DEI efforts that help your employees belong.
The business case for diversity in your company has never been stronger, and the relationship between diversity on executive teams and the likelihood of financial performance is truly compelling. Many organizations, from small businesses to international leaders, are seeing the fruit of focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Yet in spite of best efforts in DEI training programs, there may still be something missing — and that missing piece may be a sense of belonging.
When professionals have experiences that make them feel like they’re different from those around them, they may begin to emotionally detach from their jobs and seek work elsewhere. This recent research noted that while feeling excluded was associated with negative emotion, feelings of not belonging were far more detrimental. Feelings of not belonging in the workplace can lead professionals to experience lower workplace satisfaction, less job engagement and lower job retention.
On the other hand, a sense of belonging makes professionals feel like their opinions matter because of the wisdom that comes from within. Those who feel like they belong experience a greater connection to their team and the positive outcomes they deliver. Fostering an inclusive culture helps create a sense of belonging.
How can your organization create a greater sense of belonging? Explore the following strategies as you aim to replace that missing piece of belonging and uplift your DEI efforts.
1. Gather Qualitative Data
While organizations may be measuring representation and diversity in statistics and percentages, “belonging” is a feeling, meaning it’s a bit more complicated to quantify. One-on-one interviews can be beneficial to understand if your team members feel they belong at work.
To measure belonging, leaders may ask, “How do you feel when you’re at work? Do you feel valued and respected? Do you feel like you have a place here? How do you feel your opinions, ideas, and statements are received?”
By laying the groundwork and getting to know where your employees are on the spectrum of belonging, you can establish a baseline and discover what’s working and what’s not. Knowing where your business is today is a great first step in making sure everyone belongs.
2. Teach Compassion
Yes, compassion is something that can be taught. Sharing the core ideas behind this important concept can create a foundation of acceptance for your team. Doing so can lead to a safe, inclusive environment for all professionals involved.
Compassion involves understanding and empathizing with others’ problems or perspectives, caring about other people and selflessly helping them when they’re in need. Teaching compassion at work starts with noticing other people’s wellbeing and responding with encouragement and positivity. Leaders can invite open conversations with respect and kindness.
For many, learning compassion starts with empathy. Professionals may need help learning positive self-talk and self-forgiveness. Any efforts you put into teaching your team compassion may result in a positive sense of belonging for all.
3. Open Conversations to Everyone
Conversations that lead people to feel like they stand out from everyone else, or they’re singled out as a minority, can damage a sense of belonging. Sometimes, we can unintentionally put people on the spot and do more harm than good because of our unconscious biases.
While it’s clear ignoring differences doesn’t create a positive outcome, it’s important to find a balance by recognizing diversity without overemphasizing it. In daily practice, keep your focus on the individual rather than the group they represent. Continually pointing out they are a minority or asking their opinion solely because of their representation can leave team members feeling unappreciated, or that they’re defined by only one part of their identity.
By including everyone in conversations, you can avoid singling out just a few people and improve your workplace’s unity. A great first step toward this is to ask everyone how your organization can better hear all voices involved.
4. Create a Support System
What should employees do when they see something or experience an event that detracts from feelings of inclusion and belonging? To move DEI efforts beyond surface level, empower employees with safe support systems and clear pathways to communicate both concerns and areas of opportunity.
DEI support systems may look like formal HR channels where opinions and concerns will be respected and addressed. Organizations may also recognize team leaders, mentors and managers with whom employees may connect to have those important conversations.
These support systems will be successful when they’re built around helping employees feel their experiences are heard and not dismissed. Consider what structures may work best for your team and implement accordingly.
5. Recognize Unique Strengths
Pointing out what makes someone different can lead to negative experiences in the workplace. However, identifying different strengths and accomplishments that set your employees apart can leave everyone feeling appreciated.
In one workplace study, 59% of professionals surveyed said being recognized for their accomplishments would make them feel like they belong at their organization. With this in mind, it may be time to review your recognition practices.
Consider how your team members may want to be recognized. While some may appreciate accolades in an email to the whole team, others may prefer a private congrats. From simple, no-cost thanks to yearly work anniversary recognition, showing you appreciate all employees will likely bring your organization closer together.
To truly make a difference with DEI efforts in your organization, consider how to best foster a sense of belonging. With this as your goal, you’ll begin to see beyond the statistics into what’s best for your employees and to build a workplace where everyone really belongs.
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