February 26, 2021
Putting the “B” in your DEIB strategy: Why belonging is essential
Feeling like an outsider in the workplace can be painful and anxiety-inducing, but chances are, everyone has felt this tension at some point in their career. Fitting into a company’s culture isn’t always easy, and organizations often unknowingly contribute to feelings of isolation and exclusion. Cultivating a sense of belonging in the workplace is a fundamental part of creating a better workforce for the future.
If our organizations commit to diversity, equity, and inclusion work, they must also be devoted to a sense of belonging. To understand how we can create a more inclusive workplace, we must first examine how we’ve participated in systems and processes of exclusion. Sheree Atcheson, Global Director of DEI at Peakon, said the following: “Many organizations are forming inclusion strategies — rolling out different trainings on bias, creating employee-resource groups, dedicating someone to do this work full-time — but in that process, how often or regularly do you see exclusion being talked about vs inclusion alone?”.
What does the absence of belonging look like?
When someone feels like they don’t “belong” on their team, they might believe they’re hindrances to the team’s goals and business outcomes. If someone doesn’t feel the psychological safety they need to bring up their concerns, they may continue to hang back from the group, feeling disempowered and unable to contribute to the team’s goals. And on and on, the cycle continues.
You know your team is struggling with belonging when:
- There is low psychological safety. Do people have anxiety about speaking up with new or different ideas? Are there trends among the people who are rewarded for their contributions while others are shut down or deflated?
- People use backchanneling over direct communication: This can point to low trust and fear of retaliation.
- Managers are consistently giving unfair feedback: Are people experiencing microaggressions from their superiors? Are people dealing with ostracism in the workplace?
Envision your culture of belonging
Belonging is, in many ways, the emotional counterpart to inclusion. For this reason, it can seem elusive or abstract. Belonging is tricky to measure quantitatively, but its presence or absence is certainly felt. What is the energy of the room when your group comes together? How has that shifted or changed now that the room might be more proverbial or virtual?
Belonging to a group is a vital human need and likely means something different to each individual. Still, some near-universal effects of a strong sense of belonging include feeling genuinely welcomed to participate, safety among the group, and security in people’s roles.
Cultivating trust and building effective working relationships are essential, supporting our people and the success of our business outcomes. “While diversity and inclusion are important metrics in their own right, there is evidence to suggest that a focus on belonging can most helpfully frame inclusion initiatives in the workplace,” according to a recent Deloitte study.
When a workplace can consider itself a community, where people feel a sense of comfort, connection, and contribution, we see belonging in action.
Contributing to a shared goal cultivates a sense of belonging. For values-driven businesses, this becomes an even more significant factor of belonging. From the Deloitte study: “44%, a plurality, reported that feeling aligned to the organization’s purpose, mission, and values and being valued for their individual contributions was the biggest driver of belonging at work.”
People are working longer hours and spending more time on work in this new normal. For many, workplace interactions are the majority of their social time. The social aspects of work-life have always been paramount to our teams and organizations’ success, but the lens of our current moment in history magnifies its importance. When we cultivate a sense of belonging at work, we enforce vital support and care for our people.
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