14 Oct

Longing for Belonging

Diversity is a prerequisite for inclusion, and inclusion is a prerequisite for equity.

All three are the mechanics that must be in place for people to feel like they belong. When people feel like they belong, they thrive. And that’s when organisations can realise the well-documented benefits of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB). What’s more, as a society, we all benefit because better functioning and performing companies lead to improved wellbeing and economic outcomes for our communities.

In March this year, The University of Melbourne released the 2023 State of the Future of Work Report. As a report card, it made for woeful reading in terms of how unsafe, unwell and uncertain Australian workers still feel. In particular, the report said: “Australians feel their work and workplaces are unsafe, [and are] sites of discrimination for women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, caregivers and people living with chronic illnesses.” These findings are also reported in the recent Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability, which depicts a very sobering reality for employment, education and housing.

Of further concern, Human Resources Director recently reported: “DEIB is quickly becoming a non-negotiable for working Australians – however, it appears to be dropping on the priority lists of employers.” That observation should be ringing alarm bells for organisations that have not effectively embedded belonging as a core part of their culture – even when they have addressed diversity, equity and inclusion through compliance practices.

Here are three things we think organisations can do to help their people feel like they belong.

Lead from the top

Leaders need to have a clear understanding of how DEIB can help achieve their organisational goals. If they don’t think DEIB has a strong purpose in achieving those outcomes, then the organisation should ensure it meets its compliance obligations and leave it at that. Empty promises of DEIB-enriched cultures lead to social isolation and retention issues, which cause more harm than good.

In organisations where belonging is genuinely embraced, leaders can also make a connection between DEIB and improved customer service. This involves ensuring an organisation’s workforce reflects the diversity of its customer base and their needs. In this way, customers can start to feel like they belong too.

Embrace healthy conflict

While there is a need to ensure psychological safety in the workplace, organisations should embrace healthy conflict. It can be mobilising and is often the impetus for creativity and innovation. Unfortunately, we’ve observed a trend where conflict is being ‘cancelled’ in favour of niceness. From a functional perspective, niceness is the real threat because it creates a façade of inclusion. If you have a choice to be nice or good, choose good every time. Good can come with a degree of conflict, which is why DEIB practices must support differences in viewpoints from people with different backgrounds. That will help everyone feel like they belong.

It’s also important to understand that differences in viewpoints can create communication challenges. Addressing unconscious bias and communicating in a way that meets audience preferences can increase the need for communication resources, including training.

Measure the right things

In assessing DEIB performance, many organisations make the mistake of just tracking their compliance activities, such as policies, procedures and training programs. While these are all important, they fail to assess how people are feeling. To do that, it’s important to review the scope of culture engagement surveys and consider augmenting any quantitative data with qualitative insights. A word of warning, though. In qualitative insight sessions, you will only get honest feedback if a platform of trust already exists.

How can JOST&Co help?

To help people feel like they belong, our team can step in and diagnose what is happening – or not happening – at a cultural level.

We can also undertake quantitative and qualitative research to measure the success of DEIB initiatives. This is likely to include facilitating and embracing a healthy level of conflict to create a climate where everyone feels safe not agreeing with everything all of the time.