There is a lot of focus nowadays on ‘diversity and inclusion’. While these are very important concepts, we have to take a broader, more holistic, and strategic approach in order to succeed and reach the essence of the concept; to create security and to give it wings.
If the first priority is the creation of a culture in which security has wings, but where several cases have revealed insecurity, I have yet to see or hear of a solution that can wipe the slate clean. As those wings were clipped some time ago, it exposes the fact that the desired culture never got off the ground. If it had, such a management would have demonstrated their drive and the attention to detail needed to decide on and implement necessary changes to create a secure culture.
Reactivity makes people insecure, and management reactivity has often been flourishing for a long time before the cup overflows and it becomes visible to all concerned.
An article published on Nasdaq.com describes the strategic differences between diversity and inclusion, in which belongingness is the lesser-discussed umbrella that covers both: ‘Diversity is having a seat at the table, inclusion is having a voice, and belonging is having that voice be heard’.
I have met people who support the diversity focus of their business in different ways. They were invited to, and included in, all sorts of forums, but their voices were not heard, and their views were left unacknowledged. Alternatively, they found that they had to raise their voices and express themselves in a manner that did not reflect their nature – before, during and after the meetings.
If a voice is not heard outside, but goals are reached instead with KPI trophies that only externally seem to satisfy the requirements for visible diversity and inclusion, then the business has failed to build the culture of belonging that is the practical prerequisite for everything within diversity and inclusion.
When we dare to express ourselves, especially in disagreement, it is when we feel that we are being listened to and thereby acknowledged. That creates a relationship to the workplace that is the prerequisite for security, and allows us to feel rooted and anchored on the specific level by belonging to our place of work.
Natasha Bedingfield wrote the song ‘Unwritten’, in which she quotes the many voices waiting to tell their story:
“No one else can feel it for you,
Only you can… No one else
Can speak the words on your lips,
The rest is still unwritten”.
There are many unwritten, blank pages, many feelings and perceptions left unsaid in businesses. They all look for initiatives that give people a voice or give them back their voice, so that they gain or recover the courage to express themselves. But if the culture first suffers from a lack of security, it’s hard to convince those voices that have been silenced or in doubt about their own strength that the world has changed.
We can roll out anti-harassment training for all employees, buy a recruitment tool that helps eliminate bias in job adverts, train with interview techniques to minimize bias in recruitment, develop our managers to become their most holistic version of themselves, and continue to relentlessly promote the role models that represent light, integrity etc., but efforts to secure a culture – especially across geographic regions and nationalities – in which people feel taken care of and that represents them in practice, nourishes, and listens to them is not something that solely concerns diversity and inclusion.
It all starts somewhere else completely.
It starts with the perception of ‘belonging’ and the ability of the company to ensure people feel that they belong right as they are.
Those businesses that have made diversity and inclusion into a magic goose with an expectation of golden eggs being laid from these themes can end up with a significant credibility problem that is felt internally, talked about externally, and will result in the best talent leaving, never to return.
But those businesses that work constantly to create belonging – the prerequisite for success – and that incorporate both diversity and inclusion as part of their culture of belonging, will result in people feeling that they are listened to, belong and are happy. This will place them several quantum leaps ahead of the others.
Because without the feeling of belonging, the norm is a focus on self-protection, and part of self-protection is watching what you say or remaining silent. The vast number of voices that are not heard, but that serve KPI reporting externally will primarily serve external corporate branding while the cultural foundation crumbles.
Founder of the Global Voices project. Belongingness officer and an experienced People Executive.