diverse workforce at table

What does diversity mean in an organization? With the recent murders of eight people in Atlanta, Georgia, the majority of whom were of Asian decent, the country is protesting yet another tragic display of racially charged hatred and anger. In what has been a year of heightened awareness about social injustice, individuals are looking inward. Communities are coming together. Organizations are heeding the call for greater diversity, equity, and inclusion.

In honor of Black History month, in February, we featured Black-led organizations and talked to their leaders about their work, and the importance of African American representation in nonprofits. This month, we are spotlighting female-led organizations to celebrate Women’s History month, and in May we plan to feature Asian American-led companies. Through these conversations, we are learning that championing DEI in your organization is about much more than tracking demographic targets or ensuring you meet a set of diversity metrics.

According to an April 2020 Gartner survey, 69 percent of heads of DEI said that they are prioritizing the advancement of underrepresented talent. Such advancement means getting to the root of the problem both systemically—your organization’s processes and culture—and individually, for the unique people represented by your agency. In the 2021 workplace, advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion is all about belonging.

The power of belonging

Belonging is an employee’s perception of acceptance within a given group. It is achieved when individuals believe their peers, manager, leaders, and culture supports them. Belonging is the secret sauce of DEI program success. It leads to a sense of purpose at work, something all employees seek for self-actualization. Here are four tips for increasing belonging in your organization.

Develop empathy.

Create opportunities for your employees to truly understand the same realities as peers with different backgrounds and engage with one another in meaningful conversations. Additionally, service projects, with several individuals working together toward a common goal, cultivate an environment where everyone’s voice and work matters.

Focus on managers.

Leadership development programs typically target senior leaders who help to drive values and behaviors from the top-down. A more impactful DEI approach is to invest efforts in managers. A manager’s relationship with their employees can be the number one driver of a person’s experience of belonging at work. Help managers practice empathy, drive trust with direct reports, and build teams of inclusion.

Re-evaluate your definition of “culture fit.”

Many organizations throw around the phrase “culture fit” to describe why someone is or is not ideal for a certain role. Beware of this practice. Is someone a good culture fit because they are similar to the majority in terms of age, gender identity, and race? Or is someone a good fit because they are committed to your organization’s values? During hiring, explain to prospective employees that your organization does not tolerate behaviors that isolate, exclude, or bully. Elevate belonging as the most important defining factor of culture fit.

Create support networks.

Develop a bench of allies and sponsors in your organization. These people serve as advocates for underrepresented talent. Allies are peers who ensure co-workers receive the opportunities they desire for career growth. They speak up when they see exclusion or bias. These peer networks help honor all voices. They help all employees feel valued.

Especially in today’s workplace where employees are balancing work, life, and an uncertain future, it is critical to create an environment of meaning and purpose at work. Is your organization prioritizing belonging in its DEI agenda this year? How can we help? Brighter Strategies works with nonprofit leaders to maximize their people, processes, planning, and performance. We are passionate about helping you build capacity by empowering your people. Contact us today to learn more.