Diversity & inclusion    

One of the difficulties associated with discussing diversity & inclusion is simply the fact that we couple those two terms. This has led people to think of the two as essentially the same thing and it can be instructive to consider how they differ and why we’re now speaking of diversity, inclusion and belonging. 

Valerie Nichols

Executive Consultant

3 Minute read

6 Juli 2020

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For almost 80 years, we have understood the motivating power of a sense of belonging.  In 1943, Abraham Maslow posited that people were motivated by an ascending hierarchy of needs.  Once our physiological and safety needs are met, the next most basic need has to do with what Maslow called love and belonging.  In line with Maslow’s research, continuing studies show that when people feel a sense of belonging, they are more productive, motivated and engaged.  The challenge for any organization is how to address individual behaviors that inhibit belonging and how to develop behaviors that support that sense of belonging.  Hemsley Fraser can help your teams and employees understand their role in building a workplace in which everyone feels that sense of belonging and in which the importance of valuing the unique contributions of each individual is clearly articulated.  We know you choose to do this because it’s the right thing to do, but we also help you articulate the sound business reasons for these actions.

Just as you will benefit from having a skilled partner helping you build a diverse and inclusive workforce where all feel a sense of belonging, you need an equally skilled partner to help you navigate the complexities of even discussing, much less acting on D&I and belonging when you are operating on a global scale.  We understand that the words we use can be understood differently in different countries and cultures, which can lead to serious issues and misunderstandings.  We know how challenging it can be when corporate values conflict with local laws.  Even when operating within a single country, the very diversity we’ve all been striving for can complicate a group’s willingness and ability to fully engage all team members. 


Diversity, inclusion and belonging

One of the difficulties associated with discussing D&I is simply the fact that we couple those two terms: diversity and inclusion.  This has led people to think of the two as essentially the same thing and it can be instructive to consider how they differ and why we’re now speaking of diversity, inclusion and belonging. 

Originally, we thought of diversity in a fairly narrow sense – applying it primarily to easy to measure (and often legally protected) factors such as gender, race and ethnicity.  This led organizations to assess their success in building a diverse workforce simply in terms of counting levels of representation. 

We realized that this numbers game didn’t seem to provide the environment we wanted – both in terms of employee attitudes and in terms of business results.  An organization could have representative numbers, but some employees might believe that their input and contributions were not welcome or not valued to the extent of others’.  This led us to understand that we needed people to feel included which, in turn, led us to broaden the concept of diversity.  We realized, for example, that those with different points of view, based on culture, educational background, parental status, cognitive style, etc., contributed to better business decisions.

Belonging reflects a sense that the individual fits in or feels they are an important member of a group and many studies show that this happens when people feel respected and trusted, not just by the organization, but by their colleagues.  This might mean that they can voice a contrary opinion without being concerned about negative consequences, their ideas are seriously considered, their perspectives are represented in decision making, they are recognized for their accomplishments, that their relationships at work are what they would like them to be and that they do not have to hide certain aspects of themselves in order to be accepted.

A key difference between inclusion and belonging, I believe, lies in how these take place.  Many organizations have taken steps as a part of their efforts to build an inclusive workforce and now are finding that building a sense of belonging requires work on the part of each individual – it’s the actions of each member of a team that creates this sense of belonging.  That not only requires that individuals take supportive actions for each other, but also requires the active engagement of individuals who feel a lessened sense of belonging - they may need to help others understand the behaviors that may be impeding them from fully contributing.  With apologies to Verna Myers, if diversity is being invited to the dance and inclusion being asked to dance, we suggest that belonging may be forming a group to hold a dance that will offer a variety of music and dance styles.