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The Benefits of Belongingness in the Diverse Workplace

The Benefits of Belongingness in the Diverse Workplace

 

Keywords: belonging, belongingness


By Marion Davis

The topic of belongingness unites both employees and employers. 

A company culture that fosters belongingness is a predictor both of low employee burnout and of an increase of more than double in employee performance on the job.

Within a workplace that strives for strength in diversity, simply hiring diversely is not enough. Are these organizations retaining their employees? Do these employees wake up each morning with a sense of belonging and pride in their work?

 

Belongingness within Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Success

All too often, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) consultants encounter human resources managers who judge the success of their diverse workplace by hiring demographics. 

Instead, success should be measured by the level of self-reported sense of belonging experienced by an organization’s employees. 

DEI success is not a picture of a wide array of faces to put on a company website where a smile may hide the stress of facing daily microaggressions, of a high-achieving personality about to break under the strain of a damaging corporate culture. 

DEI success occurs when diverse demographics are accompanied by high levels of belongingness among all members of the organization.

What Is Belongingness?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, belongingness refers to the state of feeling like an essential part of a group. 

There is a push and pull within the company culture for belongingness. Employees want to see the representation of diversity at all levels within the organization, inspiring them to strive for upward movement in the company. At the same time, employees want to know that they are supported by HR as they begin their journey along the company ranks.

Anecdotes abound and stories skim across social media of the challenges faced by diverse employees. 

Example 1

A high-performing junior manager who is a Black woman with a solid work-life balance is called into a meeting with her senior managers. She is asked why she is angry because she chooses to go home to her young family after work instead of socializing with the other junior managers.

Example 2

A trans employee struggles with a non-inclusive team member who has discovered his deadname and uses this name frequently despite being corrected informally by other team members. The situation devolves into passive-aggressive actions between members of the team as none of them feel that HR would recognize the magnitude of deadnaming and respond accordingly. 

Employees experience belongingness with the reassurance that HR is appropriately educated on issues across all marginalized groups and will respond with the gravity needed. Employees feel included when they can see the representation of diversity at every level within the organization.

The Characteristics of an Inclusive Work Environment

An inclusive work environment is one where employees of all backgrounds feel that they have a voice and equal opportunity within the company. 

Inclusivity must happen at all levels of the organization. Lack of inclusivity leads to high burnout numbers as feeling ostracized at work can impact an employee’s mental health. This leads to negative outcomes for employees as well as higher costs to the organization. 

Leadership should demonstrate inclusivity, and this inclusivity begins with representation. If a company does not contain diverse members within the executive team, then a DEI analysis should be utilized to determine why there is a gap. 

A large part of creating an inclusive environment happens at the peer level as well as in interactions with mid-level management. Companies can implement quantitative strategies to ensure fairness in conversations as people are often unaware of biases until confronted with reality in numerical terms.

Surging in popularity, apps like Time to Talk address known gender disparities in corporate meetings. This app tracks the amount of time that women speak as compared to men. One study found that women tend to speak less due to being interrupted by male coworkers during meetings with a typical gender divide of 25% and 75% respectively for women and men. Despite this, cultural influences still promote the idea that women speak more. 

The recipe for inclusivity involves representation at the top as well as decision-makers providing quantitative measurement tools. Using metrics ensures equal opportunities for all employees to contribute to the organization, make their voices heard, and have access to opportunities. 

From there, mid-level management can manage the use of these equity tools and approaches to improve peer interactions among employees. 

Finally, an assessment of a self-reported sense of belonging among all employees is necessary to determine whether diverse team members truly feel that they belong within the organization.

How to Measure Belongingness

Levels of self-reported belongingness within a company indicate whether an organization is successful. When diverse teams of employees have an equal chance to make their voices heard, they feel valued. They feel a sense of belonging. 

But how can companies measure belongingness?

Researchers conducted an extensive examination of the Sense of Belonging (SOBI) instrument in 1995. 

To track belongingness levels, organizations can implement methods such as adapting the SOBI to use within the workplace. By asking all team members to complete this survey regularly, management can collect data and address problems early on.

For instance, the collected survey numbers paired with demographics for the respondents might show that Black disabled women specifically do not feel as high a sense of belonging as other identities within the organization. These numbers would indicate a gap in intersectional inclusivity, and managers would need to incorporate DEI strategies to bridge this gap.

Final Thoughts

Belongingness is a powerful emotion and an indicator of success within a diverse workplace. 

Companies benefit when they have a wide range of employees who bring different talents to the table, and employees of all backgrounds benefit when they feel that they have an equal place at that table. 

Striving to increase diversity during the hiring process is simply an initial step. 

Whether a company retains diversity depends on inclusivity within the workplace culture. Inclusivity is the community experience when a sense of belonging exists at the individual level.