Written by Ali Shalfrooshan, Head of International Assessment R&D
Belonging is a fundamental human need, hardwired into our brain chemistry and DNA. Unfortunately, according to recent studies many modern organizations have a belonging problem, with 25% of employees stating that they feel they don’t belong at their workplace and an additional 40% of employees feeling isolated.
To feel left out is a deeply human problem, which is why its consequences carry such weight and why its causes are so hard to root out of even the healthiest of workplaces. The lack of strategy post-pandemic to ensure employees feel a sense of connection with their organization has been cited as a major contributor to a lack of belonging people are experiencing. However, many believe that an effective diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy would be the key to addressing this and facilitate a sense of belonging.
What is diversity, equity, and inclusion?
The acronym used by organizations may vary with some describing it as D&I, EDI, DEIB, SJEDI, and many other naming conventions. Whatever the term used, the foundations of this strategy and topic are built upon delivering fairness, improving organizational effectiveness, and creating a sense of belonging.
Each element of diversity, equity, and inclusion is important as it addresses a different aspect of the challenge at hand. It is the combination of these elements that will facilitate the greatest impact.
- Diversity is about enabling people from all different backgrounds to come together. Diversity is representative of the many fundamental characteristics that make an employee unique, including their race, gender, sexual identity, religious beliefs, opinions, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, age, visible disabilities, invisible disabilities, and personality. Ultimately what makes every employee unique is influenced by all of these contributing factors, which all interact and contribute to what makes us human.
- Equity is about understanding that providing equal treatment or resources doesn’t necessarily deliver equality of results. While many people share the same goals and dreams, the path isn’t always the same, and we need to account for some individuals having more obstacles than others. Therefore, accessibility needs to account for everyone.
- Inclusion is about enabling the diverse talents to thrive. Inclusion is about the very fabric of the culture, climate, and behavior of the people within the organization. It is about the way employees behave and how things are done. Being inclusive taps into our fundamental human needs for community.
The results of all these actions and strategies are to create an organization that is fair to all and that facilitates a sense of belonging. Belonging is a feeling of a shared community, where each group member is respected and valued while being their authentic self.
The individual is the heart of diversity, equity, and inclusion
Diversity, equity, and inclusion is an organizational strategy to ensure that there is fair treatment and opportunity for all.
DEI is about helping everyone in the organization as we are all both unique and different from each other. Our demographic makeup such as race, gender identity, religious beliefs, opinions, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic status, nationality, visible disabilities, invisible disabilities, and personality can all make us different, influence who we are, and influence how people react to us.
Even though DEI is underpinned by effective leadership, effective policies, fair promotions, fair and objective recruitment, and a variety of other actions, processes, and procedures, it is something all of us in any role can influence positively.
So, we need to understand ourselves and others more effectively to foster an environment that enables collaboration, innovation, and success. Therefore, diversity, equity, and inclusion has three foundations at its core:
- It is about everyone: It includes everyone, as every human is unique and different. An effective DEI strategy may involve supporting under-served and under-represented groups, but it also enables everyone to garner a sense of belonging.
- It starts with us: Organizations need to lead on DEI, but it starts with our own behavior and how we interact with each other. The starting point is how we treat each other and the climate we create.
- DEI is business critical: It is the foundation of an effective and inspirational organization. DEI is not just a nice to have, or something about other people; it’s a fundamental business strategy that both benefits organizational effectiveness and everyone else around it.
If belonging is the result of DEI, why are many initiatives failing?
There are many reasons people do not feel like they belong and why traditional DEI strategies fail. However, arguably it is because of two reasons:
- Organizations are not focusing sufficiently on enhancing inclusion for everyone.
- Many organizations do not even account for equity when trying to deliver these initiatives.
Inclusion for everyone is ensuring DEI is not just perceived as something that only specific people are included within. Every one of us are different and need to feel a sense of belonging and human connection. Therefore, DEI is more than just a box ticking exercise to maintain legal compliance; it is an organizational philosophy and value which recognises we all need to feel like we belong.
Equity being a foundation of the strategy is also important, as it recognises that advantages and barriers exist for many employees and that they influence an individual’s access to experiences and opportunities. Therefore, organizations need to actively work to ensure those barriers are reduced and dealt with via actions and policies.
In sum, this means organizations need to include all employees in their strategy but acknowledge that giving everyone the exact same thing is ineffective. Rather, giving each person just what they need to live equally, happily, and effectively within the organization will ultimately create that desired goal of belonging.