Why adding “belonging” to the DEI equation is crucial to your company’s success

As a young, Black female professional, I’m no stranger to exclusion in the workplace. And after years of working twice as hard to be heard and becoming a codeswitching extraordinaire, I was thrilled to hear that one of the country’s most popular acronyms was getting one letter longer. 

Now, before your executive team gets too excited, it’s not enough to give quarterly trainings or plaster your DEIB statement all over social. Cultivating belonging in your workplace takes time and a lot of hard work. Belonging is not something you can simply measure with charts or numbers. The feeling of belonging is intangible and requires a heightened level of empathy, reflection and yep, I’ll say it, discomfort, to successfully achieve in your workplace. 

Here’s how to ensure that belonging is woven into the fabric of your company’s culture. 

Education

Before you start touting your new DEIB initiatives, it’s important that you know what each letter means and how they show up in real life. Let’s break it down. 

  • Diversity: Who is invited to the table? Are different voices, backgrounds and lived experiences represented?
  • Equity: Does everyone at the table have access to the same ergonomic chairs? Are some people standing? 
  • Inclusion: Are you including everyone in the decision-making process? Are you empowering them to share their ideas and experiences? Do you integrate those ideas into your practices?
  • Belonging: Do the people at the table feel like they belong there? Do they look at the person sitting next to them and see a friend? 

According to ChartHop, DEI = B. That’s because DEI is the formula (and steps taken) to create the desired result of belonging. If this is not properly understood, your DEIB practices can not be properly enacted. 

Identify the problem and fix it 

You can’t adequately talk about inclusion without talking about its evil stepsister – exclusion. This may be the point when your palms get sweaty and your stomach does that weird flip. Exclusion tends to have that effect on people.  

Fitting into a company’s culture can be anxiety-inducing for any new employee, but even more so for minority and marginalized groups. Most times, companies are unknowingly contributing to feelings of isolation. And although unintentional, microaggressions can be a silent killer – leading to employee burnout and high turnover.  

According to an article from Bravely, you know your team is struggling with belonging when:

1.) There is low psychological safety

  • People have anxiety about speaking up with new or different ideas
  • There are trends among the people who are rewarded for their contributions while others are shut down or deflated 

2.) People use backchanneling over direct communication 

  • This can point to low trust and fear of retaliation.

3.) Managers are consistently giving unfair feedback 

  • People are experiencing microaggressions from their superiors
  • People are dealing with ostracism in the workplace 

It might be hard to admit when there are signs of these issues on your team. However, the key is to remove ego and course correct. Not just for the well-being of your employees, but for the well-being of your entire company.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to seek outside counsel to help rectify the issues you’ve uncovered. For example, Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities and TMI Consulting are great local resources to ensure that your workplace is a safe, welcoming and empowering place for all your employees. 

Recognize the importance of belonging

Life is hard enough without having to think about whether or not you belong at work – the place where you spend the majority of your time. By incorporating and prioritizing belonging in DEI efforts, companies will begin to see a powerful shift in the way their team works together and generates new, innovative ideas. When someone feels valued, seen and celebrated, there is no limit to their success – both personally and professionally. 

Interested in learning more about the importance of DEIB? Check out our last episode of Teaming Up and be sure to subscribe so you never miss an episode!

Hannah Robinson

One of the newest members of the Hodges team, Hannah has happily made the transition from higher education to agency life. In addition to her public relations skills, she is already a seasoned voice artist and admits to a special talent for memorizing song lyrics.

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