Following an amazing webinar we caught up with Nicholé McGill-Higgins, Founder of Bee-longing, who shares with us her advice on steps you can take (regardless of where you are in your organisation) to create a culture of belonging.

Firstly, what is belonging in the workplace?

Belonging/Belongingness is the human emotional need to affiliate with and be accepted by members of a group. By extension belonging is a feeling of security and support when there is a feeling of acceptance, inclusion and identity of the individual within a group. What does welcomed look like? It is very easy to say these words, but we need to be clear on what these mean in your business – you need to clarify what the expectations are and turn each into a clear call to action.

How do we break initial barriers in starting our journey towards a culture of belonging?

It’s a matter of examining our current beliefs and potentially dismantling current beliefs, systems and processes established within the organisation that are not working towards your collective goal of belonging. Are you upholding these processes that are oppressing and pushing people out? 

Here are 11 tips to consider, when thinking about how to foster a feeling of belonging/belongingness in the workplace.

  1. Be transparent on your why.
  2. Be clear on what Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging means in your organisation.
  3. Senior leaders should Be visible and believable.
  4. Have open discussions. 
  5. Welcome focus groups.
  6. Empower employees.
  7. Implement mandatory diversity training.
  8. Do the internal work not just an external focus.
  9. Use inclusive language. 
  10. Make your tech stock accessible. 
  11. Prioritise and encourage everyone to have a voice.

Great points. How do we ensure that we engage our staff effectively?

Managers and leaders of the various departments must practice cordial attitude and act in a welcoming manner towards the staff they are put in charge of. Include employees in strategy development, market growth and setbacks so they know their efforts have impact. Management should hold social events to connect employees with each other. Let Employees take ownership of projects, activities and events. Provide positive reinforcement by recognising employees, embracing the whole journey not just the results.

These above strategies/practices have been tested and proven as healthy means of fostering staff engagement/participation.

Embrace and encourage differences. We cannot be blinkered – we have to think about the differences in our teams – we have to think about what are the differences within our teams. And we’re not just talking race and gender. We’re talking about everything, the way people think e.g. Neurodiversity, diversity of thought . Are they reflectors, are they perceive as are they introverts? Are they extroverts? It’s around really embracing the variety.

Source: world economic forum. Originally posted on LinkedIn

From a strategic perspective, where do we start with changing to a culture of belonging?

As a leader it is well worth considering the BRIDGE approach, an amazing template by Ruchika Tulshyan, which introduces the steps required to foster an inclusive way of thinking that will help teams positively challenge, and change, their approach to inclusion.

Be uncomfortable

Reflect (on what you don’t know)

Invite feedback

Defensiveness doesn’t help

Grow from your mistakes

Expect that change takes time

By following the above steps in order, individuals are more willing, and comfortable, to challenge the status quo in order to create a stronger culture of belonging in your workplace.

What can I do as an employee to help foster a culture of belonging?

  1. The employee can, engage in storytelling ie, sharing personal stories around DEIA and belonging. Have executive management participate in these experiences, as it encourages a culture of empathy and demonstrates commitment.
  2. Practice Reflexivity which is the act of examining one’s own beliefs and assumptions. When this is done within the workplace employees can better understand themselves and each other.
  3. Show a willingness to make an input whenever the opportunity is provided,
  4. Whenever possible employees should welcome and use the opportunity to meet Face to face with other employees, taking this route can work to foster a feeling of Belonging and have a lasting impact.  Along with including people who may not be able to meet face to face so think about ways to incorporate a hybrid method and ask what works for people.

Accept your bias

Biases are learned behaviours that have become a habit and gone unchecked, there are many forms from bias – confirmation bias, affinity bias and conformity bias and beyond. Nobody is saying that bias is wrong, but in the workplace, we need to be aware of these. Are we excluding talent because we look solely for people that ‘fit’ within our preconceptions of what is a ‘fit’? 

Examine the context for decision making

Following on from the need to challenge biases, there is also a need to review decision-making processes. We want to embrace diversity and empower people to speak up to avoid echo chambers. If you find that not everyone has a voice in the decision-making process, you may be missing out on some amazing insights (and actionable results) as well as alienating individuals.

Quote: Do not be robotic, embrace differences and break down echo chambers, culture fit and affinity bias.


Discuss: with your team and challenge

Once the right processes are in place, teams should be able to openly discuss D,E&I and respectfully challenge each other. This should be in the form of a conversation that allows both parties to learn and understand more about each other’s viewpoints – the A Life in a Day experience shares great stories and challenges people’s perceptions of key diversity issues in a safe format through personalized learning and is a great starting point for reflection.

Enable: your team to be themselves at work

The concept of bringing your whole self to work can be controversial – not everybody would want to bring in their full self at times. However, you need to be able to develop processes and practices to allow people to be their genuine, best version of themselves and not feel the need to adapt to fit in.

Be: a role model as a leader

This is something that ANYONE can do – not just the leadership team! All it takes sometimes is for one person to stand up and either say they do not quite understand something or to admit they do not quite agree. It can often be difficult to do as we often don’t want to ‘rock the boat’ but in doing so, we bring change – often times for the better.

Thanks for your time. Do you have any closing comments?

A culture of belonging is something that will not happen overnight, nor are the above points the total solution – it takes work. However, the end results result in creating a culture where people are more confident to share ideas, confidently speak up and fully contribute.

By breaking our biases and celebrating our differences we will understand that more connects us than separates us.

The wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another, as if we were one single tribe.

Chadwick Boseman, Black Panther

The award-winning Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: The Immersive Experience provides eye-opening stories and challenges designed to help participants understand that a small change in behaviour by you can make a big difference in others. To see how our experience can support internal programmes or run standalone, try a free introductory session with us.

With a wide range of experience in fostering a culture of belonging in organisations, including as a member of the CIPD Diversity and Inclusion steering committee, Nicholé McGill-Higgins provides coaching and support to help organisations thrive.