In today’s rapidly evolving business landscape, adopting an inclusive and diverse work environment is no longer optional—it’s a requirement. Inclusion, diversity, and equity are core values that organizations must actively promote to harness the full potential of their workforce and drive innovation. However, embracing it extends beyond words in a company handbook. We need to empower employee voices and ensure all are heard, respected, and valued.
What’s the Difference Between Inclusion and Belonging?
On the surface, it may seem they’re the same thing. But there are differences that can make a huge impact on company culture. Inclusion in the workplace has traditionally been about ensuring that employees from all walks of life—regardless of gender, race, religion, age, or disability—feel accepted and treated fairly. It’s about creating an environment where everyone is included.
Belonging goes one step further, creating a sense of connection where each individual feels truly valued and understood for who they are. It’s a sentiment that surpasses simple tolerance and acceptance—it’s about authenticity, empathy, and connection. Belonging is a feeling or an outcome of your inclusion efforts where employees can bring their whole selves to work.
Think about it: at some point in time, we’ve all felt like we didn’t fit in for something we said or for something we had no control over (like being the tallest girl in your fifth-grade class). That pit-in-the-stomach feeling is what we’re trying to avoid by creating a culture of belonging in the workplace.
So, what does that look like around the office?
Inclusion — Everyone has the opportunity to attend and participate. It may involve setting meetings at a time when all team members are available, providing translation services for non-native speakers, or using accessible technology for those with disabilities.
Belonging — Goes beyond just allowing participation; it fosters an environment where individuals feel comfortable expressing their ideas and opinions without fear of being judged or dismissed. Team members are actively engaged and feel their contributions are valued and impactful.
When it comes to feedback and recognition:
Inclusion— Everyone’s voice is heard and employees at all levels have an opportunity to provide feedback and be recognized for their work. This could include having regular performance evaluations, implementing a 360-degree feedback system, or instituting peer recognition programs.
Belonging— Employees feel valued and appreciated for their contributions. Recognition is personalized and sincere, contributing to the employee’s feeling of importance within the organization. Employees understand their role within the larger context of the organization’s mission and feel emotionally connected to its success.
With mentoring and sponsorship:
Inclusion —Open to all employees, there’s no favoritism or bias and everyone has equal opportunities for guidance and career progression.
Belonging — Occurs when mentors and sponsors take a genuine interest in their mentees’ personal and professional development. This might include tailoring guidance to individual needs and aspirations or standing up for their mentees in higher-level conversations. Mentees feel seen, understood, and supported on a personal level.
The key is to be intentional when creating a sense of belonging because the accidental exclusion of certain groups can sneak up on you. For instance, does your company display images of senior executives that don’t include women and people of color? True, it may be “the way things are” at your work, but those ambient cues can undermine people’s sense of belonging. It may cause members of underrepresented groups to doubt their future and the company’s willingness to invest in them.
Now and again, check in with yourself and ask if your actions are necessary (such as hanging those photos) and are making others feel they belong.
The Power of Empowering Employee Voices
Creating a company culture of belonging requires us to move from passive acceptance to active empowerment. Every voice is heard and valued, and employees feel safe to share their ideas, ambitions, perspectives, and even doubts and insecurities. This can lead to a richer array of business solutions and a more resilient, adaptable organization.
How do we get there? Start by asking employees how they feel at work. Conduct a sentiment survey (like Paycor Pulse!) and then act based on those results. Implementing employee suggestions not only boosts morale but also increases engagement, as employees see their ideas contributing to organizational success.
While you wait for the results of those surveys to come in, consider some of these tactics:
- A Shared Vision: Creating a common purpose, values, and goals can help contribute to a person’s sense of belonging. But the vision can’t just be a nice poster hanging on the wall. Help leaders understand why the overall vision and goals are important and revisit it often to make sure it’s still aligned with where your organization is going.
- Open Communication: Create an environment where every idea is welcomed and considered, no matter who it comes from. Regular town halls, suggestion boxes, and anonymous feedback options can foster a culture of open communication.
- Active Listening: Managers and leaders must be trained to listen actively, making sure each idea and concern is heard and acknowledged. Active listening involves not just hearing words but understanding the intent behind them.
- Leadership Accessibility: Leaders should be approachable and available to all employees, not just their direct reports. This can be achieved through open-door policies, regular check-ins, and leadership availability sessions.
The Impact on Organizational Success
Companies that successfully prioritize empowerment and action typically see growth in their profitability and gains in improved employee retention, increased innovation, and greater problem-solving skills.
Creating a truly inclusive workplace requires more than just making sure everyone feels they belong—it involves allowing each individual to contribute their unique perspectives, and then turning these voices into tangible action. By doing so, organizations can boost their performance, foster a more vibrant and innovative culture, and position themselves as leaders in today’s diverse business landscape.