About a year ago, a Pixar short film named “Purl” came out, describing in a very comic, yet touching way, the story of a pink ball of yarn coming to work at a high-density stock firm. After being excluded from the professional “gentlemen’s club,” she quickly learns how to fit in, adapts to her new surroundings, wipes away her own identity and then becomes “one of the guys.” After this transformation, another ball of yarn much like Purl joins the firm, and Purl is faced with the ultimate dilemma. A change of heart leads her to choose to welcome her new fellow colleague very differently than the welcome she faced, enabling her and her co-workers to thrive in a more encouraging, belonging-oriented workplace.
And here, ladies and gentlemen is probably the biggest issue today with D&I:
Everyone is compelled to mimic one certain behavior, which doesn’t necessarily bring their own traits and capabilities to the table. Just like in the Pixar short, the tech industry is composed in much the same way. In fact, research shows that women refrain from joining workforces that don’t make them feel welcome in the first place. With the staggering figure of only 5% of CEOs being women, is there any question as to why we’re not seeing more women specifically, and more diverse workplaces in general?
With this challenge in mind, how do we make everyone feel they are welcome to be themselves, which is crucial for that sense of belonging? How do we show them that their opinion matters? How do we allow them to be game players and game-changers and to feel comfortable enough to not only bring their business self but also their personal self to the table?
A diverse, equitable workplace is not only about having different cultures, beliefs and challenges come together. It’s about making people come together in a manner that celebrates differences but also harnesses that same power of diversity to the benefit of the business.
Inclusion is not enough if women are still facing unconscious bias with the “broken glass,” if parenting is still an issue within workplaces and jobs are structured to be incompatible with parenting, or if people with disabilities are considered the elephant in the room.
It means something is missing, and that missing piece is the sense of true belonging.
It’s about fostering a very strong connection and celebrating identities that enable everyone to not only equally be present at the table, but to also take part in the conversation. Belonging is the missing piece when it comes to people genuinely sharing their ideas and creativity. Belonging gives them the liberty and freedom to express their most unique ambitions and translate it into a work environment to grow — people need to feel comfortable with all that baggage they bring to the table.
Okay, I’m hooked. But how is it done?
It takes a sincere, dedicated effort and resources to build that sense of belonging within a workplace environment. This requires intent and a well-thought-out plan. Consider creating cross-functional think tanks, from engineering and R&D to the marketing and customer success teams to solve business and cultural issues. Create employee discussion groups and ERGs, with constant and effective surveying, in which the answers are published transparently to the employees.
The most crucial part of the puzzle is to make sure that employees understand this work ongoing and that real, true progress over time is the goal. A workplace that engages in this dialogue and collaboration will benefit from a more dedicated workforce that is committed to their organization.
It requires a strong leadership team that empowers the HR department and their organizations to be proactive about having a continuous and genuine conversation with the entire employee body, as difficult as it might be, as hard it might be to cut off old habits and company traditions.
And finally, this can only be done with strong and agenda-minded leadership that talks the talk but also walks the walk within its C-suite and mid-level management. An organization that truly builds a sense of belonging, especially for its underrepresented employees, will be the one that thrives.
What’s the ROI of belonging?
You might ask: Well, all this nice talk about inclusion and belonging is great, and also quite trendy, but, in terms of the business, do I get any real value? What’s the ROI of belonging?
Research shows that employees who feel that they belong, that they are truly valued for who they are, create a successful work environment that grows far beyond themselves. This is especially crucial in tech environments: By allowing innovation and creativity thrive, employees feel free to bring their angle to the table, suggest high-impact ideas to help grow the business, or come up with out-of-the-box solutions for complex issues.
The results of this positive employee experience go beyond boundaries and point at elevated productivity, more involvement in decision-making and more hand-raising. In my experience, it also has a fabulous effect on employee advocacy, which leads to a strong and lucrative employee brand. In fast-paced environments, from emerging tech startups to large tech corporations, cultivating a sense of belonging has a major impact on the business bottom line.
Give them a sense of belonging and they will come.
Attracting people from underrepresented backgrounds is successful only if the messaging to current and future employees is coherent. Companies should focus on echoing that messaging of belonging and all will follow. If you want to shape a diverse, yet sustainable workplace, one that works in harmony with the organizations’ goals and missions, you need to shape it accordingly. Just lead the way, set a proper example on the leadership side of things and all will fall into place.