Organizations are figuring out how to manage and motivate employees who are working remotely. At the same time, they’re managing the impact that COVID-19 has had on their bottom line. Because of this shift, many managers have revealed that talent development has come to a halt. The last thing on organizational leadership’s mind is ensuring that employees and customers feel a sense of inclusion and belonging - and that’s something that’s needed now more than ever.
What makes diversity, equity and inclusion really work is a sense of “belonging”.
Positive business outcomes associated with having diverse teams can’t be achieved without a sense of belonging. It’s not just about including people at the table who are different races, different genders and different ages. It’s about amplifying everyone’s voices and removing the barriers to do so. It’s also about appreciating each employee for their unique backgrounds - that is where belonging comes into play.
Getting to know the people on your team as individuals is key. Belonging, community and feeling part of a group is what makes people feel like what they’re doing at work matters. The ability to share their personal stories can create empathy and can increase an employee’s sense of belonging.
If you’re unsure what belonging looks like and sounds like, please read this LinkedIn post by Zoe Feldman of Chobani yesterday:
“Two years ago today I walked into the place where I finally felt like I belonged. There was no pretense, no ego, no artificial barriers between functions or levels. The people were overwhelmingly kind, generous, thoughtful, hard-working, and bought into the notion that business can and should be a conduit for good. If anyone thinks Chobani is simply a yogurt company, you are sorely mistaken. The past two years with these human beings have restored hope to my previously darkened soul. It’s impossible not to fall in love with this place and these people, who wake up every day and wonder “how can I do more good today?” Now that is an employee who feels she belongs where she works.
In a recent Harvard Business Review article titled, “Are Your D&I Efforts Helping Employees Feel Like They Belong?” They explained why it matters.
“When employees felt like they didn’t belong in the workplace, they felt like they couldn’t be themselves at work. When employees feel they can’t be their authentic self at work, they have lower workplace satisfaction, find less meaning in their work, and have one foot out the door.”
3 Steps To Belonging:
- Tell your own story: Many employees believe that putting up a wall about their personal lives is the professional thing to do at work. Don’t talk about your kids. Don’t talk about caring for a parent. COVID-19 and the lack of privacy (thanks, Zoom!) has turned this idea on its head. It’s become clear that hiding from who you really are not only doesn’t feel great - it doesn’t produce great outcomes at work. Leadership can take the lead and tell stories about themselves. When leadership talks about their own struggle to fit in, or to be their authentic selves at work, it can be a powerful way to encourage a sense of belonging among an entire workforce.
- Establish Trust: Every employee will feel like they are part of the organization regardless of their backgrounds when they can trust in the company’s mission and trust in the leadership’s vision and goals. This can lead to a stronger sense of belonging and their affinity with the organization.
- Look for Signs: If the same people are talking during a meeting, it might be because the others don’t feel safe voicing their opinions. If you’re in a management position, ask if this quiet person may have been consistently put down or questioned and if so, you have your answer on why they choose not to speak up. If that person has valuable contributions they’d like to make but feel uncomfortable doing so, they’ll be unhappy in their role and go to a place that values their opinions and be in an organization where they can be their authentic selves.
Learning about an individual’s unique strengths and unique experiences, and recognizing those, is what leads employees to feel a higher affinity for the company they work for and ultimately, that’s what any employer would want.
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Emily’s vision for illume hire developed as part of her journey from a startup-curious sales and marketing professional to co-founder and CEO. Her passion is to provide the tools and community to support other mid-career professionals to maximize their mid-career momentum. In addition to her work with illume hire, Emily is part of the founding leadership team of Age Equity Alliance, a non-profit focused on age diversity in the workplace