The Changing Landscape of DE&I - incorporating Belongingness
We recently hosted our first HR roundtable for senior HR professionals, focusing on the repositioning of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to pivot the focus on belongingness and how HR functions can incorporate belongingness into their DEI strategy in 2023.
The discussions dissected industries and pitched the need for further clarification on what belonging really means for an organisation and the differentiation between belonging, inclusion and diversity in order to attach it to DEI strategies.
The roundtable centred around 3 key questions:
1. What does belonging mean to an organisation?
Belonging, simply put, means existing in a culture that invites people to be themselves whilst ‘Inclusion’ is centred around welcoming everyone into your existing group/culture.
A culture of belonging is creating psychological safety to share new ideas, take risks and explore creative ideas without fear of embarrassment or rejection. Belonging therefore is important for business performance in generating increased innovation and productivity. In its simplest form, authenticity drives employees to challenge the status quo and bring about change.
Additionally, there are numerous indicators that those who don’t feel belonged are far more likely to leave their organisation. One Head of People conducted a 2 year talent mapping project against belonging surveys to determine the importance of belonging where top performers who did not feel they belonged were a huge flight risk within 6 months of that time. Understanding current feelings of belonging can be a crucial for forecasting talent pipelines and thus in increasing belonging you can improve retention rates.
However, in the same breath there is a danger that a culture of belong does not facilitate a culture of innovation, as detailed below. Thus, understanding the definition of belonging and the advantages but simultaneously the challenges of focusing on belonging is important for businesses.
These discussions alluded to the understanding that belonging is important but must be placed in conjunction with efforts on diversity and inclusion to ensure a ‘positive’ outcome.
2. How do we incorporate belongingness into DEI strategy?
Establishing the feeling of belonging right from the initial recruitment processes and onboarding processes is crucial. The tone of interviews and how interviewers present themselves gives employees a strong indication as to whether they will feel valued in the role and the authenticity they will be able to bring to the role. Moreover, mirroring that attention and care throughout the onboarding processes is important to reinforcing the description of the company culture represented during the recruitment processes and is important where first impressions count hugely, especially if their expectations – and demands – are higher for gen Z. Having a clear path and reviews process will help continue transparency for employees where they know where they stand but also provides a platform for them to air their opinions and gives a greater indication of talent forecasting and can drive proactive or preventative activities.
Belonging and diversity are not necessarily equally equated to one another. Indeed, difficulties arise if hiring managers are consciously hiring those who you feel can have a limiting impact on diversity as you tend to immediately belong to those you have something in common with. Whilst commonalities can be ways of thinking, or the belief in the mission, it can also be background, gender etc. Therefore, ensuring training for hiring managers should focus on highlighting the potential for these unconscious biases.
3. How can we measure belonging?
Unsurprisingly, the multifaceted nature of belongingness means measuring how much people belong can be difficult. Identifying tangible results from how belonged people feel and what they feel needs to come from several angles in order to be as accurate and limit unconscious bias. Several ways were method in our conversations with the mutual acceptance that no one measure is completely useful.
A short survey of 3 or 4 open ended questions: e.g. What does belongingness mean to you? Can produce really insightful answers and limits bias in terms of how those ‘creating the policies’ can interpret belonging. Asking why employees feel they belong can help identify what aspects are key to feeling a sense of belonging and pinpoint catalysts for belonging in the business. However, this is difficult to manage the data and utilise to implement in medium to large companies.
A simple scale: how far do you feel you belong to the company? 1 to 5: 1 not at all, 5 belong completely. This can provide a simple and efficient measure of belongingness in the firm which can be used in tandem with perhaps more details surveys but can be implemented more regularly to understand easily patterns and direction.
Forum: Creating specific groups or forums to discuss belongingness and including belongingness in wider DEI, People or Leadership meetings is important and can help dissect across different levels of seniority or teams within the business.
There were some key insights discussed here which centred around how companies which inspire authenticity and belongingness stimulate greater collaboration and productivity and reduce turnover. An important debate was around ensuring that whilst belongingness must be included in DEIB strategies, it cannot be looked at in isolation against diversity, equity and inclusion particularly during recruitment processes. Moreover there was an acceptance that companies driven by a shared mission or product tend to have greater natural cohesivity and belongingness and that belongingness will look different for each organisation.