Belonging: practical ways to aid your diversity plans

Glint’s Ritu Mohanka discusses why it’s critical that people feel a sense of belonging in the midst of a pandemic and social uncertainty

Clearly, we’ve left a challenging 2020 and entered what might be an equally difficult 2021. Where does diversity stand in times of social crisis?

Diversity might prove helpful during our current challenges. As the CIPD notes, diversity recognises that while people have things in common, they are different in many respects—but, “Inclusion is where those differences are seen as a benefit, where perspectives and differences are shared, leading to better decisions.”

Sense of belonging

Employees’ sense of belonging is a huge factor in reaching those better decisions. Data from over 7 million employee surveys, sent out by Glint customers to their employees worldwide, shows that the relationship between a sense of belonging and happiness strengthened by 12% during the early part of last year.

At the same time, 73% of organisations saw an uptick in belonging scores before the pandemic, with 31% seeing increases of five or more points. The results suggest it is even more important, in this new phase of the global health crisis, for employees to feel a clear sense of belonging.

In tandem, culture displaced career opportunities as the most common topic of comments on employee surveys. This suggests a defined and salient sense of community is growing in importance. People are starting to ask, “Do I feel like I belong here?”  

But not everyone feels that they do belong. The non-profit US Center for Talent Innovation has found that white men have the highest median belonging scores of any gender or racial group, and Black and Asian women are scoring the lowest. Developing a sense of belonging is a real challenge. It’s far easier for management to create new jobs or offer promotion opportunities than to overhaul an organisation’s culture.

Time to get out of your comfort zone

To build a sense of belonging that makes diversity more than just a slogan, organisations need to support their employees and figure out how they can address the systemic problems identified by their respective communities. That’s a real challenge. We’ve all been socialised to believe it’s best not to discuss topics such as religion, politics, race and other personal areas. But there is mounting evidence in the science of psychological safety, engagement and inclusion that shows that we need to be talking openly and honestly about these topics.  

So how do we make these conversations happen naturally and successfully?

Managers need to create safe spaces for these conversations to take place, as they will promote a shared understanding and connection. 

One of our customers, Sky, for instance, uses special online forums to help on this front. Sky employees—elected by their peers across every single team—meet throughout the year with the broadcaster’s most senior leaders to capture front-line perspectives on stereotyping and assumptions about the staff.

We suggest following Sky’s lead and creating opportunities for those conversations and supporting your managers with prompts and guides to manage these discussions successfully. This helps participants find common ground and explore where perspectives diverge and how to bridge those differences.  

Don’t pretend to have the answers

Another aspect of this is the importance of empowering managers with robust data to inform these conversations. A survey at an appropriate moment on your diversity and inclusion journey can serve as a good input to these conversations, ensuring you collect feedback at scale, delivering insight into where action might need to be taken.

If you have a scheduled survey upcoming (in these challenging times, we recommend a monthly frequency, by the way), revisit it to ensure every question still feels germane, and you are covering important aspects of inclusion and belonging. If you don’t have a short survey or ‘pulse’ currently scheduled, consider adding one to check in with your people on how they feel about these difficult and sensitive issues.

We know conversations about race have historically been avoided, but now is the time to get uncomfortable and create joint accountability for progress. We can’t pretend to have all the answers, but by responding to employee feedback and having ongoing conversations with your team, real solutions will emerge.

By Ritu Mohanka; Head of Strategy & Business Development EMEA at employee engagement tech leader Glint, part of LinkedIn. She is also on the 2020 EMpower 100 Ethnic Minority Executives list.
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