The Power of Belonging


Many organizations are beginning to rethink their DEI strategy as studies show the critical importance of belonging—a person’s perception of acceptance within a given group—in the workplace and beyond.

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. A Harvard Business Review report indicates that high belonging increases job performance by 56 percent, lowers turnover by 50 percent, and reduces sick days by 75 percent, which can translate into savings of over $52 million annually for companies with more than 10,000 employees.

The Center for Talent Innovation has noted that nearly 40 percent of Americans feel physically and emotionally isolated in the workplace, fostering greater belonging in organizations has the potential to supercharge the benefits of 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 can be equipped to become champions, and organizations can be populated throughout with persons experienced in working in teams and diverse environments.

• Affirmation. The Annie E. Casey Foundation has shown that recognizing and supporting individuals, their cultures, and their backgrounds allow 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.

• Voice. Ensuring that all team members, particularly those from underrepresented groups, can freely express their ideas and critiques provides the double bonus of creating
a sense of belonging as well as expanding the creativity and problem-solving capabilities 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 devise strategies to maximize their contributions. Author, historian, and Pulitzer Prize winner Louis Terkel emphasizes that leaders can enhance the voice of members of underrepresented groups by seeking out ways to become allies.

• 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. As the Annie E. Casey Foundation points out, leaders can give their team members the emotional and psychological wings they need to fly by studiously avoiding micromanagement and stepping in as a resource when needed. Leaders should also be prepared to give all team members, including those from underrepresented groups, permission to fail without dire consequences.

These key elements can be implemented as follows:
• Voluntary training with relevant rewards. Team participants and employees are more likely to view DEIB coaching as useful and constructive when they are allowed to opt in and 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 DEIB goals into criteria for advancement. Include DEIB progress in benchmarks for choice assignments, pay raises, and promotions. Insti- tutionalizing these criteria helps ensure that individuals who move into leadership positions are mindful of the importance of DEIB. Plus, these criteria make voluntary DEIB training even more attractive and help reduce the likelihood that large numbers of employees will opt out. Individuals striving to grow with an organization will see that the path to greater er influence and responsibility lies in understanding and effectively implementing DEIB.
• Hiring persons experienced in diverse environments. The ability of leaders, peers, and subordinates to help persons from a variety of backgrounds 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 Nazarian College of Business and Economics at California State University, Northridge, 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.

As part of CSUN, which is a certified Hispanic, Asian American, Native American, and Pacific Islander serving the university, the Nazarian College student body boasts ethnicities, races, and nationalities from around the world as well as members of all socio-economic strata.

Nazarian College is the ninth largest business school in the country and is accredited
by AACSB, the highest standard in business and management education. Most recently, the Wall Street Journal ranked California State University, Northridge, as the eighth-best college in California (No. 2 among public universities) and the fifth in the nation for social mobility.

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-how and the practical know-how to maximize the effectiveness of organizational initiatives.

Nazarian College and its students, faculty, staff, and alumni stand ready to partner with organizations to help them capture lasting gains from belonging, diversity, equity, and inclusion. Through its expertise in training and developing diverse individuals and teams, Nazarian College is ready 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, Ph.D. serves as a professor at Nazarian College, CSUN. Learn more at

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