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Wellbeing & Personal Development

Creating cultures of belonging

Creating cultures of belonging
Published: August 7, 2023
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Starting this conversation is Jo Appleby, head of sustainable innovation at Impact UK...

In our survey of over 500 global CEOs and senior leaders, only 19% said they are prioritising diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) in the year ahead. Furthermore, despite the well-evidenced link [i] between DEIB and employees staying longer, working harder, and collaborating better, only 13% of the leaders we polled think that diversity is a top driver of engagement and retention in their organisation. 

So where are we really at with the DEIB agenda in 2023? Where can a leader who wants to make a difference in their organisation start?

Reflecting on intentions

When beginning a DEIB process of any kind, reflecting on intentions is a good place to start: What is DEI? What does it mean to us? What does it mean to others in the organisation? How can it be elevated to be a key priority and necessary change?

Transparency is integral to DEIB. Consumers are no longer fooled by purpose-washing and organisations must strive for authenticity in everything they do. So, anyone starting a DEIB initiative must ask themselves: What is the purpose of this work? Who exactly is it for? Is it to improve our reputation? To gain better diversity stats? Or is it because greater diversity within organisations provides greater innovation and greater results? Is it because it’s a differentiator for future-fit organisations, enabling them to appeal to the next generation of the workforce, for whom DEIB does matter?

There are multiple valid reasons why leaders might want to address DEIB, and these will vary across an organisation. Getting curious about what others ­– both in the business and in the wider environment it exists in – think is important. This also means getting curious about the organisation’s products and services, about its recruitment and onboarding processes etc. Gathering information is key to a DEIB strategy that is as informed and inclusive as possible.

Whatever they may be, being honest about the truth of our intentions is vital – even and especially if it’s uncomfortable. There should never be a mismatch between intention and action.

Cultures of belonging

In our opinion, one of the main problems with many DEIB efforts is that they are too driven by data. Data is important – it enables us to set measurable targets and track progress ­– but it only tells a partial story. An organisation might have great diversity statistics in their workforce, but that doesn’t tell its leaders how safe people from minority backgrounds feel working there. It doesn’t tell them how well their organisation set up is to include or support people from the trans community. It doesn’t tell them how accessible their organisation is to neurodivergent individuals. Furthermore, an organisation might put a lot of effort into attracting and recruiting people from different backgrounds, but that doesn’t mean that they will stay. Data has its place in DEIB efforts, but it can’t be the sole driver.

Instead, organisations should focus on creating cultures of belonging. As Director of Programmes at Stonewall, Liz Ward, says in our podcast, we could actually drop all the other letters in the many DEIB-themed acronyms we use and just focus on belonging – it’s that important.

Cultures of belonging are workplace cultures in which people can be themselves ­– their whole selves. The key ingredient to these cultures is psychological safety, which means the feeling of safety that allows people to show up as themselves, have opinions, ask questions, take risks, make mistakes and voice concerns, all without fear of reprisal or humiliation.  

Story sharing

Psychological safety and a sense of belonging are built on a foundation of quality dialogue and story sharing. Organisations seeking to foster these elements in their cultures would do well to start by conducting a series of open conversations, inviting people to talk – without interruption or judgment – about situations in which they felt uncomfortable, exposed, or challenged. Sharing stories is a powerful way to develop an understanding and appreciation of difference. Stories build empathy and open minds. They also encourage self-reflection, helping us to create an awareness of our own biases and responses to difference, as well as teaching us to hold our own truths lightly. Creating a safe environment in which people can listen to different voices and stand in other people’s shoes is not a tick box activity ­– it’s a catalyst for a whole cultural shift.

If an organisation’s real intention is not simply to get great diversity stats that they can boast about on LinkedIn, but to create a true culture of belonging in which everyone feels welcome, then this has to happen throughout the whole organisation – at all levels, across all functions, and at every part of the value chain. It requires buy-in from everyone in the organisation. And it requires authenticity.

So, what does DEIB mean for you?