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The workplace is often a microcosm of what we see in society at large. Our work is part of what defines us, and our jobs are a big part of our lives, no matter what we do. To find your passion or pursue a career to which you feel called is something everyone should be able to enjoy. Because workplaces mirror the issues of their communities, they can have some of the same benefits and downsides. For many, racial or social injustice, economic inequality, and discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, and more are all too real at work, not just in their personal lives.
Many forward-thinking businesses that value culture, employee retention, and recognition have embraced the idea that employers must address systemic inequalities and injustices at work. In the early 2000s, US businesses spent over $8 billion annually on DEI initiatives. In the 2020s, hiring for roles in the DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) field has grown more than in the previous five years combined. Business owners and managers know that failing to address these issues in a meaningful way will alienate high-quality talent and customers and negatively affect their business in the long term. This is why growth-minded business owners seek opportunities to make their workplace as welcoming and supportive as possible to people from all walks of life. Just since the start of the pandemic, Glassdoor reported a 54% increase in job postings for DEI roles.
Actions Speak Louder, but Words Still Matter:
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are the keywords here, as employers look to bring as much top talent into the fold as they can by creating spaces for marginalized groups and empowering their employees to feel like they belong where they work. However, this is still an uphill battle, and there is always more work to be done. While many businesses have adopted some initiatives aimed at inclusivity, changing social attitudes and growing awareness are shaping how companies approach the subject. One recent change many businesses are making may seem small but has a great impact: adding the concept of “belonging” to DEI programs. This is the latest in an ongoing trend aimed at bringing about institutional change in the workplace and might be a change your business should consider making.
Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging: what do these words mean, and why is it significant that a new term is being added? After the boom in DEI programming that followed the George Floyd protests, some business leaders noticed that well-intentioned approaches to these programs were missing the mark – that they, in some cases, “exacerbated divides even while addressing valuable issues,” according to Sarah Bonk, Founder and CEO of the nonprofit Business for America. There was a realization that all parties had to be brought to the table – which is why many consultants and DEIB specialists are now focusing on “belonging” to bridge the gap in a more holistic way. In an increasingly polarized and politically volatile world, special care must be taken to ensure workplace culture works for everyone.
Policies that Drive Change
Some traditional approaches to DEIB programming in the workplace are being phased out in favor of new ones that focus on ensuring that no one feels ostracized by difficult and complex topics that need to be addressed. In 2021, SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) conducted a study on belonging in the workplace and found that respondents agreed that mandatory diversity trainings were not helpful, but employee resource groups (ERGs) are. ERGs and other identity-based communities can help create a sense of belonging for employees of many different backgrounds. Employees belonging to marginalized communities can benefit from these groups, as many Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) often feel that their voices are not heard at work. This is particularly true when it comes to issues like workplace benefits and social situations that disproportionately affect employees of different backgrounds.
Since ERGs are not mandatory and are run by and made up of members of the group they represent, it creates a safe space to discuss issues in a way some employees may not feel empowered to do so otherwise. For example, Shakara Worrell, speaking to the New York Times about corporate belonging, said that at a previous job, her voice was not heard: “I just remember sitting in my cube and not being able to just voice my opinions,” regarding issues of racial injustice, which made her feel that “I don’t really belong.” However, after taking a position at a company that prioritized employee well-being and DEIB, when another social issue threatened to disrupt the well-being of a group of employees, she was able to work with the company’s ERG for women’s empowerment to create an event series to help employees discuss the issue. Discussion events like these can be so effective and empowering and as a result, many companies are offering or considering event series, or otherwise “holding space” or fostering “conscious conversations” to facilitate the kind of communication that will help every employee feel seen and heard.
Commitment and Follow-Through Are Everything
ERGs and other employee-focused DEIB initiatives are an important part of the equation, but like all employee-focused benefits and programs, they are only effective when they are executed with commitment. SHRM reported that one particularly disheartening point of frustration for employees is when a company’s actions are not in line with their stated commitments to diversity programs. For instance, if an organization creates ERGs or institutes other DEIB initiatives but does not actively support them or set them up for success, it feels like a hollow victory. Some examples of poor follow-through include when a business donates to a cause but does not give an employee group centered around that cause any budget or the tools to be effective. It is vital that leaders put their money where their mouth is and support their ERGs and community leaders with the proper budgets, time commitments, and resources necessary to deal with the issues at hand effectively. Since these groups are not mandatory, offering perks and additional benefits to those who participate is worth the investment. Additionally, it is vital that managers and HR staff check in with these groups and their leaders regularly to make sure their needs are met and their voices heard.
Mental health and well-being benefits are among the most sought-after benefits for today’s workforce. To ensure these benefits are effective, it is vital to consider how they might meet the needs of employees from all backgrounds. As July is National BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month, now is an excellent time to consider what more your company can do to create a welcoming and supportive environment for all employees from every background. Holding space, creating (and actively supporting) employee resource groups, encouraging conscious conversations with or without DEIB consultants, and exploring culturally competent well-being benefits can all be extremely helpful. There’s never been a better time for business leaders and HR professionals to consider what they’re doing to foster belonging in the workplace.