Businesses are spending more money on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives than ever before. By one estimate, the global market for DEI reached $7.5 billion in 2020, and it is expected to more than double by 2026. But such financial commitments have been followed by a slew of reports questioning the results of all that spending — including ones that say such programs have “largely failed” and often “implode.”
At Degreed, my team has taken a different tack by building a program around DEIB — adding belonging as an essential element. In our recent study with RedThread Research on how to create a DEIB culture, we defined belonging as “the sense of security and support one has resulting from a belief in being accepted and valued for being their ‘authentic self.’”
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The term diversity often puts the focus on metrics such as how many people of various ethnicities or identities are part of an organization. Equity is about treating everyone fairly and ensuring opportunities across the board. Inclusion is a matter of behaviors — the actions that help ensure the equitable and fair distribution of resources. Belonging puts a focus on how employees feel. As one leader in an executive search firm put it, “Diversity is a fact, inclusion is a behavior, but belonging is the emotional outcome that people want.”
Making belonging a part of ongoing DEI efforts offers many benefits. In one study, a high sense of belonging at an organization was positively correlated with a 56% improvement in job performance and 75% fewer sick days. Degreed employees have also told me that their sense of belonging is a key reason they want to work for the company. This is especially important in an era of increased job switching, with companies seeking ways to be competitive on retention. A survey by McKinsey found that one of the top three reasons people gave for leaving their jobs during the Great Resignation was that they “didn’t feel a sense of belonging at work.”
Here are four things leaders can do to help foster a sense of belonging at their organizations.
Broadcast the Message
Some leaders hope that as their organization focuses on DEI, a sense of belonging will naturally follow. But experience has shown me that for something like this to grow, it needs to be addressed head-on.