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Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (DIB) in the Workplace. What Does It Mean and How Do We Get There?

Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (DIB) in the Workplace.  What Does It Mean and How Do We Get There? 

Last week I attended two workshops, two days in a row, on the topic of diversity and inclusion.  Instead of my typical weeknight evenings of binge-watching my favorite Netflix shows with my dog on my lap, I was nerding out on D&I!  I was seriously excited to attend, eager to learn and to have an open conversation with other business professionals around this topic that is finally gaining the importance it deserves.

Both workshops took a different approach.  The first one had a panel and the discussion was around HR’s role in diversity and inclusion and questioned whether it was a responsibility of HR to lead the D&I initiative. The second workshop specifically focused on the LGBTQ community, in particular how to hire and support talented employees who are transgender and gender non-conforming. 

What I loved most about both workshops was the storytelling aspect that was incorporated. People were encouraged to share personal stories on times in their life and at work when they felt excluded, unwelcome, and were treated unfairly. Conversely, we explored ways in which we felt supported, had people who have been allies for us or how we have been an ally for someone else. We also discussed when in our lives we started noticing race and gender. Most folks shared that it was at an early age (around 5 or 6 years old). 

Let’s take some time to explore what diversity and inclusion (D&I) actually is.  By now, most people know about D&I, but belonging is a new term that’s gaining popularity. To make it simple, I think of diversity as being the noun. It is the fact that we are different with unique characteristics. In a workplace this looks like people from all backgrounds, race/ethnicities, cultures, genders, gender identities, religions, ages, sexual orientations etc.  Inclusion, on the other hand, is the verb (the action). It is the act of being included and involves those practices a company puts in place to emphasize the value of diversity. 

So, what is belonging, you ask?  Belonging is (hopefully) the result of an organization being diverse and inclusive. It refers to the employee’s experience working at XYZ company, such as; 

  • Am I treated fairly and with respect? 
  • Am I paid fairly? 
  • Is there a sense of community? 
  • Do I feel safe?
  • Can I be my authentic self?
  • Do I feel like I belong?

If the answer to each of the above questions is yes, then the employers’ efforts are working, and studies have shown they will reap the benefits that come from having actively engaged employees.  This includes improved communication, more innovation, high-functioning teams, higher productivity, lower turnover, increased profits etc. 

When you think about it from a human perspective, it’s intuitive and makes sense. Try to remember a time in school when you repeatedly felt alone and dismissed, like an outsider or outcast.  Did you look forward to coming to school in the morning?  While you were there, did you feel safe to be your authentic self, your creativity blossoming? Or did you feel like you wanted to give up and hide? The same applies to adults in the workplace. If we don’t feel welcome we lose trust, retreat, and are not motivated to use our unique talents to contribute to the success of the company.  

One question that came up multiple times at the workshops I attended was “This sounds great, but where and how do I start?”. Great question. As with any strategic initiative, you need a roadmap that includes goals.  Here are some good key goals to start with:

  1. Emphasize the value of diversity in the workplace
  2. Eliminate misconceptions of diversity and its effects 
  3. Improve diversity and inclusion practices
  4. Enhance the sense of belonging and human relations

The best first step is to look around your organization and observe.  What do we look like?  Are we diverse? Do we look like our customers? If you’re not comfortable with the results, it’s time for a change. Depending on the size and needs of your organization, a few steps to starting a DIB initiative might include: 

  • Start the conversation with your CEO (or your leadership team). To garner support, you will need be ready to talk data such as talent and productivity and the proven benefits of DIB. They will want to know not just how this affects human emotions, but how it impacts the company’s bottom line. Together, create a plan towards greater inclusion and diversity. 
  • Review and update company policies. You’ll want to ensure compliance and adherence to new nondiscrimination and anti-harassment laws and assess whether your other policies are inclusive as well. Creating a diversity and inclusion vision statement is also a great way to promote your company’s stance on diversity. It’s a good idea to establish workplace transition guidelines and protections for those employees who are transitioning from the gender they were assigned at birth to one that more closely aligns their outward identity with the gender they know themselves to be. 
  • Provide training for managers and employees on DIB.  Training should include how implicit bias affects decision-making. You can get creative using storytelling and share your “belonging moment”. Topics can range from education on microaggressions to proper terms in the LGBTQ community and understanding pronouns. 
  • Change hiring practices and focus on recruiting diverse candidates. Consider job boards and job fairs that focus on people of color, veterans, or transgender folk, for example. This should be specific to the makeup of your employee population and what is lacking. For example, if there are mostly all white males in your engineering department, focus on recruiting people of color and women for your next hires. Ensure that your job ad attracts the candidate you are seeking and doesn’t include any language that could be viewed as discriminatory. Train hiring managers on pre-employment inquiries to avoid during the interview process. 
  • Review practices on promotions and pay equity. With the enactment of the Fair Pay Act, employers are closely reviewing their compensation structures to identify any pay disparities as it relates to gender and ethnicity. The same should be done when it comes to promotions. For example, watch out if you’re receiving complaints that men assume women with small children would be unwilling to make a move even though they had no similar concerns about men who had kids. 
  • Create inclusive traditions. Some examples include celebrating Black History Month and National Women’s Equality Day or recognizing Transgender Remembrance Day.
  • Establish diversity committees/employee resource groups. These are groups of employees who join together in their workplace based on shared characteristics or life experiences.  They are a sounding board and based on providing support and are also a great resource for employers to identify areas where changes are needed in the organization. Ensure each group has a manager or lead that will identify the specific needs of their group and communicate those needs to leadership or HR.
  • Encourage and provide opportunities for employees to engage with the community. Such as volunteering at nonprofits, job fairs, community groups, local pride events etc. For example, an employer may offer 3 paid days per year for employees to volunteer with a nonprofit of their choice or from a list the employer makes available.
  • Recognize the employee resource groups as a necessary driver of the business’ success and essential part of the company culture. This can be as simple as acknowledgment memos from CEO, recognition in the newsletter, or rewards such as sponsoring a lunch for the groups or allowing them time to tour local nonprofits.  There can be healthy competitions amongst the groups, such as rewarding the group that logs the most volunteer hours. 
  • Implement a diverse mentoring program. Make mentoring an integral part of your culture. This can involve offering mentoring as an onboarding tool to diverse hires who may need more time and care in being initiated; providing mentoring to junior and mid-level employees who need to continue to develop leadership and communication skills; and involve mentoring senior management and leaders.
  • Make a commitment to maintain a diversity vendor supplier program. This will ensure that a significant percentage of the supplies and services the organization purchases are from diverse, minority or women-owned and operated businesses, which reinforces the organization’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. 

If you haven’t been, I highly recommend attending a local D&I workshop or convention. Some well-known organizations such as SHRM, PIHRA, NHRA and NCHRA have events throughout the year on this topic. 

Remember that change starts with recognizing there is an opportunity for improvement. No one can accomplish an initiative like this alone, so recruit folks who will support you and start the conversation!  

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