June 08, 2022

The power of difference and the urgency of belonging

Katasha Harley, Bravely’s Chief People Officer, recently kicked off a webinar called “The Power of Difference & The Urgency of Belonging” with this powerful statement:

“Belonging starts with a feeling.”

In our corporate day-to-day, we tend to talk around feelings likely out of fear that we’re crossing some personal-work boundary. But, a shift is afoot: Employees and leaders alike are starting to acknowledge the power of feelings- both the impact of negative feelings that employees might harbor and the positive feelings of connection and belonging. When we talk about DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging) it’s natural to use language like “soft skills” to describe compassion, empathy, and belonging. However, these soft skills are really the backbone of thriving company culture that embraces belonging and inclusion. 

[Watch the recording here.]

Tap into the power of difference

There is an enormous amount of data that shows that diverse workplaces support higher levels of productivity, performance and interconnectedness among a team. We know that culturally diverse social groups are more innovative and productive than homogeneous groups. It takes all types to create robust teams with different skills. We’re big fans of embracing the culture add over the culture fit. According to Katherine W. Phillips, Ph.D., Professor of Leadership and Ethics Management at Columbia Business School,

Diversity is not only about bringing different perspectives to the table. Simply adding social diversity to a group makes people believe that differences of perspective might exist among them and that belief makes people change their behavior.

Consider these steps, from McKinsey & Company: 

  1. Systematic, business-led approach to inclusion and diversity: 
    • Increase diverse representation, particularly in leadership and critical roles
    • Strengthen leadership and accountability for delivering on I&D goals
  2. Bold steps to strengthen inclusion:
    • Enable equality of opportunity through fairness and transparency 
    • Promote openness, tackling bias and discrimination 
    • Foster belonging through support for multivariate diversity

[Read more about culture adds vs. culture fits here: “Cultural outliers will be key to your innovation in the new world of work.”]

Seeking out intersectional data is foundational

Don’t overcomplicate the process of increasing a strong sense of belonging on your team. Start by simply asking your employees if they feel they belong at work. HR leaders can get a good sense if this area of their culture is thriving or suffering based on employee’s responses. People who feel they belong at their workplace will generally talk about feeling safe to speak up with ideas or with constructive feedback. 

It’s essential upon taking this kind of pulse-read to consider the differences in your employee population. What makes one person feel they belong may be different than another. For example, it’s not a coincidence that many women of color don’t want to return to the office. One study found that only 3% of Black knowledge workers wanted to return to full-time on-site work, as opposed to 21% of white peers. Open racism and sexism are astonishingly omnipresent in today’s workplaces: 81% of women of color in our study of tech said they experienced at least some racism while 90% said the same for sexism. 

Creating a culture of belonging is urgent

There has been a movement toward a more human-centric, compassionate workplace several years leading up to the pandemic. This movement has been intensified by the loneliness and isolation that many stay-home orders spurred on.

Concerning statistics (Source: Mental Health America, GlobeNewswire) show us that people at large are suffering from anxiety, depression, and hopelessness: 

  • Analysis of survey responses from more than 11,300 U.S. employees across 17 industries in 2021 showed 71% of respondents found it difficult to concentrate at work, compared to 65% in 2020 and 46% in 2018.
  • 80% agree that the stress from work affects their relationships with friends, family, and co-workers.
  • Only 40% agree that their company invests in developing supportive managers.
  • 59% report that their manager cares about their personal well-being.
  • 58% disagree that their manager encourages them to take off time when needed.
  • 47% know what mental health services they can use when struggling with a mental health concern, but only 38% would be comfortable using their company’s services for a mental health concern.

Building a culture that values belonging for every employee starts with embedding a foundational layer of psychological safety. Highest on the priority list should be direct communication, clear expectations and creating channels for feedback. By valuing strong, authentic relationships, managers and leaders can set the tone and expectations for employees at every level. Leaders must find a way to consider the needs of their employees and be dedicated to finding solutions that satisfy business outcomes and honor employees’ time and contributions.

[Read more on Why Belonging is Essential here.]

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