Should belonging be a part of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in the workplace?
From my recent blog post, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) is defined as the following:
Companies that use DEIB will emphasize that being “included” does not necessarily mean that you have a sense of “belonging” in an organization. Author Liz Fosslien differentiates the terms by describing diversity as “having a seat at the table,” inclusion as “having a voice at the table”, and belonging as “having that voice being heard.” Brene Brown uses a belonging statement in her organization because “people should feel a strong sense of belonging in an organization and share the culture through representation, co-creation, influence, and that inextricable, un-namable, spiritual connection that is shared humanity (emphasis hers).”
So, why do some companies explicitly include belonging in the name of their DEI department, or in their initiatives, while others don’t?
Here are three key ideas to consider when considering whether belonging should be a part of your company’s DEI initiatives:
- Diversity efforts need to be integrated as an outcome. It’s not just about the acronyms used to describe this work. Having said this, it’s key to remember words do matter and the importance of using inclusive language.
- What matters is that you take whatever you have now, get started, and make improvements later on. If you have a DEI department now, that is a great starting point; you can add onto this later.
- If the company is focused on belonging, what are the organizational barriers to change? What equity concerns stand in the way?
It’s about leaders’ behaviors to integrate DEI outcomes.
Strong leadership is part of a high-performing organization. Leaning into transformative work is challenging and it requires introspection from leaders. It involves changing behaviors, learning, and having leaders who want to do this transformative work. It can be painful, as leaders may need to move through the shame and grief of old relationships to create change. It also requires leaders to have greater empathy and vulnerability to share stories with others.⁴
A good leader is well versed in a DEI outcome. Presently in many large organizations, there is a separate DEI department to oversee these efforts across organizations. Ideally, DEI is embedded in every department. The outcome is that the DEI department does not need to exist. As equity is achieved, there is less need for a standalone department to oversee it. Although if history is any indication, there will always be a need for at least a DEI ‘center of excellence’ to coordinate company-wide efforts.
We are in the early stages of companies figuring out DEI efforts.
I believe that in a decade or two, all companies will be focused on DEI as a priority and that there will be a dedicated team in each organization. Companies are currently focused on hierarchy in terms of staffing such a function. If there is buy-in from the leadership team, then money and resources will be dedicated to DEI, and it will be embedded into the collective mission of companies. Thus, in a decade or two, higher performing companies will not only have dedicated teams, but cross-company collaboration demonstrating embedded behaviors.
Business leaders need to embrace change through growth and continual feedback. Increasing diversity through hiring more underrepresented groups is showing gradual progress. According to this Forbes article,³ “Boards of Directors (the bosses of CEOs) understand diversity affects their performance with women now holding 44% of Fortune 500 company board seats.”
Cultivating DEI and reconfiguring power structures.
It’s also important to consider how companies cultivate DEI and reconfigure power structures and accountability within their organizations.¹ This involves tapping into leaders who genuinely want to do the inner transformative work to affect change within their companies; this can often be a barrier as it requires changing the mindset and behavior of people.
There is gradual progress through the years. According to 2022 reports,² “About one-third of S&P 500 companies have folded DEI metrics into their executive incentive plans.”
Employees also need to feel valued and respected, which goes beyond inclusion. Per Harvard Business Review,¹ “It involves having the power to help set the agenda, influence what—and how—work is done, have one’s needs and interests taken into account, and have one’s contributions recognized and rewarded with further opportunities to contribute and advance.” Individuals in leadership roles (ie. C-Suite positions) can take steps and make equitable choices for their teams and departments.
Research shows that having diverse teams doesn’t guarantee greater effectiveness, it can actually increase tension and conflict with so many different perspectives. However, with the right organizational conditions, “employees turn cultural differences into assets for achieving team goals.”¹
Companies looking to ramp up DEI efforts to include belonging.
For companies looking to improve DEI efforts, consider your potential employees. You want to serve and communicate with them so that they become your employees.
In a new GoodHire survey⁵ that was recently released, “81% of workers said they would leave their job if their employer lacked a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace, while 54% said they would take a pay cut to improve DE&I at work.”
To build and drive a sense of belonging, focus on creating a culture that supports your team and drives engagement. Build and promote a culture in which individuals are valued and acknowledged; employee appreciation shows that your company cares. Encourage every employee’s voice to be heard and let every individual know that their feedback is valuable. Additionally, incorporate employee feedback into your company’s organizational values to demonstrate the impact of your employees’ voices. Be proactive to offer benefits and initiatives to show employees that your company cares about their needs, which is vitally important in a post-pandemic world.
How do you include belonging within your company’s DEI initiatives?