Updated: Jul 23, 2021
By Willow J. Anderson and W. Y. Alice Chan
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts — organizations are increasingly paying more attention to these aspects of work, and for good reason. Done correctly, DEI work can lead to financial and social returns, but seldom do organizations see the fruits of their best-laid plans. Instead, budget constraints or short-sighted efforts lead organizations into the realm of DEI in a piecemeal fashion.
Realistically, effective and sustainable DEI change processes must be grounded in evidence on where the organization is, while envisioning where the organization might be with the right kinds of efforts. Recent research suggests that a key component of reaching one’s DEI goals (that “might be”) is the creation of a culture of belonging for all employees. This requires data and a vision of inclusion.
A study conducted by Better Up found that there are substantial organizational benefits to having employees with a strong sense of belonging:
They are 50 percent less likely to leave.
Their job performance is 56 percent higher.
They take 75 percent less sick days.
They are 167 percent more likely to recommend their company to others.
The impact of belonging on retention and productivity is clear: people contribute to something when they feel valued and included in the workspace and culture.
Other investigations have found that employees are more engaged if they feel that they belong (Culture Amp & Paradigm, 2018). This is true regardless of demographic factors (such as gender, race/ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, and religion), but the connection between belonging and engagement is particularly strong for groups that have traditionally been under-represented.
Fostering a culture of belonging
Your organization can take several steps to help foster a sense of belonging:
1. Assess your company. How do employees currently experience belonging and inclusion? Enhance what’s working and take action on areas that still need attention.
2. Create mentorship programs and/or affinity groups.
These promote healthy and trusting relationships in formal and informal ways throughout your organization.
Affinity groups have proved effective in several corporations. For example, Intel, American Airlines, and Google have been recognized for their inclusion of religious and non-religious affinity groups; these groups help employees bring their whole selves to work.
3. Support the creation of a shared social identity. Research tells us that employees who do not switch from using “I” to “we” in the first six months of talking about their work are more likely to leave.
4. Genuinely listen.
Welcome input at meetings, use active listening skills while hearing people out fully, and seriously consider those contributions. Do not tokenize employees or begin this process unless you are ready; employees will spot tokenism and your efforts may cause more harm than good.
5. Commit to a long-term plan and vision.
Check back in with your employees regularly to learn how they would assess your organization’s progress on creating a culture of belonging. Remember that short-sighted efforts do not succeed and can easily lead organizations to revert to previous work cultures.
Clearly, fostering a sense of belonging requires a regular investment of time, resources, and self-reflection. This may seem like a lot, but the benefits of belonging far outweigh the costs - costs like the stifling of creativity and innovation, lower retention rates, higher burnout, and the lower job performance that exclusion can bring.
When the benefits are so clear, how can you afford not to invest in belonging?
Mind the Gap Consulting™ assists organizations and individuals in navigating and optimizing diversity so that they might build their capacity to work more effectively within their organizations and externally with their clients and communities. Mind the Gap’s professional and customizable training, consulting, facilitation, and research help build diverse, effective, and collaborative workplaces where difference is a strength.
Willow J. Anderson
Willow J. Anderson is Principal Consultant and Founder at Mind the Gap Consulting™. She is a consultant, trainer, and researcher who combines her profound belief in the importance of diversity with her need for meaningful inquiry and for quality processes and outcomes for her clients. As a client recently shared “the ability to understand, articulate, and deliver pragmatic solutions as we become a more diverse community is one that Willow Anderson has been successfully navigating. Willow brings a calm, thorough understanding of this complexity in her work with clients. She doesn’t shy away from tough discussions but involves her clients in finding effective solutions.
W. Y. Alice Chan
Alice is the executive director and co-founder of the Centre for Civic Religious Literacy—a national, non-religious non-profit that works to foster understanding about religious, spiritual, and non-religious peoples, and their intersecting identities. She leads a team of researchers and educators who are deeply committed to their local communities across Canada. Her leadership is based on her work at small, medium, and multi-national businesses, non-profits, educational institutions, and her PhD in education.
With her team, Alice listens and works with local partners to engage in complex and challenging concerns to help communities and organizations live and work better together. She brings research, insight, and a customized approach to ensure that each training, research, consulting, or program evaluation they offer is collaboratively co-owned and locally relevant.