Why Belonging is Everybody’s Business

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The death of DEI?

There’s a lot of press at the moment around the unwinding of formal heads of Diversity Equity & Inclusion (DEI).  In the US, companies fear legal action for having DEI initiatives. Globally, as captured in the World Bank “Women, Business and the Law 2024” report, women have access to less than 2/3 of the rights of men, and even the wealthiest economies don’t provide equal opportunities. In Asia, same sex marriage is a much debated issue, and while strides have been made more recently in awareness around neurodiversity, we would be naive to think that our organisations are inclusive for all abilities and disabilities. 

Perhaps controversially, I’m not mourning the loss of the old DEI construct. Inclusion and belonging should be everyone’s challenge to work on, not the focus of just a few. Let’s be honest – appointing people with a formal title to advocate on behalf of  (typically) less privileged colleagues, and asking those already having to work twice as hard to “prove themselves” to drive change through participating in Employee Resource Groups and do extracurricular work has had limited results. We haven’t seen significant improvements in diverse leadership in constructs of power, there’s more burnout and anxiety than ever, and between the pandemic and now return to office initiatives, those with caring duties and disabilities continue to face challenges that many of us don’t. The system is broken, it’s time for a new, more accountable approach. 

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The most resilient cultures are composed of many shades

Diversity is having a seat at the table, inclusion is having a voice, and belonging is having that voice be heard.

We are all diverse

We all have our pasts, our lenses through which we see the world, our complexities. Connecting on a very human level, as individuals, is one of the first steps we can take in communicating about this highly contentious topic and starting to both build common ground while recognising and respecting each others’ uniqueness. One of my favourite ways to do this is to use the 32 questions to build closeness. Next time you’re looking to understand someone better, or if as a leader you want your teams to start bonding, I would highly recommend these. When we know each other on a human level it’s hard to create an “other” narrative in our minds. Give it a try. Notice how a sense of belonging makes you feel, and consider how an organisational culture where everyone has the security of belonging might thrive in these times of change. 

We are all accountable

Our cultures are defined by our daily actions and behaviours. Every single one of us makes choices, both conscious and sub-conscious, that contribute to the culture in which we operate. Never underestimate the contagious nature of your behaviours. If you choose to hear the voices of others, you are taking steps towards a culture of belonging. If you help to amplify those that are quieter but deserve to be heard, you are leading towards a culture of belonging. A culture of belonging builds psychological security, and that in turn drives the positive momentum of inclusion > belonging > more psychological security. It drives innovation, creativity and builds adaptability across an organisation. 

One point to note – we are all accountable, but let me be clear, this starts with leadership, then management, then middle management. If you have the privilege to be in these roles then you cast a greater light or greater shadow depending on your choices. Choose to be a light. 

We can all drive change 

Finally, it’s east to feel overwhelmed. Like we don’t have the time, or the energy, or the power to make a difference. But never underestimate the ripple effect of even the smallest changes. Acknowledging someone with a smile, a nod, even a “hi”. Asking what the correct way to pronounce someone’s name is. Noticing if someone is struggling and finding a time to gently ask if there is any way you can support them. Recognising the efforts of your colleagues and peers with a simple thank you. Listening, asking questions, being curious. And never letting something pass or be said when your gut tells you it’s not okay. You will never know how much of an impact the tiniest act of courage or compassion may have. Do it anyway. 

Oh, and for those who still demand a business case: BCG: Inclusion isn’t just nice, it’s necessary. Happy reading!

We are coming into an era where the culture of our organisations will be our biggest competitive differentiator, more than ever before. Building and nurturing a culture of belonging is everybody’s business. 

You should speak to us.  

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