Belonging: A Key Ingredient for DEI in 2022 – by Kimberly Reed

The uncertainty of a global pandemic, racial injustice and isolation, and the virtual or hybrid workplaces all contributed to the changes in employee engagement trends, and places a significant priority on employees’ feeling a sense of belonging in the workplace.

In an ideal world, all employees feel safe and comfortable to bring their full, authentic selves to work. It’s hard for people to do their best work when organizational leadership doesn’t actively prioritize happiness, inclusion, and belonging. This is why it’s critical for organizations to level up on employee engagement, inclusion and belonging as they navigate a global pandemic and culture shift.

What does belonging feel like? Imagine a time when you felt excluded, that your voice wasn’t heard, that you were ignored, or not included in a conversation at work.  The feeling of exclusion goes against a very basic human need we all have to belong and feel valued.  So, what does belonging feel like?  When you feel that you belong, you feel welcomed and wanted. You know that you matter and that you have a place in your organization.  You know that your work is valued, and you have a purpose.  Finally, belonging allows you to feel connected to others. You enjoy building and sustaining personal connections with colleagues and being part of a community.

Belonging has always been a key driver of happiness and engagement. In the workplace, it is fostered through connection and a shared sense of purpose. It means being accepted fully within a community of people where members identify with one another and share common values, and genuine care.

When exploring the concepts of workplace belonging there is an article published by the Harvard Business Review December 2019, titled “The Value of Belonging at Work.” The article highlights the element that is missing from many diversity, equality/equity and inclusion discussions; namely, the very human need to actually feel included. The article also provides stats that quantify the cost of exclusion:

“If workers feel like they belong, companies reap substantial bottom-line benefits. High belonging was linked to a whopping 56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in turnover risk, and a 75% reduction in sick days. For a 10,000-person company, this would result in annual savings of more than $52M.

“Employees with higher workplace belonging also showed a 167% increase in their employer promoter score (their willingness to recommend their company to others). They also received double the raises and 18 times more promotions.”

When a sense of belonging is absent, it may make it more difficult for diverse individuals to build community at work.  Often, affinity bias causes us to build relationships with others that are most like us and we may not be aware that diverse people may feel left out.  This becomes extremely important to consider because so much gets done through informal networking and the relationships we build at work, directly impacting our access to opportunities for growth and development.   When we understand that belonging is just as important as having your physiological needs met, we work harder to embrace those that are different to ensure they feel visibly connected and supported.

As employees continue to adapt to the changing workplace environment, increasing belonging alone is not a silver bullet solution. While it can be a powerful driver of employee engagement, this may not be a consistent experience in a diverse organization, where demographic factors can have a significant impact on experience and access to opportunities that enable employees to thrive.

We are on a journey to building greater awareness and support for diversity, equity/equality and inclusion.  It is important to understand that you may be at a different place on your journey. Some of you are beginners and just learning more about the impacts equity/equality and inequity/inequality. Some of you may feel that you have a lot to learn and that your awareness or support will take a little more concentrated effort to develop. Some of you may be quite ambivalent and may not quite feel that the focus on diversity, equity/equality, inclusion and belonging is warranted. If you’re open and eager to learn more about the lived experiences of those around you, you might find that your ability to be supportive of DEIB continues to increase. Regardless of where you are, be kind to yourself as you embark on the journey of evolution and continuous learning.

Building a culture with strong focus on inclusive practices is a journey, and belonging is at the heart of it. It’s a unifying conversation in which everyone can participate and everyone has a role to play in making progress.

Kimberly Reed
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