’s absolutely right. It is not about, I’ll talk for a second about, so additional findings, but it is about that. One of the findings that the research showed, which was really interesting, is how, when you perceive your manager to be like, how does that affect your level of engagement?

And it does for some [00:05:00] groups. So for women, for people of color, and for folks in small and mid-sized companies, when you perceive your manager is like you, you feel more engaged. You are connected. That effective and both shared social engagement are impacted. One of the things that I think will be interesting, additional research, so stay tuned, is how do you perceive your manager to be like you.

So that part was not- as part of the study. What I think that says, ‘cause I could see a place where people say if I hire someone and they don’t look like me, forget it. I’m not gonna have them engaged, but I think that’s, I think that’s a really narrow view because when we talk about connection and we talk about senses of belonging, it’s not just how we look.

It is how we act. It is the beliefs that we have. If you look at the way in which people are connected to one another, the way in which they feel that they belong, it’s not just only about race or [00:06:00] gender, but it is about other things. And so when you have a space where people can share who they are in an authentic and genuine way, You then can create those spaces of belonging and connection because people understand each other better because they know, oh, you and I, let’s say we look nothing alike.

I, we don’t know anything about each other, but we both like horror movies. I’m gonna use this as a very basic example. Or we both have a similar belief in how we look at religion. If we have an opportunity to share that information, then my connection to you will be different and potentially will affect my level of engagement as an employee.

[00:06:38] Amy: And I would imagine a lot of that sharing is done through storytelling. Is it not?

[00:06:42] Dr. Cohen: It is through storytelling and through work. A lot of research also finds that by creating space where people just have an opportunity to talk with one another, share stories, share experiences, that’s how that kind of information comes, can come out in a more genuine way.[00:07:00] [00:07:00] Amy: Yeah, it’s amazing the difference when you learn that somebody maybe, went to your same high school, or lived in a town that you lived in. When you and I were talking before the show, we found out that you had lived in Indiana for a short time, and that connected us almost immediately because we had a shared understanding of place.

Even though we don’t live in the same place now, and on the surface we may not have a ton in common, but we were able to connect on that. And just those little things can make a big difference because once you see yourself in somebody else, I believe you see yourself. You are rooting for them, right?

Because you wanna see them win. And if it’s your manager, and you wanna see your manager win, then you put in discretionary effort. And if you’re a manager and it’s your employees and you wanna see them win, you go the extra mile with mentoring and sponsorship.

[00:07:45] Dr. Cohen: That’s right. And to be fair, there are things that we can connect with others on that we don’t even think about connecting on.

It could be. Small intangibles. It could be the [00:08:00] fact that I’m a mom of two kids, right? And you have children. So that ability to share that kind of information becomes really powerful and really important in the structure of engagement. In the context of engagement.

[00:08:14] Amy: And so when you talk about identity you mentioned that identity plays a role in this as well, but not for everyone.

Do you have any hypotheses around why that is?

[00:08:24] Dr. Cohen: I do actually, and so the research that I found was that when women, people of color, and folks from small and mid-size companies perceive their managers to be similar, have a similarity with them, again, it affects the engagement.

I think what you’re talking about, particularly for women of color for people of color and women, is you’re talking about marginalized groups that don’t see themselves in the folks who are in leadership positions, but when there is a perception that this person is similar to me, And it doesn’t have to be about race, and it [00:09:00] doesn’t have to be about gender,

I have the ability to connect with that person and I have the ability to see myself in that person. And so therefore there becomes that level of engagement. Particularly, if you think about who are in leadership positions, a lot of the time, and particularly depending upon the industry, maybe no people of color.

There may be no women. So there, there is that space.

[00:09:22] Amy: And that’s absolutely essential. And I’m a firm believer that if we can’t see, if we can’t see ourselves down the career path or up the career ladder, it’s hard to imagine ourselves down the road in that organization or it’s hard to imagine ourselves getting to that level because it’s hard enough to do it.

It’s really hard to do it: be a trailblazer. And so if you see that somebody else has blazed that trail…

[00:09:44] Dr. Cohen: That’s right. And people of color are exhausted having to blaze those trails. So if they can see someone like them in some capacity in that role it removes I would think, as not as a person of color, but I would think it removes some of that energy that they are having to [00:10:00] put out to the world.

[00:10:02] Amy: Absolutely. Now you do. You’ve taken this work that you’ve done, this research that you’ve done, you’ve turned it into a methodology, and now you work with clients. Can you talk to us a little bit about the kinds of clients that you work with and the kind of work that you do for them?

[00:10:15] Dr. Cohen: Yeah, absolutely. I am lucky enough to work both with nonprofits, for-profits.

Right now a couple of my clients are nonprofits. A couple of them are for-profits, startups, as well as I would say, mid-size companies. And the work that I do for them is around, “What does it mean to be, to create a culture of belonging or inclusion for your organization?” So it’s not a one size fits all, right?

It’s not, I don’t have a “Here’s the rules for you, and you just follow these rules and everything will be hunky dory.” It really is about asking questions to help the organization think through. Some pivotal points around inclusion and belonging and engagement and helping them come up [00:11:00] with a strategy that makes sense for them.

The hard part I think is that there is no one shop. You can’t just take one. Methodology and put it into a variety of different companies. It has to be customized. It has to be. You have to look at the people, you have to look at where they are. One of the things that, that we try to do is figure out where is the organization and what’s the next step that we can get them to.

You’re not gonna take an organization and from a start who haven’t, who hasn’t really done any of the work in this and all of a sudden bring them to this very self, self-realized type of place. You have to take it in steps. And so that, that’s part of the work that we do.

[00:11:36] Amy: It’s funny that you said that.

I had a conversation with a client earlier today and they said, just tell us the steps we need to do to implement a D&I strategy. And I said, okay, hold on. First of all…

[00:11:44] Dr. Cohen: Yeah

[00:11:47] Amy: We have to be rooted in something, right? We can’t just, I can’t give you a checklist and say this is how this is gonna work.

That’s somebody said how do I start a business? I can tell you the legal steps you need to take, right? To start a business, but how to start and run and manage a [00:12:00] business is a completely different thing depending on what kind of business you have. And what your personality type is, and what kind of business you’re in,

what kind of clients you’re serving. So there’s so many different variables, and so when I talked to them, I talked about let’s start with “Why is this important to you as an organization?” Because you need a why that is bigger than all of the pushback you’re gonna get along the way.

[00:12:21] Dr. Cohen: And you have to be able to manage that change.

Right? That’s the other piece of this if your company is considering a D E I B strategy, cause your shareholders want it, it’s gonna be very different than the leaders within the organization feeling like there is an important factor in the work that needs to be done. And G E I B. Is rooted it is rooted in that D E I B that, that concept very different approach.

So yeah, you’re a hundred percent right. There are no steps, there is no check the box. It just, it does not work that way.

[00:12:52] Amy: Unfortunately, for the people that just wanna list and wanna go execute, we have to actually do the upfront work.

[00:12:57] Dr. Cohen: That’s right. That’s right. The “Why are you [00:13:00] interested in this?”

What has brought you to the place that this is now a question for you. Is it some trauma or some conflict within the organization? Is it because your leaders and managers recognize that this really is just a fundamental way to do business? Is it part of an ESG strategy?

What’s the purpose? What’s the reason?

[00:13:21] Amy: This customization is so important. And you said, when we were talking before the show started, before I hit record, you said you focused on three things with your clients: cultures of belonging, inclusive leadership strategies, and cultures of inclusion. How do you differentiate between the work around creating a culture of inclusion and the work around creating a culture of belonging?

[00:13:42] Dr. Cohen: I am going to use the expression, “I stand tall because I stand on the backs of those who came before me.” And Verna Meyers had this statement, which I thought was brilliant and many people do. So diversity is being asked to the dance and inclusion is being asked to dance, and there’s been some extrapolation [00:14:00] from that,

That premise, which I think is relevant here, and brings in equity and belonging. So equity is being asked to be part of the planning committee for the dance, and belonging is being able to choose the music and dance with whomever you want to. So you can create a space that people are included in,

But how are you creating a space where they feel connected? Belonging is about connection. It’s relational. It’s not just about great thanks for sitting in the room and giving your opinion, but we’re gonna do something different. It really is about that sense of connection. It’s when you feel like you have found your people, right, at a workplace.

So you there, there are different steps that you take to get to each level of those, but they have to be done together. First, you have to get to a place where you understand that this is an important feature of an organization, and then you can move from the other steps.

[00:14:56] Amy: I think that’s important. I would add to your statement, equity is getting [00:15:00] paid for the work you do on the planning committee, but that’s my own personal-

[00:15:03] Dr. Cohen: No, it’s a good point. That’s a good point. I guess I’m a mom of two teens and so I just remember all of the planning committees that you just volunteered to do as a mom because you’re a mom and you just do it. So that’s what you did. Yeah, that’s where my mind is.

[00:15:18] Amy: No, that makes sense. And then on this notion of inclusive leadership, I know you do a lot of assessments and mentorship around this. Can you talk a little bit about what that process looks like from your client’s perspective?

[00:15:31] Dr. Cohen: Yeah, absolutely. The mentorship piece is about, in full candor, I am not a coach.

I do not have any coaching certifications. What I do have is 25 years of working with people in a human resources perspective. So that’s why I talk about mentorship versus coaching. It’s about asking the right questions when you are working with someone. And a lot of it is really about, why is it that you are interested in this work.

Why is it that you do things in a particular way? [00:16:00] When I came up with this model, there are some actions that I talk about for practice that we ask folks to think about when it comes to inclusive leadership from a managerial perspective. One of the questions that I ask managers to think about or organizational leaders to think about is, “why is it that this is the process that you have always done?”

Is it because it’s just been there and you know you started the company and this is what it is, or is it something else? And if it is, once you figure out the why, who is it affecting? What does it do or how does it impact the people that you work with and is it impacting them in the way that you want it to be?

So you’re looking at the organizational structure, then you’re asking questions of the individual. How are you bringing certain behaviors to the workforce? How are you interacting with your team? What are you doing, for example, in order to make sure the [00:17:00] diverse voices are heard within a discussion or a solutions orientation?

And it’s not just about diversity on the surface, it’s about diversity or deeper diversity. So when I think about deep diversity, I think about things like introversion versus extroversion, right? How do you create a space where your introverts feel comfortable being able to say, you know what, I don’t agree with that.

Or, yes, I do agree with that, and here’s my perspective. What are you doing in order to create that space? So it’s about a lot of questions.

[00:17:34] Amy: Yeah. The questions are so important because the answers are so instructive, and if people don’t understand where they’re starting from, first of all, it’s hard to know which direction to take, but they also need to know where they want to end up.

[00:17:47] Dr. Cohen: That’s right. I could not agree more. And so by asking the questions you help people figure out. Sometimes they know we wanna get from A to Z. What’s always interesting to me is when you turn to someone and say, look, we wanna [00:18:00] increase our diversity numbers by X.

Right? Okay, great. Why exactly, what is that about? What is that about? Tell me what are you trying, what’s under that? What are you trying to achieve and why are you trying to achieve that? So it’s about asking those kinds of questions, but I believe that most people want to do good.

And so when they’re asking these questions, they’re just trying to figure out how to do it from a very positive, genuine, and authentic place. It’s my job to help them get to those answers. That, that’s how I come at it.

[00:18:34] Amy: So what kinds of results do your clients see when they work with you in this way?

How do you know that this stuff, we all wanna say as practitioners, this stuff works. How do you know it works?

[00:18:43] Dr. Cohen: It there, it’s I’m pausing because, I wanna give you a quantitative answer, and it’s hard to give a quantitative answer in this kind of stuff. If you want to increase your recruiting and looking at the people who apply in your [00:19:00] pipeline, we can come, we can come up with a way of doing that, but that’s a very siloed approach, right?

Because you may have x number of people of color, or X number of women apply, but how many make it through your pipeline? And once they’re hired, how many stay? And once they stay, how long do they stay? The process is really iterative in asking first questions. When you think about how people know that it’s successful, it does come around to employee engagement, is how connected do people feel within the organization?

So we look at statistics and numbers of engaged employees and what the baseline is and where some of that has changed to give some quantitative piece. But there’s a qualitative side of it, which is how are people feeling about the organization on a short and long term?

[00:19:48] Amy: Fantastic. And how can people find you if they want more information about your work or about your business?

[00:19:53] Dr. Cohen: Absolutely. So you can go to sociusstrategies.com or you can shoot me an email [00:20:00] at roz@sociusstrategies.com. LinkedIn is also another great way to find me, Rosalind Cohen. I love chatting with people and happy to talk more about this. So yeah, I hope to hope folks find this valuable.


[00:20:16] Amy: Thank you so much, Dr. Cohen. I appreciate your time. I appreciate your research and your expertise, and I’m so grateful for your work in this space. Thank

[00:20:24] Dr. Cohen: you. Thank you so much for inviting me. It’s been a pleasure.

[00:21:00] [00:21:14] Amy: That’s it for this week’s episode of Including You. Join me next week when my guest will be Shelley Jeffcoat from LexisNexis Risk Solutions.

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Amy C. Waninger Author Bio

Amy C. Waninger is the Founder & CEO of Lead at Any Level, where she improves employee engagement and retention for companies that promote from within. Amy offers assessments, advisory services, and training on essential skills for inclusive leaders. She is the author of eight books. Learn more at www.LeadAtAnyLevel.com

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