How Belonging Differs from Diversity and Inclusion — and Why It Matters

If your company is already focusing on diversity and inclusion, do you really need to emphasize belonging, too? Isn’t belonging just another HR buzzword?

As Indeed’s Vice President of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (DI&B), I’m sometimes asked questions like this. I’ll start to answer them by defining diversity, inclusion and belonging. I’ll explain their benefits. And I’ll finish with best practices for creating a sense of belonging within your organization so you can make progress toward any DI&B program’s desired end-state: true equality.

Diversity is representation

Diversity is about hiring in such a way that your organization reflects the global communities in which we operate. The benefits of a diverse company are tangible. Teams with diverse members with different work styles, problem-solving techniques, life experiences, backgrounds, perspectives and skill sets are more likely to be innovative. Because if you have nothing but like-minded people on a team, your thinking isn’t likely to be challenged.

Inclusion is about actions

Inclusion in the workplace is about the actions and behaviours we take to create a culture in which employees feel valued, trusted and authentic. In an inclusive environment, everyone is encouraged to contribute fully and thrive. Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are one example of how organizations can take action to help underrepresented minorities feel included and give them a voice.

Belonging is a feeling 

Belonging at work is a feeling of community with the people and environments that make us feel connected.

For several years, Verna Myers, activist and VP of Inclusion Strategy at Netflix, has said that “diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” I love that quote — and I’d like to adapt it by adding that belonging is knowing all the songs. Knowing all the songs goes beyond simply being invited to the party; you feel like you belong there. And you can’t help but dance; it’s your jam!

Psychological safety is what makes us feel we belong. When you feel psychologically safe, you believe others will give you the benefit of the doubt. You can ask questions and raise issues without fear. You can be vulnerable with others and be who you are — which, in turn, helps you connect with others. Psychological safety is what creates the most high-performing teams, where members build and learn and grow together, push back against the status quo and innovate.

How to create a sense of belonging at work

Creating an environment that nurtures a sense of belonging isn’t easy — especially during a pandemic and economic crisis. Here are a few meaningful steps I recommend to help you get there.

Use employee engagement surveys to gauge and measure belonging. In your next employee survey, consider asking belonging-related questions that can help you measure and make improvements.

In Indeed’s latest employee survey, we asked respondents to consider five statements regarding inclusion and belonging and select an answer ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.” Two of the statements were specifically related to psychological safety, the underpinning of belonging:

  • When I speak up, my opinion is valued.
  • I feel comfortable coming forward with concerns or complaints, without the fear of retaliation.

Use your workspace to create a sense of belonging. People like to connect over food, which is why kitchens and break rooms have traditionally helped foster belonging at work. The pandemic has made gatherings more problematic, of course, so accomplishing this connection will require creative thinking as well as adherence to social distancing and other safety precautions.

For example, my team, and I keep our sense of connections to each other alive despite working remotely. During a recent week, my team members were encouraged to change their video conference background to a picture of their favourite superhero and share why that character speaks to them. The result of these efforts is less video chat fatigue and a sustained sense of belonging.

Create opportunities for connections. A sense of belonging can come from working with people with similar interests, hobbies or outlooks and from giving employees the opportunity to come together over shared interests. Much like ERGs, which represent underrepresented minorities, a company’s affinity groups — for employees who practice yoga, ride motorcycles, love dogs or cats, you name it — are another important way to create connections and belonging.

Creating a sense of belonging is especially challenging during COVID-19, shelter-in-place orders and the rise of remote work. But it can be done.

Your mission can create a sense of belonging, too

When employees understand your organization’s mission, values, strategies and objectives and key results (OKRs) — and the role they play in achieving those OKRs — they’re more likely to be engaged and motivated. They feel a connection to the company. Through that connection, they experience a sense of purpose and belonging, because they know that what they do and say matters.

And so, a sense of belonging at work isn’t just about creating psychological safety and driving innovation and moving closer toward equality. It’s also a smart business strategy.

LaFawn Davis is VP of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging at Indeed.