“Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance; belonging is knowing all the songs.” –LaFawn Davis, Indeed, Inc.
More than another buzzword; belonging is a sense of acceptance and security. It’s a core element of workplace well-being that will be critical as long as groups of humans conduct business. Accordingly, belonging bolsters the bottom line. High belonging increases job performance by 56%, lowers turnover by 50%, and reduces sick days by 75%, which can translate into savings of over $52 million annually for a ten thousand (10,000) person company (Harvard Business Review).
Since nearly 40% of Americans feel physically and emotionally isolated in the workplace (Center for Talent Innovation), fostering greater belonging in organizations has the potential to supercharge the benefits from DE&I initiatives. That’s because belonging is intimately linked with one of our most basic human needs – the desire for connection.
Belonging can be spread throughout the workplace by promoting three of its key elements – affirmation, voice and agency. Team leaders at all levels with key tools can be equipped to become champions and the organization can be populated throughout with persons experienced in working in teams and in diverse environments.
- Affirmation — Recognizing and supporting individuals, their cultures and their backgrounds allows them to bring their whole authentic selves and their entire set of capabilities and knowledge to the workplace. Leaders can begin by using inclusive language and celebrating the self-identities of their team members. This initial affirmation can be reinforced in many ways including establishing and prioritizing connections with team members and encouraging peers to check in on their fellow team members (Aduro, 2021; Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2021).
- Voice — Ensuring that all team members, particularly those from underrepresented groups, can freely express their ideas and critiques provides the double bonus of not only creating a sense of belonging but also of expanding the creativity and problem-solving capability of the team as a whole. Taking simple steps such as asking for input, sanctioning interruptions during discussions, and calling on members who are struggling to join the conversation and be heard can substantially increase the flow of ideas and enhance team productivity. Leaders can privately consult with their more reticent members to encourage them to speak up and to devise strategies to maximize their contributions. Leaders can enhance the voice of members of underrepresented groups by seeking out ways to become allies (Aduro, 2021; Terkel, 2021).
- Agency — Empowering team members enables them to take on the mission of the organization as their own and encourages them to unleash their full potential. By stepping in as a resource when needed and studiously avoiding micromanagement, leaders can give their team members the emotional and psychological wings they need to fly. Leaders should also be prepared to give all team members, including those from underrepresented groups, the permission to fail without dire consequences (Aduro, 2021; Annie E. Casey Foundation 2021, Terkel, 2021).
These key elements can be implemented as follows:
- Voluntary training with relevant rewards — Team participants and employees are more likely to view belonging and DE&I coaching as useful and constructive when they are allowed to opt in and to earn meaningful rewards for doing so. Rewards can be designed to meet any budget and can take a variety of forms such as gift cards, comp time and/or special recognition, and extra pay.
- Incorporating belonging and DE&I goals into criteria for advancement — Include belonging and DE&I progress in benchmarks for choice assignments, pay raises and promotions. Institutionalizing these criteria helps ensure that individuals who move into leadership positions are mindful of the importance of DE&I. Plus, these criteria make voluntary DE&I training even more attractive and helps reduce the likelihood that large numbers of employees will opt out. Individuals striving to growing with your organization will see that the path to greater influence and responsibility lies in understanding and effectively implementing DE&I.
- Hiring persons experienced in diverse environments — The presence of leaders, peers and subordinates with the ability to make a variety of persons from a variety of backgrounds belong is an informal yet important form of support. As they model belonging-focused team leading, committee participation or division-level advancement day by day, others can observe and learn from them.
As a leader in educating diverse populations, the David Nazarian College of Business and Economics at CSUN is an excellent source of these experienced role models. Employers consistently applaud the leadership and teamwork skills of Nazarian college graduates, especially in diverse contexts, as well as their superb business training.
The Nazarian College ranks among the top 5% of business schools by virtue of its AACSB accreditation, and has been regularly awarded top accolades from the Princeton Review, US News & World Report, CEO Magazine, Money Magazine and other esteemed agencies over the past six years. With over 7,000 majors and 400 minors, the College offers one of the 10 largest undergraduate business programs in the nation and top-ranked graduate business programs. The Nazarian College student body boasts ethnicities, races, and nationalities from around the world as well as members of all socio-economic strata as part of CSUN, a certified Hispanic, Asian American, Native American, and Pacific Islander-serving university.
A curriculum steeped in collaboration and teamwork ensures that Nazarian College graduates at both the undergraduate and Master’s levels are experienced in working with persons from a variety of backgrounds to achieve demanding, time-sensitive goals. This active, team-based learning also occurs outside the classroom via engagement with practitioners, and hands-on experiences through consulting projects, internships, competitions, international excursions, and incubator/accelerator programs. This pragmatic yet rigorous approach gives Nazarian College students both the theoretical know-what and the practical know-how to maximize the effectiveness of your organizational initiatives.
The Nazarian College, its students, faculty, staff, and alumni stand ready to partner with you to help you capture lasting gains from belonging, diversity, equity, and inclusion. Through our expertise in training and developing diverse individuals and teams, we aim to partner with Los Angeles businesses in leveraging the vast assortment of people, cultures and ideas in the larger metropolitan area and make Los Angeles a leader in harnessing the power of diverse perspectives, skills and thinking.
Lois M. Shelton, PhD. Is a professor at the David Nazarian School of Business and Economics at CSUN. Learn more at csun.edu/busecon.