Belonging in the Diversity Conversation

diversity inclusion national week

The case for diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace is well-established. Diverse workforces are more engaged, unique and myriad experiences and perspectives drive innovation - and all translate to a competitive advantage for companies.

But in order for organisations to truly create cultures in which their employees feel comfortable and confident to express themselves fully and authentically, there’s a growing call for the D&I conversation to be expanded.

Chief Talent Officer at ServiceNow, Pat Wadors was one of the first to consider the benefits of bringing a third component into D&I initiatives.

She argues that while diversity and inclusion are necessary, they are not sufficient on their own for real employee engagement. For Wador - and increasing numbers of D&I leaders – the needle on the dial has to move further, capturing hearts as well as minds, and a sense of ‘belonging’ is the powerful missing part of the equation.  

Wador coined the term ‘DIBs’ (Diversity-Inclusion-Belonging) and her interest in the idea was originally sparked on a tour of the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region in 2016, in a previous role as Senior Vice President Global Talent Organization for LinkedIn.

Talking to HR leaders and employees there she observed, “Every conversation I had seemed to organically turn to belonging. It was like this huge ‘aha moment’ for so many people who had never thought about it in those terms before.”

While we live and work in a diverse, global world – the challenge for diversity and inclusion is that these terms can mean different things to different people across cultures. 

However, the importance of belonging is universal – humans are hard-wired to want to belong to groups, not only for their survival but to enable them to thrive. As such, cultivating a culture where all employees feel like they belong is a goal that everyone can get behind.

And it’s a goal with real impact. Work by Stanford University psychologist Gregory Walton suggested that efforts to reduce or mitigate threats to a person’s sense of belonging can significantly reduce stress levels, change attitudes and even improve physical health, emotional well-being and work performance.

Indeed, another recent study from the University of Iowa has even shown that a sense of belonging can be a better motivator than money alone for many workers.

So how do companies ensure a sense of belonging defines the working experience of their employees? It primarily hinges on helping them belong to a community, says Wador – and key elements she suggests include being genuinely interested, present and focused with people and the use of collaboration; by giving people the opportunity and respect to “own” initiatives you pave the way for original thinking and diverse perspectives.

Getting to know people and their stories - and opening up communication before inputting your own ideas – is also at the heart of belonging and encourages a space where diverse views and opinions are valued, and ultimately create a shared community.

When we’re part of a team that values our opinion, we contribute more. People who belong feel comfortable expressing ideas and sharing experiences when they know that their input is heard and regarded.

Unsurprisingly, belonging is an idea that is gaining traction, and often with inspiring results. For example, when Accenture decided to create an internal video “Inclusion Starts With I" that explored the question of inclusiveness in 2017 it opened up a new chapter in the business’s D&I journey.

In the words of Ellyn Shook, Accenture’s chief leadership and HR officer, the company discovered that “not all of our people are experiencing a sense of belonging”.

The moving and challenging video shows diverse employees sharing stories of bias and attracted over 100,000 views in just two months - sparking positive discussion within the company around the issues raised.

As Ellyn notes, “This all started with our employees being courageous enough to have a conversation about what it means to truly feel included and a sense of belonging at work.”