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Kimberly S Reed

Reed Development Group

Chief Transformational Officer, Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Strategist

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Belonging: The forgotten tenet of diversity, equity and inclusion

Companies face fresh challenges when adopting diversity programmes if they ignore the most important element of all

We all know that the world is becoming more diverse. Consider that post-millennial generations entering the workforce will be the most diverse in history, according to research from the Pew Research Center. Given this reality, many organisations want to proactively leverage the power and benefits of a diverse workforce. By incorporating diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, these important concepts into your day-to-day life benefits everyone in your organisation and ultimately creates a culture where everyone can succeed.

Where does belonging fit in?

Everywhere you turn, organisations are posting diversity statements on their websites and hiring leaders to oversee diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. But ‘diversity, equity and inclusion’ (DEI) is not a corporate buzz phrase or leadership trend; it represents the non-negotiable pillars on which strong cultures must be built.

Did you know that on average, you will spend about 13 years of your life at work? That’s about a quarter of your life on the job during a typical 50-year career

To have sustainable and successful diversity, we cannot forget the last non-negotiable pillar, ‘belonging.’ Now is a time to have the conversations, listening sessions without leaping into immediate action, because a large part of this is just being able to hold the safe place for safe dialogue, ensuring people are connected and engaged, dial up our empathy and be able to listen to each other. 

Did you know that on average, you will spend about 13 years of your life at work? That’s about a quarter of your life on the job during a typical 50-year career. Given that we will spend so many of our waking hours working, it becomes critical that organisations create working environments that engage and inspire workers to contribute at their highest levels. This certainly becomes even more critical for individuals who may feel that their professional lives and success are hindered by systemic discrimination and bias – a reality that while hard to acknowledge, does exist in many organisations.  

Diverse organisations work hard to make sure they have a certain representative number of employees from various backgrounds within their workforce. They recognise the value of different perspectives and how they positively impact their organisation’s ability to problem solve, embrace innovation, build collaborative cultures, and achieve goals.

Diversity: more than metrics

Diversity directly influences the quality of products and services as people from different backgrounds with varying life experiences are able to provide new perspectives that help refine and enhance products, services and processes. In other words, they understand that diversity directly impacts their ability to gain and sustain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.  

However, great organisations also understand that diversity is far more than metrics and the percentage of diverse people that are employed. They recognise that many diverse people do not feel welcomed or valued because of the impact of systemic discrimination and bias – despite their best efforts and the most well-crafted DEIB strategy. And even though resources for growth and development are made available to everyone, many diverse individuals still report difficulty accessing those resources fully. So, how do organisations mitigate this? Well, they embrace the power of equity. 

It is important to understand that you can have diversity but not be inclusive. Unless an organisation is inclusive it doesn’t benefit from its diversity – even if the numbers of diverse people are there. Representation is just one piece of the puzzle. You may have heard the adage that you can be invited to the party but not invited to dance. Without a sense of inclusion, it’s very difficult to feel that you are welcomed, that you can use your voice and be your authentic self and not hide elements of who you are because you happen to be a diverse person.

Why inclusion is key

While the workplace does require professionalism and etiquette, an inclusive culture should make it easy for people to be themselves. Diverse employees should not worry about having to change who they are or codeswitch, for example. Inclusive environments make it possible for everyone to show up at work without feeling they have to change something about who they are.  

This is why inclusion is so important. When we embrace inclusion, we celebrate, not separate from others because of their differences. A strategy to ensure that our workforce is diverse is a wasted effort if we do nothing to make sure that diverse people feel seen and heard and valued. Inclusion increases the participation and contribution of all employees by making it easier to address barriers that support discrimination and intolerance. A focus on inclusion makes sure we achieve this outcome.   

When you feel that you belong, you feel welcomed and wanted. You know that you matter and that you have a place in your organisation

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 organisation. 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.  

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. [embed-slice:21]

Everyone is responsible for sustaining belonging

Recognising that some employees have different needs and doing the right thing to make sure that those needs do not hinder their access to things we all have right to is what we are committed to doing in our organisations today and beyond. 

In summary, our commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging allows us to proactively mitigate the negative impacts of systemic discrimination in the workplace and ensures that everyone has a professional experience that’s based on fairness and equity. We want to make sure everyone can work with confidence in an environment that is supportive and where everyone can succeed.

Interested in this topic? Read How to cultivate diverse leadership in succession planning.

Author Profile Picture
Kimberly S Reed

Chief Transformational Officer, Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Strategist

Read more from Kimberly S Reed
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