It was Equal Pay Day on 24th March that represents the raising awareness about the gender pay gap. In India, the awareness is still at a low level, because we are dealing with pressing issues like women education and employment. But on an international map, the day was a symbolic gesture of bridging the pay gap between genders. Every country puts different formulas to mark the day hence, diff...
A few weeks ago a colleague at work beautifully explained ‘Inclusion’. She said that there are two facets to it- one is to promote equity (and not equality) i.e fair treatment and the second is to promote the sense of belonging i.e you feel accepted for who you are. Diversity and Inclusion are listed today as one of the top priorities of any organization. It is amazing that so many companies are now talking about diversity and inclusion and including it in their business charter. The needle has finally moved from “good to do” to “must-do”.
While a lot of efforts are probably going in diversity hiring programs, there is not much done once the employee joins the organization. Trying to bring in people of a different race, gender, ethnicity, age, and sexual orientation is great, but if you don’t do enough to promote equity and belongingness it is just a meaningless effort and a tick in the box.
So why is creating a culture of belonging really important?
Social belonging is a fundamental need:
Abraham Maslow in his hierarchy of needs placed belonging somewhere in the middle. He suggested that belonging, is less important than physical and safety needs but he also believed that belongingness helped in fostering relationships and made one feel accepted for who they are. So social belonging so to say is hard-wired in our DNA. Social isolation hurts and is damaging to us. Let’s go back to our school days, if we were ‘different’ than the rest, we would feel isolated and would crave to find someone who shared the same idiosyncrasies as us. We always wanted to belong in one group or the other and we would naturally form bonds with people who are similar to us in one way or the other.
Belonging is good for business:
If employees feel that they belong and their opinion matters it translates to a good bottom line as well. High belonging is linked to a whopping 56% increase in job performance and a 50% drop in risk of turnover and a 75% drop in sick days. For a 10 million dollar company, this would result in a savings of 5 million!
Now that the case for belonging is established, let’s now look at a few ways in which this can be practiced in the organization:
As the adage goes “in God we trust, rest all must bring data”. Understanding and analyzing the employee engagement survey can give you a lot of data points on whether your employees are feeling included. It will also help you identify what you are doing well and what needs improvement. You will also be able to look at engagement scores across teams, and even geographies and formulate strategies accordingly. Once you have an idea of the overall engagement levels you can launch a survey focused just on diversity an inclusion or you can also include questions around diversity and inclusion in your existing employee engagement survey.
- Understand your team
There is only so much that an employee engagement survey or a diversity and inclusion survey can say. The truest test is how you understand your team members. It may seem very basic, but it is a very difficult task. Understanding your team members is not just about understanding their strengths. It’s going beyond that to foster personal connections. It’s about to understand what drives them and motivates them and what brings them a sense of purpose and having that dialogue with them.
- Creating a safe environment
a. Creating a safe environment within your team i.e promoting psychological safetyYou’ve heard it before—treat others as you’d like to be treated. When it comes to psychological safety, the opposite is true. Treat others as they’d like to be treated. If you are a manager, take that extra effort to focus time on earning and extending trust. Try being vulnerable to your team and in turn your team will be vulnerable to you. Create a team that doesn’t judge or belittle anyone for their ethnicity, race, religion, or gender. I know it is easier said than done!
b. Creating a safe environment in the whole organization- Educate employees about policies against harassment at the workplace. Let them be aware of who to call out to in case they feel they have been harassed – sexually or otherwise.
It is also important to have policies that protect whistleblowers. Above all, it is the onus of the organization to all educate employees that not all harassment needs to be in the face and intentional. A lot of people indulge in macroaggression- casual comments, sly remarks, sexist comments, and humor that makes others uneasy. This kind of repeated incidents make individuals uncomfortable and even at times influences their decision to leave their job. This is often described as “death by a thousand cuts”. If we want to create a safe environment, we need to make sure that not only are harassment cases addressed but even cases of microaggressions.
- Having ERGs
One initiative that is particularly impactful in creating a sense of belonging is the formation of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). ERGs, which Catalyst defines as “voluntary, employee-led groups that foster a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with organizational mission, values, goals, business practices, and objective,” are important because of their shared purpose of bringing employees together.
Effective ERGs provide a centered space for the communities that they support, as well as opportunities for allies to get involved, build community, and learn about how to support the group. Anyone can be an ally, regardless of their identity, and a focus on intersectionality can result in many employees being members of multiple groups. The more people that are actively involved in ERG efforts, the more impactful the groups can be for employees and the business.
So, in a nutshell, belongingness is the ability to bring our whole selves to work. It is about showing up authentically. Most importantly it also means respecting others, their opinions, and leading with humility. It’s also about having the courage to take risks, speaking up, asking for help, connecting with others in a genuine way, and allowing ourselves to be truly seen. It’s not always easy for us to show up this way, especially at work. It takes commitment, intention, and courage for leaders and organizations to create environments that are conducive to this type of authenticity and humanity.
But if we do add this missing ingredient to our diversity and inclusion policy we will create a whole new world where everyone feels valued! Utopian? I think not!
Article contributed by Pooja Mazumdar