Enough has been said and researched about the importance of incorporating diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) in the workplace. However, as businesses strive to create more diverse and inclusive environments, a new emphasis is taking ground — belonging.
To set the stage, let’s start by defining each concept.
The University of Washington defines DE&I as:
“Diversity is the presence of differences that enrich our workplace. Some examples of diversity may include race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, nationality, socioeconomic status, language, (dis) ability, age, religious commitment, or political perspective in our workplace.”
“Equity is ensuring that access, resources, and opportunities are provided for all to succeed and grow, especially for those who are underrepresented and have been historically disadvantaged.”
“Inclusion is a workplace culture that is welcoming to all people regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, gender identity, age, abilities, and religion and everyone is valued, respected and able to reach their full potential.”
Or, as University of Michigan’s chief diversity officer Robert Sellers summarises it, “Diversity is where everyone is invited to the party. Inclusion means that everyone gets to contribute to the playlist. Equity means that everyone has the opportunity to dance/experience the music.”
The significance of belonging in the workplace
Belonging is a basic human need. It goes beyond mere representation and diversity efforts. It encompasses the need for individuals to feel accepted, respected and empowered.
Belonging at work means workers feel seen for their unique contributions, connected to their coworkers, supported in their daily work and career development, and proud of their organization’s values and purpose.
While many organizations prioritize DEI and make strong efforts to implement programs and policies to support it, the reality is that many of them fail to witness tangible outcomes from these efforts. According to a Harvard Business Review article, 40 percent of employees today feel isolated at work, despite nearly US$ 8 billion being spent on diversity and inclusion training by businesses in the U.S.
This is where belonging comes into play. Making belonging a part of ongoing DEI initiatives can help organizations reap a plethora of benefits. The EY Belonging Barometer study indicates that “when people feel like they belong, they are more productive, motivated and engaged”.
Additionally, studies have found that organizations with high levels of belonging exhibit higher employee net promoter scores (eNPS), a metric that monitors employee satisfaction and loyalty, and is known to have a significant correlation with employee engagement.
Incorporating belonging into corporate culture
A company culture that is infused with diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) is no longer a luxury, but a necessity for business success and employee satisfaction.
Research from Gartner reveals that businesses with sustainable DE&I initiatives “demonstrate a 20 percent increase in inclusion, which corresponds to greater on-the-job effort and intent to stay, as well as high employee performance.” Ania Krasniewska, group vice president at Gartner, further explains, “Belonging is a key component of inclusion. When employees are truly included, they perceive that the organization cares for them as individuals — their authentic selves… It’s good for employees — and ultimately improves business performance.”
The Gartner study also outlines a three-point strategy to foster belonging at the workplace:
Strategy 1: Get rid of the idea of outsiderness.
Despite the various initiatives taken to inculcate DE&I as an essential part of company culture, many employees struggle to feel like they belong in their workforce. This causes them to further suppress their unique identities, which can be a cognitive impairment that can undermine focus and performance.
Building a workplace culture where every individual is both noticed and valued is the first step toward creating a more inclusive workplace. This means demonstrating care for all employees and providing regular opportunities for check-ins. A place of work that is supportive, understanding and trusting can reduce employees’ feelings of feeling like an outsider.
Strategy 2: Invite everyone to the table.
Seventy percent of the respondents in the study feel that their employer does not do enough to promote inclusion in their day-to-day work. So, if organizations want to demonstrate genuine support for belonging, every employee needs to be made responsible for achieving DE&I goals daily.
This can be done by encouraging the staff to value the unique contributions of all their colleagues, advocate for everyone’s voice to be heard and invest in their coworkers’ growth and development.
Moreover, companies should incorporate employee input into their organizational values to show that every employee has a meaningful role in building a more inclusive workplace.
Strategy 3: Showcase care through benefits and initiatives.
Benefits (such as flexible work scheduling and emotional wellness programs) that are inclusive and gratify the needs of all demographic groups send a powerful message to employees that their distinct needs and demands both inside and outside of work are valued and cared for. These tangible gestures of appreciation play a significant role in fostering a sense of belonging. In fact, the study indicates that implementing such benefits and initiatives can boost feelings of inclusion by as much as 38 percent.
Strategic initiatives like promoting diversity in succession planning and organizing celebratory events to recognize underrepresented groups (for instance, Women’s History Month) are highly effective in cultivating cultures of belonging. By offering benefits and initiatives that acknowledge and honor the unique contributions of employees to the organization, it becomes evident that the success of the business is intricately tied to the acceptance and sense of belonging felt by its workforce.
Creating a culture of belonging requires intentional efforts
Companies can cultivate an inclusive and welcoming environment for its employees by promoting psychological safety, encouraging open communication and collaboration, and providing opportunities for employee input and participation.
In addition, addressing unconscious bias and promoting fairness is crucial in eliminating barriers to belonging. Cultivating a sense of community and connection through employee resource groups, team-building activities and mentoring programs also plays a significant role.
Finally, leadership commitment and accountability are essential in driving a culture where belonging is valued and upheld.
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