Written by Lenna Turner
January 20, 2023
When your colleagues barely acknowledge you, when company events are held at times when you need to do childcare pick-up, when you didn’t get an invite to lunch because your colleagues “thought you wouldn't like that type of restaurant” -- these are instances when we can feel that we don’t belong in our workplace.
I can remember a time when I had a similar experience to these examples. Thinking back to the time when many of my direct peers and some colleagues in junior positions were invited as regular attendees to leadership management meetings and I was not, I remember feeling like I didn’t quite belong. I had to advocate for myself and give a rationale for my attendance. What was more disheartening than being excluded from these meetings as a person in leadership, was the idea that I had to list reasons to validate my presence in those meetings.
In recent times, many companies have started viewing diversity, equity and inclusion or DE&I as a program or an admirable thing to do in the wake of ongoing social justice issues. Many people still think it’s about numbers; which is only one part of the equation. I think some people still see it as an HR program even though all research says DE&I is a business imperative. It’s as if DE&I has become a box companies are working quickly to check off. Once that box is checked, the work of DE&I often ends. What happens after companies meet their diversity hiring quotas?
It’s not enough to just hire individuals of diverse backgrounds. Making sure those individuals also feel they belong is crucial. DE&I means very little without the feeling of belonging.
Women, people of color, younger coworkers in a room full of older senior colleagues or leaders, people who look different from their colleagues, people who did not go to the same school as everyone in the room, people who speak with an accent, dress differently, or wear their hair differently are the people who often don’t feel they belong.
In order to give employees and colleagues a true sense of belonging, it’s important for companies to look internally at their demographics, and truly understand the policies and programs they currently have in place. I encourage companies to ask themselves if they are truly aligned with their DEI goals. If not, come up with strategies by soliciting feedback from employees through focus groups, and by sending out engagement surveys. Offering inclusive leadership training to managers and training to all staff on how to have inclusive conversations creates an environment of belonging for all employees.
It is also important to regularly communicate and celebrate diversity with employees. Developing a Corporate DEI&B Statement to post on your website is a great way to remind current and future employees they truly belong.
A workplace where all employees feel they belong is a place where everyone feels confident in the fact that others see and respect them. It’s a place where knowledge and contributions are shared and appreciated. It’s a place where everyone feels safe and free to agree and disagree without retribution or punitive consequences. It’s a place where all employees can grow, learn and reach their future career goals.
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