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Editorial Team
22 Jan 2021



Treading the inclusion and belonging path – a guide for the CHRO

Treading the inclusion and belonging path – a guide for the CHRO

Inclusion and belonging at the workplace are intrinsic to innovation, growth, and job satisfaction. Here is why the CHRO must understand these and measure them accordingly.

Man is a social animal… at least that is what we have been told. It is in our DNA to want to engage with others of our ilk and to not love to live in isolation. Unsurprising then, given how social belonging is fundamental to our existence, that in 2019, isolation at work had 40% of employees in its grasp! The US spends $ 8 billion every year on diversity training, yet most of them miss the mark as they do not create inclusion.

But then, what are diversity, equity, and inclusion, the three components of the oft-used DEI acronym? Verna Myers, VP of Diversity and Inclusion at Netflix, put it succinctly when she said: “Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Diversity ≠ Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion are certainly not the same – not by any measure. Diversity is a numbers game – it calls for a fair numerical representation of people with different attributes. Inclusion is not such a black-or-white (pun intended!) matter, and the CHRO must value and acknowledge differences among people and encourage them to express themselves. It is far more subtle than diversity, and subtle behavioral and interaction cues point to inclusion – or the lack of it.

At the workplace, inclusion is at three levels:

  • In a person: how a person perceives he/she is being seen, listened to, respected, or feels psychologically safe
  • Between two or more persons: interactions between people
  • Outside people: workplace culture, policies and processes, and opportunities

We don’t need any inclusion… or do we?

Why do we need inclusion? Because without it, diversity investments would not amount to much! Talent tends to take flight from workplaces not valuing differences. And if you want to innovate, ideate, get creative in your thinking, you must be inclusive.

A sense of belonging with the firm is a reliable indicator of how successful the diversity and inclusion measures are. Measuring the belonging, though, is no easy task – a CHRO can hire people from different backgrounds and tweak promotion criteria to demonstrate and measure diversity, but creating and measuring belonging is hard.

At the workplace, belonging revolves around being included and accepted by colleagues. And the effect of employees reaping the benefits percolates into a better bottom-line for the company too:

  • A 56% rise in job performance
  • 50% lower turnover risk
  • 75% fewer sick days
  • A 167% increase in employee willingness to recommend the employer to others

These add up to a lot – nearly USD 52 million savings for a 10,000-person company!

Roadblock alert!

What gets in the way of inclusion efforts? A seemingly half-hearted approach, where underlying gendered biases and organizational culture get in the way of supposedly progressive policies. Work hours may be flexible, get-togethers may not be compulsory, and leaving early for the day may be permitted… but all could be frowned upon in practice.

Inclusion is as such not visible to those who enjoy it, and its absence can be judged by the occurrence of negative, “excluding” incidents. This is all the more apparent in service-based organizations, where tasks are not always as obviously interrelated as they would be in a manufacturing setup. The absence of clear consequences of action or inaction has often led to diversity overshadowing inclusion in the DEI conversation.

Clearly, belonging matters, and so does measuring it. Bias, feelings, and sentiments of employees are the inputs whose nature and magnitude help to judge the depth and level of inclusion and belonging. Granular data is a pointer toward triggering and sustaining the feeling of belonging, showing leaders what they could do to surmount the roadblocks on the path to a workplace with a higher sense of inclusion.

Measure it if it must matter

If you want change, you must assess and measure! An organization may want to change the status quo, but metrics are the only way it will get there. These could be tangible numbers on recruitment and retention, as well as longer-term efforts toward culture and mindset shifts.

There are a variety of ways to measure inclusiveness and belonging, and a combination of approaches works best to hit the nail on the head. Here are some tools to use:

  • Focus groups: personal experiences of representative groups are excellent pointers to what makes for an inclusive workplace. These bring in thoughts on favored managerial actions, factors affecting willingness to ideate, and other relevant concerns.
  • Surveys: responses from specific employee groups to company-wide engagement surveys help to identify inclusive teams and trouble spots, allowing more focused action.
  • New analytics tools: organizational network analysis (ONA) is a new tool that helps to comprehend how different people within an organization are connected to each other. It helps uncover connection patterns that lead to high performance and tweak internal practices accordingly. These must be related with select questions pointing to inclusion.
  • Digital technologies: sensors and other devices record details of interactions and movement of people, which when matched with workforce subpopulations, point to the right actions to take.

Looking ahead…

The future is bright. Better analytics on workplace data will be key to improved DEI insights, with real-time data coming in from digital collaboration and communication platforms employed at the workplace. Corrective measures can be put in place accordingly, and their progress tracked. Individuals and their organizations both stand to gain when the role of work design and interrelations in fostering inclusiveness comes to the fore!

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