By Gisele Marcus, Professor of Practice-Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Olin Business School-Washington University in St. Louis
The concept of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has increased in popularity since the murder of George Floyd. It has become the buzz term in an array of executive suites and boardrooms. Data tells us that DEI done well can lead to meeting or exceeding financial targets and achieving better business outcomes. However, if an employee is invited into a workspace but does not feel welcomed, the potential DEI impact is reduced. As a result, companies such as LinkedIn, Johnson & Johnson (J&J), and Ernst & Young (EY) are adding B for belonging to their DEI acronym: DEIB. Banks are following suit.
Belonging is the fuel for the diversity, equity and inclusion engine. It is a fundamental need of all people, regardless of their DEI dimensions (i.e., gender, religion, age, LGBTQIA+). Abraham Harold Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, “A Theory of Human Motivation,” in the Psychological Review journal, identified belonging and social connection as integral parts of the basic needs of human beings. Belonging is defined as “one’s physical, emotional, and psychological safety; the indescribable feeling of being welcomed”. Brené Brown, a social scientist, described it as “an irreducible need of all people”. This is amplified by people desiring and associating with in-groups, groups of people with shared interests or identities. Examples of in-groups are associations, families and/or schools.
Belonging and its alignment with DEI components
Diversity in the workplace is about the mix of different people at a company. This could include, for example, people of various religions, nationalities, genders, learning abilities and marital statuses. Equity calls for leveling the playing field by providing equal possible outcomes for every individual. This includes providing the same resources and opportunities for everyone. In instances where resources and/or opportunities are lacking, it is necessary to offer support for equal access. For example, pay equity will study the systematic reasons for differences in the pay profiles of various levels, such as at the executive level. If people are homogenous in these roles, this is not equitable. Inclusion deals with whether people feel they have a safe space to express themselves authentically. Authentic expression may also be referenced as bringing your whole self to work. Belonging adds an exclamation mark to DEI, undergirding it with the power to be amplified with staying power. In practice, belonging appears in sharing ideas, speaking confidently, being asked to participate and contributing fully within the workplace. Belonging includes feeling welcomed, included, valued and connected. These terms are linked and need to coexist to create the best employee experiences possible.
The feeling of unbelonging
When belonging is not felt, pain can result in anxiety, worry and stress. This can damage the ability to participate and concentrate, negatively impacting engagement in a workplace environment.
Have you ever felt you did not belong? Consider these three potential scenarios:
(1) You are attending a banking conference where everyone is dressed in business attire. You went to the conference golf tournament and returned to the next conference event in your golf attire, a golf shirt and shorts. The looks and stares of attendees made you feel uncomfortable.
(2) You are a new director-level employee who was the only one at that level invited to an executive social event by the president of the company as part of your orientation. When you get there, the president has not yet arrived. You don’t know anyone in attendance. Everyone is networking with one another, and you have trouble breaking into small-group conversations.
(3) You are in a local banking-industry association and attend your first meeting in over a year. There is a round-table discussion. You make a comment. The round-robin discussion continues. Someone makes a similar comment, and his or her comment is lauded; your comment is not.
In your own reflection of unbelonging, what did you experience? How were you made to feel? Given that experience, how would you treat someone in your situation if the tables were reversed to ensure a feeling of welcome?
Unbelonging has led to the creation of organizations that embrace belonging.
Unbelonging has led to the creation of organizations in which belonging is a cultural mandate. For example, the National Bankers Association (NBA) serves as a collective voice that had been non-existent until the NBA’s creation in 1927 for minority-owned banks, including Black, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander and Native American, as well as women-owned banks across the country. This organization focuses on helping low- and moderate-income communities that traditional banks and financial-services providers underserve. Nicole Elam, president and chief executive officer of the National Bankers Association, shared that “as the only organization focused on the survival and strengthening of America’s minority depository institutions (MDIs), we are pleased to have an institution where our member organizations experience a sense of belonging.” Our services contribute to their individual and collective success. According to the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation), MDIs’ combined assets grew by more than 15 percent by the end of 2020.
The relationship to employee engagement
Belonging has a strong relationship with employee engagement and a high correlation with business performance in retention and productivity. Employee engagement can be critical to a company’s success, given its links to job satisfaction and employee morale.
Employee engagement is witnessed in the degree of enthusiasm and dedication an employee feels toward his or her job and company. Engaged employees care about their work and the company’s performance. They feel their efforts make a difference. Engaged employees are more likely to be high-performing and productive. According to Glint’s April 2020 article by Archana Ramesh, “Why Belonging Is Important at Work: Employee Engagement and Diversity,” employees with a strong sense of belonging are more than six times more likely to be engaged.
Employee engagement reduces employee turnover, increases employee productivity in new roles, reduces new employee anxiety and increases employee pride.
The business case for belonging
In the January 2020 report titled “What It Means to Belong at Work” by Cognizant in partnership with Microsoft, several pervasive insights relevant to the value of belonging were shared. More than 10,000 global respondents across various generations and genders offered insights. The relevance of belonging ranked at 92 percent. A couple of respondents shared, “My workplace makes me feel like I belong. We are all like family” and “A simple chat and recognition would increase each one’s belongingness.” The feeling of belongingness outshone pay for Gen X and Gen Y managers by approximately 70 percent. This survey evidenced that belonging is tied to performance, with the following results for females and males:
- I would feel more engaged: 80.5 percent female/76.6 percent male;
- As a workgroup, our overall performance would improve: 76 percent female/ 72.6.8 percent male;
- I would be more motivated to do my work: 81.2 percent female/80.1 percent male;
- I would be more likely to stay at my current employer: 76.2 percent female/ 73.4 percent male;
- My emotional well-being would improve: 75 percent female/ 69.9 percent male.
Everyone thrives in an environment in which our inherent worth is recognized, we can be safe to express our authentic selves, and we know we belong to something bigger.
How organizations can cultivate belonging
Here are actionable ways to enhance belonging in your workplace:
Measure the level of belonging. Companies have added belongingness questions as part of an employee-engagement survey. In addition, to dig deeper into the survey results, small focus groups can be used.
Encourage employees to bring their full selves to work. Create a culture in which employees are comfortable being themselves. This means differences are not stifled. It also means behavior that discourages such a culture is addressed and that the reverse is rewarded.
Embed DEIB into processes and policies. DEIB must be present and considered in all phases of the employee lifecycle, including recruitment, onboarding, retention, performance management and succession planning.
Don’t rely solely on a hiring-representation goal to create your desired culture. Having hiring representation of diverse people is moving the needle toward a diverse workforce. However, it isn’t enough to ensure the welcoming cultural dynamics of an organization. Behaviors and norms shape the culture. If you desire a welcoming culture, company values being embraced and acted upon can be a starting point.
An approach to belonging: First Mid Bancshares, Inc (NASDAQ: FMBH)
First Mid Bancshares, Inc. is a financial holding company that engages in the provision of banking services through its subsidiaries. It operates through the following lines of business: community banking, wealth management and insurance brokerage. The company was founded in 1981 and is headquartered in Mattoon, IL, in the United States.
Belonging is never completed. It is an ongoing journey. First Mid has embraced the belonging definition of UKG (Ultimate Kronos Group), a human-resources and workforce-management organization, which is “a sense of relatedness connected to a positive relationship with an individual, group or organization”. They further state, “When an employee truly experiences a sense of belonging, they know that whatever makes them diverse is welcomed and celebrated. They understand that if an inequality arose, an equitable solution would be present to restore the balance. Employees who feel that they belong have voices that are welcomed to the table and heard by all.”
“In my mind, if an employee was engaged, they would likely have a sense of belonging,” stated Joe Dively, chairman and chief executive officer of First Mid. That said, Jordan Read, CPA, chief risk officer, utilized the annual, anonymous Gallup engagement survey to assess the feeling of belonging in the workplace in the areas of “Opportunity to Do Our Best”, “Cares About Me” and “Opinions Count”. Along with answering these standard questions, associates can provide free text feedback that leadership reviews to digest collective and individual feelings. Executive management sets goals for the results of this survey and takes action(s) based on the results and feedback.
In addition, “First Mid continues to discuss the vital role a community bank plays in the markets they serve. Access to capital and a safe place to hold and grow assets is an incredibly critical responsibility. Our purpose of ‘Collaborating to make an impact’ applies to all stakeholders and certainly our employees. We want to collaborate with them to meet their short-term needs and long-term career aspirations. If they don’t feel this commitment is genuine, we will never achieve the sense of belonging we all want at work, community and home,” remarked Joe Dively.
A business imperative
A culture of belonging is not just a moral mandate. It is a business imperative. LinkedIn, Workday, Johnson & Johnson (J&J), Ernst & Young (EY), Webster Bank and others have added belonging to their strategy to attract, develop and retain talent. Their goal is to embed DEIB throughout the employee lifecycle. Doing so consistently will allow employees to assess whether their organizations are executing on their DEIB commitments and/or strategies. If this is occurring, the organization will benefit from business results fueled by employee engagement. Those organizations willing to apply the effort and continually garner employee feedback for improvement will show their competitors and other organizations that DEIB is here to stay.