Belonging: Going Beyond Diversity & Inclusion

Belonging: Going Beyond Diversity & Inclusion

The Power of Belonging

For many years, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) initiatives have been a fundamental part of an organization’s effort to ensure representation across gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation. For the most part, employees value DE&I at their organization and it has been linked to stronger returns. However, the findings are showing that diversity training alone has not been as effective as we thought, according to a Betterup survey looking at diversity and inclusion practices over the past 30 years. For one organization in the study the number of women and minorities actually decreased by 9% over five years! 

So, what is the issue? What are employees telling us that current diversity and inclusion strategies are leaving out? Perhaps it is an even more fundamental yet more evolved mindset that brings our understanding and maturity to a new point. Perhaps what has been missing all along is to take diversity and inclusion to the next level – to a feeling of belonging

Belongingness in the Workplace

Many supervisors and senior leaders don’t understand that it doesn’t matter if they hire a diverse set of people and encourage them to work together if those people never develop an emotional bond with their teammates or the organization. For most people it’s not just about being included at work, it’s about being accepted! Too easily supervisors think that all they have to do is not discriminate against employees by giving them all the same opportunities. But there’s a big difference between including someone and making them feel included. Consider this analogy: If diversity is being invited to the dance and inclusion is being asked to dance, belongingness is feeling like the people there want to see you dance. The truth is that “belongingness” is something typical diversity and inclusion efforts ignore.

Some workplaces opt for “colorblind” policies to eliminate the negative effects of stereotyping and bias by suggesting differences don’t exist amongst employees. However, these policies can have the opposite effect by making minorities feel they’re being ignored. On the other hand, other workplaces will promote the idea of multiculturalism and celebrating diverse input, but they can be difficult to implement and might have the adverse effect of putting minorities in the spotlight. What could end up happening is a workplace that seeks input from diverse people just because they feel it’s mandatory. No one wants to feel like their background is being ignored, but they also don’t want to feel like they are around to satisfy some “diversity and inclusion” quota. Employees ideally want to feel like they are a part of a team that encourages them to be themselves without making them feel singled out. 

If people feel like they truly belong in their workspace, then the effect on performance is astounding. Betterup found that employees who felt a strong sense of belongingness at work reported a 56% increase in their job performance, a 50% drop in their risk of turnover, a 75% reduction in sick days, and they were 167% more likely to promote their company. Conversely, when an employee felt excluded, there was an immediate 25% decline in their performance on a team project.

Cultivating Belongingess

Fortunately, some organizations are getting behind the idea of belongingness. Diversity and inclusion programs are slowly starting to be seen as only curing “surface inclusion” by giving off the appearance of inclusiveness without ever getting at the heart of anything. A recent study by Deloitte found that 79% of organizations said fostering a sense of belongingness was a priority for their success over the next 12 to 18 months, but only 13% said they were ready to. There are many actions supervisors and senior leaders can make today to start creating a sense of belongingness at their organization. 

First, they can focus on building peer-to-peer relationships between coworkers and leadership. When an employee feels something is wrong they want to be able approach someone to address it without the risk of feeling judged. By building those key relationships the organization cultivates a culture centered around trust and openness where ideas, thoughts, and concerns can be expressed and listened to.

Second, they can be more “intentional” with diversity and inclusion. For initiatives to be successful everyone in the workplace needs to be brought on-board with the idea of diversity and inclusion and be encouraged to exercise it daily. They should be regularly asking themselves, “Am I making others feel like they belong?”, and, “Is everyone given a voice?”. After meetings or discussions they should feel confident that no one is being left out of the loop. Individual team members should also learn to take a greater interest in their co-worker’s growth and development and strive to help them advance.

Finally, to affect belongingness organizations need to measure belongingness. By investing in a belongingness measure supervisors and senior leaders can detect where they have trouble areas and tailor-fit their diversity and inclusion initiatives. Plus, employees will be more committed to the organization if they see it’s putting in more effort to make them feel included and engaged.

Best Practices to Measure Belongingness

Measuring belongingness is different than simply measuring diversity and inclusion. Diversity and inclusion are behaviors, meaning they can be mostly measured through policy and procedures. On the other hand, belongingness is an emotional response which covers an array of factors such as an individual’s trust, comfortability, and openness towards the company. All three factors play a big role in predicting employee engagement. However, some organizations do not make the distinction between these concepts and risk spending time and money focusing on the wrong things. 

The team at Camden Delta measures belongingness alongside diversity, inclusion, and equity in their Standard Employee Engagement Survey which is available on its Phoebe Insights platform. The Standard Employee Engagement Survey encapsulates the most important factors contributing to an employee’s engagement from senior leaders and managers to the policies and practices that energize, aspire, and promote growth. 

The team pulls from current research to provide clients with relevant items to offer meaningful and lasting measures of engagement. All items differentiate between value added by the company, job, or the team, which helps companies to get a better understanding of where they should target making improvements.

Belongingness is a concept that has been under the radar for a long time, but thanks to new research there its adoption is moving into the mainstream. While many organizations are eager to include it into their existing structure, not everyone has the tools or know-how to do it. Supervisors should start with building trusting relationships amongst peers and leadership. Next, they should be more more intentional about their inclusion efforts by encouraging all members of the team to participate daily. Lastly, they should measure belongingness alongside diversity, equity, and inclusion to get the full picture of their organization’s culture.