Belonging Matters: Unveiling the Core Pillar of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Belonging Matters: Unveiling the Core Pillar of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Within the past few years, diversity, equity and inclusion has transformed many industries, including the financial industry. Employees are seeking out companies that are dedicated to DEI and have a culture that reflects their DEI efforts. In fact, according to Deloitte, over 75 percent of employees are more engaged in their work when they perceive their company as having strong DEI efforts. And while companies are making great strides with their DEI practices, some are forgetting the reason why DEI is so important…people want to feel a sense of belongingness.

Introduction to DEI&B

DEI&B stands for diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. But what exactly does this mean? DEI&B means that people from a range of ages, genders and ethnicities are hired and given the resources that they need to be successful in their position. It means that the culture of the organization makes employees feel valued and included, and furthermore, it means that employees feel a sense of belongingness and community within their work environment.

The need to belong is so strong that it’s even embedded in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory. According to Semantics Scholar, research shows that the need to belong and be accepted at work is so important that the only need that tops it is the need to belong at home. And that’s why belonging is the core pillar of DEI, and it should be the core of your credit union’s DEI efforts as well. This could look like creating a culture where employees know one another, work cooperatively across teams throughout the organization and have opportunities to develop connections and friendships that deepen relationships and create a sense of community.

This is a really great question. DEI is different from DEI&B because diversity, equity and inclusion are the actions your credit union should take in order to create a culture that culminates in the belonging. Ensuring that you are purposeful in having a diverse workforce with people who are given what they need to be successful can lead to a culture where everyone feels like they belong. However, it’s important to note that just because your credit union has a DEI program and works to incorporate DEI initiatives at your institution, it does not mean that belongingness will immediately follow. In fostering a truly diverse, equitable and inclusive environment at your credit union, integrating a strong sense of belongingness is paramount. Not only should your employees feel valued, recognized and understood, they also should feel a sense of community. So how does this happen? How can you be intentional about building belongingness into your DEI and culture efforts?

4 Steps to Incorporate DEI&B into the Workplace

1.     Talk with your employees.
This seems obvious but survey your employees. Talk with them and ask how they feel about your organization. Ask them how they perceive the leaders in your organization and how they feel about the communication and programs at your credit union. Talk with them to find out if they believe that your credit union cares about them, supports them and meets their needs. This is the first step because if you don’t know how your employees feel, you won’t know where to start.

2.     Get leadership buy-in.
Acquiring the buy-in of leadership is vital when it comes to trying to incorporate any programs or initiatives within your organization, but especially when it comes to DEI&B. Support needs to come from the top down in order to be successful. Explain to your board why just focusing on DEI isn’t enough; why you need to be intentional about making your employees feel like they belong and they have a sense of community in your organization. Give them the results of your survey from the staff. Show them how the staff feels.

After all, research shows that nearly half of adults feel alone and isolated from their colleagues. These adults don’t feel as if they belong in their organization; and yet, DEI has been around for a while. According to research completed by Cigna, almost half of all Black and Hispanic workers don’t even feel connected to their teams when a crisis arises. Your organization will need to have difficult conversations. It won’t be easy, and there will be a lot of learning involved on all sides. That’s why you need your leaders to be just as committed as you are to ensuring that your employees feel a sense of support and togetherness.

3.     Take action.
Examine your processes throughout the organization. Find out if any of your practices could counteract your efforts in creating that community-feel within your institution. If you are in a remote environment, make sure to schedule activities that employees can participate in to promote that feeling of belongingness. Your employees need to connect on a regular basis, so they won’t feel isolated.

Be cautious about hiring people who “fit your culture.” Often times when hiring new people for positions, we want to make sure that the individual fits with the culture of the organization, which is understandable – to an extent. If you’re only hiring people who fit with the current culture, then you are not really hiring a diverse set of people. You could very well be unintentionally building a culture of people who are like-minded and maintain the same biases. You could also be hiring people who may not “fit the culture” and that leads to them feeling isolated and left out. It’s better to hire people who can “add” something to your culture — a new perspective or fresh ideas, and then welcome those people by allowing them to share their perspectives.

Encourage your employees to share their stories. Employees who feel like they belong also typically feel like they can be their true, authentic selves in the workplace. Letting your employees share their stories and experiences will do two things for your organization: It will show you who feels that sense of belongingness, and it will allow others to learn more about their fellow colleagues and develop real relationships with them, which will inevitably result in more employees feeling included and like they belong.

4.     Continue to learn.
A crucial aspect of belongingness in DEI efforts involves continuous evaluation and adaptation. There is always new research being conducted and new ways to incorporate DEI&B into your culture, so make sure you’re continuing to evaluate your current efforts, learn what’s working and what’s not and develop new strategies based off that information. You should also encourage your leaders and managers to educate themselves and take training courses as well. They need to understand how to listen to their employees and be able to empathize with the hardships that their employees may be facing.

You can also learn from your employees. Regularly solicit feedback from them, and once your efforts are in place, continue to get their feedback and learn how your efforts are being perceived. Every single person is different, so it may take time for you to find the right ways to help your employees feel that sense of belongingness. Learn what works and what doesn’t work and build off of that.

When it comes to DEI&B, not only is it the right thing to do, but it also makes good business sense. BetterUp conducted a survey where they found that “employees with a high sense of belonging take 75 percent fewer sick days than employees who feel excluded.” They also found that “almost $2.5 million is lost in productivity each year” when employees don’t feel like they are included and like they don’t belong. Additionally, employees who don’t feel like they belong are also more likely to resign. In fact, they’re 50 percent more likely to resign than employees who do feel included.

These statistics speak for themselves. The need to belong is so deeply ingrained in humans that we seek it out and need it — even in our workplaces. For your credit union’s DEI efforts to be successful, the driving piece of these efforts needs to be making sure that people feel like they belong. The need to belong matters. In fact, it is the core pillar of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Janice Appleby is the chief human resources officer for Vizo Financial where she leads the people strategies that support the Corporate’s vision and core values. Ms. Appleby leads with relationship building strengths, and she values the opportunity to inspire and develop others, build strong relationships among teams and make a positive difference in people’s lives. She is certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach.