Belonging is a fundamental need for human beings. The feeling that you don’t belong can be as stressful as physical pain. When you add elevated fears about health or economic uncertainty, belonging at work becomes more important than ever for employee engagement. 

When employees feel they don’t belong, whether experiencing day-to-day pain or special circumstances such as working remotely during a pandemic, it damages their ability to focus and engage. This is why leading organizations are rethinking their work on diversity and inclusion, and they’re adding a new focus on belonging. They’re calling this work “diversity, inclusion, and belonging” (DIBs). 

Belonging and employee engagement

Glint’s research, with almost one million data points, shows that employees with a strong sense of belonging are over six times more likely to be engaged than those who don’t. That is to say, when employees feel a strong sense of belonging at work, they are over six times as likely to bring their best selves to work and to do their best work. And, as we know, greater engagement drives better individual and organizational success.

Based on this research, Glint advocates for making belonging a key focus of your diversity and inclusion strategy. It’s a unifying force that everyone can relate to. Every employee wants to feel a sense of belonging in the workforce. 

In this way, we can solve historical challenges to the success of diversity and inclusion initiatives. Namely, we can avoid focusing on superficial metrics that only matter to some. We can also break through siloed initiatives that stand in the way of organizations and people taking collective ownership. This approach signals D&I is more than a check-the-box initiative or CEO sound bite; it is part of an organization’s policies, practices, and ways of working. 

Integrating DIBs into every fabric of business and talent strategy benefits many important moments in employee experience, prompting crucial questions, such as:

  • How do we promote inclusion from the moment a person becomes a potential hire, to when they get onboarded, to how they get their work done? 
  • Are we intentional about how employees build their careers and how people are promoted?
  • How do we consider inclusion when we give feedback and coaching to help people be their best? 

Why diversity and inclusion are not enough

Diversity and inclusion are not new topics for most organizations. For a while now, organizations have recognized that the changing demographics of the world at large and their customer base necessitate improving the diversity of their workforce. The ethos of “our workforce should mirror our customers” has been a talk track for CEOs for a long time. 

While organizations have made progress in diversifying the global workforce, opportunities for improvement still exist, such as the representation of women in management roles, where the pace of progress has been excruciatingly slow.

But more to the point, the work of diversity and inclusion initiatives doesn’t end with improving representation. Recent headlines have taught us that it’s entirely possible for CEOs to outwardly talk about improving diversity at the same time that toxic practices from overt harassment to microaggressions make it difficult for individuals to thrive inside their organizations. 

Even when there is a focus on improving representation, not all organizations are intentional about creating a culture that is truly inclusive of differences, in which everyone feels accepted, can be their best selves, and do their best work. And even for organizations that understand the value of pursuing greater inclusivity, diversity and inclusion initiatives aren’t yielding desired outcomes. One big reason for this is the lack of collective ownership toward creating more inclusive workplaces where everyone can bring their unique self and feel accepted.

Why belonging is so important for diversity and inclusion

Belonging is a fundamental human need, so much so that we have adapted our behaviors to minimize lack of belonging in much the same way we try to avoid physical pain. According to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “belonging uncertainty” is the anxiety felt due to not belonging. This experience impacts all, but in an organizational setting, it can specifically impact historically underrepresented groups to a greater degree, as they see fewer examples of people they identify with in leadership positions or in positions of influence within their organizations. It raises a fundamental question: does someone like me belong and have the opportunity for success here?

This anxiety can lead  to “covering behavior,” the need to hide authentic aspects of oneself that individuals perceive as detrimental to their success. Even majority groups are not exempt from covering. The fear of being different can generally stifle everyone’s creativity and productivity in the workplace.

On the other hand, when belonging is intentionally fostered in the workplace, employees feel accepted within a community of people where members identify with each other around a shared sense of purpose and willingness to invest emotional energy for the benefit of the community.

To promote belonging, we need to reframe the diversity and inclusion conversation and do a better job of involving majority groups in creating inclusive environments. Reframing the conversation is discussed at greater depth in A Leader’s Guide to Employee Engagement, Diversity, and Belonging. One key element is the importance of gathering and sharing feedback at all levels. As the Leader’s Guide points out, “We can’t change what we don’t measure; and what we care about needs to be measured often so we can monitor progress and make course corrections.”

Best practices for diversity, inclusion, and belonging feedback programs 

For organizations that want to use employee engagement surveys to support their DIBs strategy, Glint recommends the following five-step approach:

  1. Align: Make sure your organization has a common perspective on why DIBs is important to your success and culture. 
  2. Listen: Seek to understand experiences across different parts of the organization, including critical talent segments and diverse populations.
  3. Inform: Review what’s working and not working in your strategy, and what you need to do to strengthen your DIBs program. 
  4. Enable: Coach teams and leaders to build inclusive practices in the way they work. Provide quick access to their team’s feedback so they are empowered to own it.
  5. Check-In: Make time to measure progress, course correct, celebrate, recognize, and learn together. 

Building a culture with strong focus on inclusive practices is a journey, and belonging is at the heart of it. It’s a unifying conversation in which everyone can participate and everyone has a role to play in making progress.

Learn more about Glint’s diversity, inclusion, and belonging feedback program here.