Building a sense of belonging: 8 tips from the experts

Building a sense of belonging is a necessary step in achieving inclusion in the workplace. The goal is for employees to feel truly comfortable and like they can be their true selves in the organization. If we feel that we belong somewhere, we become more productive and innovative. 

But how can organizations build this sense of belonging? And how should we approach this in virtual teams? We talked about this at one of our latest DEI Palette Club’s events with Alexis Curtis-Harris, Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at Penna, and Rachel Luff, Global Inclusion & Diversity Learning – Strategy Lead at Expedia Group. Here are some of the most important takeaways which the speakers shared on building a sense of belonging.

1. The core of belonging is safety

“For me personally, belonging means feeling safe. Safe to be unapologetically me, no matter what that might be, safe to be able to both give and receive feedback honestly, without fear of consequence,” Alexis says. According to Rachel, safety is actually the core of a sense of belonging. Ensuring psychological safety to make sure everyone can be themselves should therefore lie at the forefront of any inclusion efforts.

2. There’s no right or wrong place to start from

It doesn’t really matter where you’re starting from - building a sense of belonging can only improve the situation. The first step to take according to Alexis is to ask for feedback form your employees - what do they think should improve? Following on that, the key in your ongoing efforts is consistency, continuation and authenticity. Rachel’s advice is to rely on a combination of activities - employee resource groups or reverse mentoring are both great examples.

3. Companies need to listen to employees

This brings us to the next point. How can a company improve the situation for its employees if management doesn’t know what the employees need? Companies must really actively listen to the people who work for them. Remember that there’s no one perfect solution for everyone - each person comes from a different background and culture, and therefore has their specific needs. A great way to approach collecting feedback and insights from employees is via a survey, but it’s equally important to lead quality conversations and truly listen to what the other person has to say.

4. Actions must be measurable

After collecting employee feedback, it’s time to take action. While working on your strategies, always keep in mind that these actions must be measurable. As Alexis says, employees need to know what is being prioritized and everyone, not only leadership, needs to feel their power in bringing about changes. In order to plan your actions in a way that won’t let you miss anything, Rachel recommends to base them on collected data and build from there.

5. Don’t forget your remote colleagues

Building a sense of belonging is all the more challenging in virtual and hybrid teams, which have become increasingly widespread in the post-pandemic world of work. Hybrid teams can be especially hard to manage - you must always keep in mind the presence and needs of your remote colleagues. A few recommendations from Rachel include having everyone join meetings from their own laptop, even if several colleagues are physically present together in the same room, as well as setting out the agenda firmly beforehand to ensure that everyone gets their chance to be heard. Team building activities should also keep the specifics of this situation in mind. Instead of choosing activities requiring physical presence, Rachel mentions running a photography contest - a great way for everyone to participate without having to handle the complications of working remotely.

6. Leaders need to be comfortable with the uncomfortable

The truth is that changes can’t be made unless leadership is fully on board. As Alexis mentions, it’s important that a leader acknowledges that they’re going to make mistakes in the process and that what’s important is how they learn from these mistakes. Nothing can be perfect form the beginning and complications will arise, so it’s important for a leader to adopt an open, honest and pro-learning attitude.

7. Speak up, not over

The key thing we must do to support colleagues from underrepresented groups is to learn to be a good ally. As Alexis says, speak up, not over. In other words, support and use your impactful position to educate others without speaking over those you’re supporting. Take the lead on issues that require awareness and make sure your actions back that up.

8. Being a role model is key

Rachel adds that in order for others to follow their lead, managers and leaders must set a good example. Leaders need to not only truly believe in inclusion actions, but also take accountability and own their mistakes. She explains that while many leaders still tend to think that DEI is something extra, it is actually an integral part of a leader’s job. And if a leader does their job well, others will follow.

To conclude, it’s important to emphasize that diversity and inclusion efforts are an ongoing process and should be part of a company’s everyday life. If you’re a DEI professional or an enthusiast looking to learn more and connect with experts, join us in the DEI Palette Club! This community of diversity and inclusion professionals from around the world is a great place to discuss DEI topics and meet like-minded people to learn from!

If you’d like to see the whole talk with Alexis and Rachel, you can watch the recording of the event!

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