The Business Case For Belonging

Many companies focus on diversity and inclusion, and that is a great start toward building a workplace where employees from different backgrounds can grow and thrive. However, there is an important next step that is required in order to truly reap the benefits of a diverse and included employee base, and that is fostering a sense of belonging.

Belonging involves developing a deeper connection with others by sharing your authentic self and receiving acceptance in return. To truly foster belonging in the workplace, we first have to understand what stands in its way: namely, corporate norms that are not multi-cultural. These norms can include communication styles, language patterns, approaches to conflict resolution, appearances, and even the ways people have fun and unwind. When there is one narrow norm that everyone in a company is expected to adapt to, fostering a sense of belonging can be challenging.

Creating space for employees to feel truly valued for their cultural differences will help to enable belonging, and that has some significant business advantages.

Cost of Assimilation

Employees who do not naturally fit in to established corporate norms will often times try to assimilate to those norms – or put themselves “on guard” – in order to avoid potential biases or discrimination. A 2018 study from Catalyst found that 42% of women and 40% of men cited being on guard in anticipation of racial bias, and 40% of women were on guard in anticipation of gender bias. Other reasons included physical appearance, physical ability, age and spiritual or religious beliefs.

This feeling of needing to assimilate in the workplace takes considerable mental energy, and in turn, that is energy that is not spent on our core jobs. Despite an employee’s strong aspirations to succeed and contribute, this mental tax may result in less productivity and slower career advancement. By creating a culture of belonging where employees do not feel the need to downplay their identities, everyone can be more successful. In fact, Catalysts’ report found that a feeling of belonging can be connected to higher creativity and a higher likelihood to speak up and contribute.

Comfort Speaking Up

Research clearly shows that incorporating diverse viewpoints results in better decision-making. If a diverse set of employees is hired and then invited to the table to help make important decisions, but there hasn’t been an investment in creating a sense of belonging, many of those employees may not feel comfortable expressing opposing ideas. Having a seat at the table is not enough—we must create the psychological safety to speak up from that seat.

Hiring and retention

Fostering belonging in the workplace directly affects the retention of great employees—and hiring of new employees. When employees feel a sense of belonging in the workplace, two things happen: they want to keep working there, and they share that sense of belonging with their communities, which can attract more diverse talent. A recent LinkedIn study found that 47% of professionals value working at a company where they can be themselves. As Glassdoor Chief Economist Dr. Andrew Chamberlain explains, “By building a culture of belonging, underrepresented employees can feel more at home in the workplace emotionally and culturally—so that they’re more likely to stay, be engaged and creative at work.”

Creating a culture of belonging takes intentional, long-term focus, and there isn’t a simple program that can be implemented or box that can be checked. But this investment results in happier employees and more effective and successful business outcomes, and so it is well worth the effort.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/rebekahbastian/2019/04/10/the-business-case-for-belonging/#27e658f85f6d

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