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Disrupting your culture with “The 3 Bs of belonging”

How inclusive is your organization? Simply checking the representation boxes and creating policies isn't enough.

How inclusive is your organization? Are you just scratching the surface in your diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategy, simply checking the representation boxes and creating policies, yet seeing no real action behind them? Or is your organization further along in its D&I journey but not fully disrupting your culture? With social distancing the norm, equality and anti-racism front and center in the news, and the rapid shift to remote working, it’s now more important than ever to reimagine your D&I strategy by focusing on a crucial, missing piece—creating a culture of belonging where, your employees feel truly included.

Belonging is the essential component of inclusion and any D&I strategy (hence, DI&B). DI&B Head for Enspira, Leesa Hill, says, “Belonging is about connecting work to people in a meaningful way, so they are inspired, grow and thrive. It’s our basic human need to feel included and a sense of feeling at home within your organization.” According to Chief Talent Officer of ServiceNow, Pat Wadors, belonging is the key ingredient to cultivate what Wadors coins, a “purpose-driven culture.”  

The key difference between inclusion and belonging is that inclusion meets practical components of DI&B, such as offering specific benefits and promotional opportunities for underrepresented individuals, whereas belonging focuses on the employee’s emotions of feeling wanted and connected. As Hill describes, “the notion of belonging connects heart to mind and helps convey that the organization truly cares about them as an individual.” Fostering an authentic and accepting sense of belonging starts with breaking through traditional barriers of D&I to truly disrupt your culture.

Belonging is also good for business, as noted in a recent Harvard Business Review article. 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. 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.

So what’s the best way to disrupt your culture and promote a sense of belonging? According to Hill, cultural transformation starts when organizations implement “the 3 Bs of belonging.”

1. Begin with Belonging.

Inclusion without belonging is only half the story.  When employees feel a sense of belonging, it's because they feel included, involved and accepted.  Belonging is a feeling, and employees want to feel not just know that they belong in the workplace.

To achieve a true sense of belonging, organizations must start at the top of the house. If your senior leadership lacks diversity, it won’t portray an overarching image of inclusivity and belonging. If an employee doesn’t see themselves represented at the top, this can have a rippling effect throughout all levels in the organization.

If your employees feel underrepresented within the organization, they might also feel less valued, disengaged and inclined to pursue other opportunities. Ask yourself if your executive team depicts a clear image of DI&B, or is it only giving lip service to what’s stated within your policies and practices. It’s also important to take DI&B assessments and distribute surveys to your employees, both of which can provide a better understanding of the current inclusivity climate within your organization.

2. Believe in the power of all employees.

DI&B should not be solely HR led. You will need engagement and advocacy in the surround.  It takes the work of the entire organization, entailing commitment and passion from top to bottom and bottom to top.

At every level, each employee regardless of age, gender, race, religion or sexual orientation offers a unique perspective and background and has the potential to make an impact within your organization. It’s important to celebrate and appreciate every employee for their individual strengths to foster a culture of belonging with respect, trust, embracement and empowerment at its core. Most importantly, you must also make sure that all employees’ perspectives are encouraged and valued.

Whether it’s through offering one-on-one conversations, providing extensive feedback or encouraging everyone to participate in group meetings, every employee’s voice should be heard and appreciated. By establishing “the power of all employees” as a common belief system within your culture, you’ll nourish a shared sense of belonging, helping to inspire innovative ideas and new ways of thinking that are critical for your organization's growth and success.

3. Blaze a path.

DI&B is not an initiative.  An initiative implies there is an end to the work.  DI&B should be a way of being in the organization, threaded as a part of your organizational culture.  It shows up in performance management, hiring, promotions, benefits, values etc.

Don’t be afraid to jump-start your DI&B efforts. As Hill said, “Don’t just settle with what everybody else is doing. Be a trailblazer!” Go above and beyond what is already widely considered diverse and inclusive. At the same time, being bold does not mean being reckless. Hill states, “Recognize where your organization is in its evolution and evolve your strategies by implementing new ways to strengthen your belonging efforts in the areas where your organization is ready to accept them.”

In other words, be creative! Rebecca Harris, Enspira’s Associate Director for Human Capital, offers a prime example of how organizations can provide new ways to support their employees. At a prior organization, Harris partnered with their Black Professionals Employee Resource Group (ERG) to offer a virtual safe space for Black employees to come together in the wake of George Floyd’s death. While this session was set up for the employees, as a white woman, Harris felt it was not her place, nor the place of other allies, to partake in the initial meeting. She left it to be facilitated by a member of the ERG, believing that this would provide the optimum amount of psychological safety for the conversation. According to Harris, it was important to provide this safe space for three primary reasons, “employees can discuss how they’re feeling, build a workplace community to support each other, and speak candidly about ways the organization can support them.”  Around 60-65 employees participated in the session. Harris says, “It’s really important for organizations, particularly leadership, to listen to and understand how their employees are feeling, to recognize and provide the support they need, and to take visible action to foster diversity and inclusion, which ultimately helps to build trust and a sense of belonging.”

Take steps to unleash the real power of belonging in your workplace today. Learn more about Enspira’s innovative, fit-for-purpose DI&B solutions at enspirahr.com.

Leesa Hill

Leesa (she/her) has 25 years of experience in the Human Resources industry with deep expertise in the areas of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB), and Learning and Development. Prior to Enspira, she worked in human resource roles at Biogen, Pfizer and Kforce Inc. She has a proven track record of creating and implementing successful DEIB strategies in a variety of organizational settings which includes a pace setting women on boards program, fit-for-purpose strategic roadmaps, launching and leveraging Employee Resource Groups/Networks and Diversity Councils, creating and leading a years long DEIB-focused community of practice and being an active member of the HR D+I Council. Leesa has a Certificate in Diversity & Inclusion for HR from Cornell’s ILR School, is certified in the ED&I 360 & Inclusive Behavior Inventory Assessment and earned her B.F.A. in Dance from Shenandoah Conservatory. Leesa actively mentors women from underrepresented groups who are passionate in the space of DEIB.

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