Do your employees feel like they belong?

By Dr. Bill Howatt and Louise Bradley

If you aren't sure, it may be time to take stock.

In a recent Diversity and Inclusion Masterclass hosted by The Change Leadership, panelists looked at change through a DEIB lens - diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. Yvonne Ruke Akpoveta facilitator and founder of The Change Leadership, said she received a fair number of queries about her decision to include belonging in the session's description.

Each of the panelists weighed in on why they thought belonging should be included. Tracy Paulo Brown, Director, Talent, Attraction, and Diversity at Rexall, broke it down this way, "Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being invited to dance, and equity and belonging are about dancing as though no one is watching and judging."

Siobhan Calderbank, Senior Director of Talent Management at LCBO, said diversity is about bringing your unique self to work, inclusion means that you participate. Your perspective is valued. And belonging is being part of a team and engaged. She felt it was more about dancing with everyone watching and others joining in.

Tim Morton, Founder and CEO of Prompta said, "When you feel included, your voice is heard. When equity exists, there is fair access. And belonging is about psychological safety."

So how do you know if people feel this way?

You may not see your employees dancing unabashedly through the hallways, but other behaviours might help you gauge the depth of belonging and psychological safety in your workplace.

In a recent LinkedIn post, Adam Grant, Wharton Professor, Organizational Psychologist, and Ted Speaker shared a list of things people aren't afraid to say when they feel psychologically safe.

  • I disagree
  • I might be wrong
  • I have a concern
  • I have an idea

They are simple statements that may not seem that significant when listed like this. However, for people to say these things not just once but regularly, they must feel safe and secure.

Would your employees feel comfortable saying these things? When was the last time you listened to the conversations going on around you to hear how your employees talk to one another?

If you don't think this type of psychological security and candor exists, you may need to do some work. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Take stock of where you are today - Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion's (CCDI) Maturity Meter, a multi-part tool based on global diversity and inclusion benchmarks, can help you assess the maturity of your diversity and inclusion strategy.

Start early - Rexall creates a sense of belonging at the earliest stages of the career journey. In the Diversity and Inclusion MasterClass discussion, Paulo Brown shared that they no longer seek individuals who are a "culture fit" they look for recruits who will be a "culture add." She also noted that they provide an interview guide to improve the chances of success for qualified candidates. "We're not assessing interview skills. We're assessing their ability to do the job."

Pay attention to language - Take a look at the language you use in corporate communications. Does it promote inclusion and belonging? Or is it working against you? And ask others for their input. We all have blind spots that can prevent us from seeing what is glaringly apparent to others.

Assess your traits - A few years ago, Deloitte gathered input from over 1,000 global leaders and more than 1500 employees to compile the Six Signature Traits of Inclusive Leadership. Find out if you possess these strengths or need to work on them.

  1. Commitment
  2. Courage
  3. Cognizance of bias
  4. Curiosity
  5. Culture Intelligence
  6. Collaboration

Set the tone and create shared goals - Recent Gartner research showed that seven out of ten employees indicated that their organizations didn't inform them of opportunities to promote inclusion in their day-to-day work. Talk openly about the importance of inclusion and belonging in your organization. Let employees know about behaviours that you expect from them to reinforce this.

Provide training - In a recent episode of the podcast Worklife with Adam Grant called How to Bust Bias at Work, Grant spoke with a representative from BAE Systems who shared that since they started training in their workplace, people have become more aware and culturally competent. They experienced a 15% increase in leaders hiring women and people of colour, and an 11% improvement in inclusive leadership skills, based on assessments from direct reports.

Create opportunities for employees to share their experiences - Create committees, survey regularly, and engage in informal conversations to find out how people feel. Listen to ensure that all employees feel they belong and have equal access to opportunities.

Gartner's research reveals that a sense of safety and belonging can have a tremendous impact. Managing Vice President Lauren Romansky says, "Belonging is a key component of inclusion. When employees are truly included, they perceive that the organization cares for them as individuals, their authentic selves…that's good for employees-and ultimately improves business performance."

It also shows that "organizations with sustainable diversity and inclusion initiatives demonstrate a 20% increase in inclusion, which corresponds to greater on-the-job effort and intent to stay, as well as high employee performance."

In the 2018 CEO Health + Safety Leadership Network session on the Role of Leaders in Building Inclusive Workplaces, Michael Bach, Founder and CEO of CCDI, told participants, "Taking action doesn't have to be a massive undertaking. It starts with self-assessing, talking to people, collecting data, and measuring against reliable sources to figure out where you are now and where you want to go."

Download whitepaper: The Role of Leaders In Building Inclusive Workplaces

As Calderbank said in the Masterclass, "Changes don't happen overnight, but small acts lead to big works."


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