DEI&B: How to Build a Culture of Belonging

Maggie Blehar

D&I. DE&I. DEI&B. The acronyms may be constantly evolving, but one thing isn’t changing: employees want a high-trust workplace experience — for everyone. 
 

Kristina Kohl, MBA, PMP, and Managing Principal of HRComputes, joined us last week on Talent Experience Live to explore how companies can build a culture of belonging that both attracts and retains talent — and ultimately leads to a stronger, more profitable organization.
 

Watch the full episode below or read on to catch the highlights.
 


How “Belonging” Fits into DEI&B
 

What is DEI&B anyway? Kohl recently authored her second book — Driving Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion — in January 2022. The book includes research, tools, and best-practice approaches to help organizations do more than just “check the box” when it comes to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEI&B).
 

During our conversation, Kohl dug deeper into the acronym, sharing a better understanding of how leadership can drive the B in Belonging throughout their organizations.  
 

“Diversity is being asked to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance,” Kohl said, quoting diversity thought leader Verna Myers. Belonging, Kohl continued, “is one step beyond that, and that would be being asked to help plan the party.” 
 

Organizations usually have one dominant culture. Historically — and inaccurately — employers have practiced “inclusivity” by welcoming employees to join that culture. 
 

“Unfortunately, that dominant culture did not work for a lot of people,” Kohl said. As a result, companies must adapt and adopt all employees’ backgrounds to create a true culture of belonging.
 


How to Begin
 

Feeling like you don’t belong at work can be very stressful, Kohl pointed out. “It is vital to feel that you can come to work and represent who you are, be valued for what you say, be heard, and be appreciated. All of these things relate highly to employee engagement and are directly related to employee retention.”
 

Creating a workplace culture of belonging involves supporting individual needs and adapting work structures, benefits, and processes accordingly.
 

One way to do this is to review both your employee handbook and generally accepted company practices and consider whether any of these negatively impact certain groups of people. For example, is the dress code limiting to people with mobility challenges? Is there a place for new moms to pump in private?
 

Looking for challenges like this and adapting accordingly is an immediate way to foster belonging within your organization.


Related: The Art of Mentoring: Why It’s Important and How It Improves the Employee Experience


Raising The Bar
 

If compliance with requirements from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and government regulations is a baseline for DEI&B, how can employers set the bar even higher?
 

The first step is to conduct an assessment. Survey employees regarding their perceptions of leadership, opportunities, communication, and how much flexibility they feel the organization provides to support their needs.
 

“It’s really important to get the voice of… your employees to understand where you are in the process.” Then, survey “your external stakeholders and community members to understand how they are perceiving the organization.” 
 


After assessing your employee and community needs, Kohl stressed the importance of these next steps:
 

  • Goal and strategy development. What DEI&B goals are you setting and how will you achieve them?
  • Integration. How are you embedding your DEI&B strategy into high-level operations and at the employee level?
  • Systems. How well is DEI&B integrated into systems governing recruitment, talent development, leadership identification, data gathering, service procurement, compensation, volunteer outreach, and more? 
  • Systemic impact. What external partnerships can be built to drive both internal and external change?


“I can’t overstress the importance of having a strategy and aligning it with your overall business strategy,” Kohl emphasized. This helps secure resources to back DEI&B efforts. 
 

However, she also warned to beware of “one-offs,” like simply forming a DEI&B committee without dedicating significant resources to it. “[People] burn out quickly when there’s no tangible action to drive change, and they run into roadblocks.”
 


Involve Key Players
 

While legal and HR departments will initially lead efforts, embedding DEI&B into an organization’s culture depends on other key players as well, like:
 

  • Board members, who need to embody and reflect DEI&B goals
  • The C-suite, who needs to prioritize DEI&B on their agendas 
  • Leaders, who must integrate DEI&B as part of their objectives


“This is a journey, and there is no easy button. That’s why senior leadership really needs to be on board,” Kohl stressed.
 

Whether or not you appoint a Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) is another aspect to consider, Kohl said. On the positive side, defining a CDO role demonstrates commitment to DEI&B and also helps lock in resource allocation. 
 

On the other side, it’s critical to avoid the silo effect that can result from delegating DEI&B efforts to one role. “It’s very important that the role is designed to work with other leaders to impact what they’re doing within their own business functions,” she said.
 

Pro tip: Look for opportunities to replicate success
If you become aware of managers who have created conditions for success — where team members feel like they fully belong — share that approach throughout the organization.


Using AI to Build Belonging
 

While AI is certainly not an all-encompassing solution to solve DEI&B related issues, it can play a vital role in increasing transparency and leveling the playing field for all candidates.
 

Kohl shared several critical ways that AI can support DEI&B, helping organizations to:
 

  • Encourage leaders to make data-driven decisions. This helps reduce the natural bias that enters intuition-based decisions. 
  • Empower managers to meet DEI&B goals. Making real-time data available to managers in dashboard form can help them tie hiring and promotion to overall strategy and goals around DEI&B.
  • Increase transparency of internal mobility. An AI-supported internal talent marketplace ensures that everybody who’s qualified will see internal positions. It can also give employees tailored plans to qualify for those roles, suggesting relevant learning and development opportunities. 
  • Share authentic videos and stories. Video-friendly employee experience technology makes it easy for organizations to gather and share employee-generated videos, which promotes belonging. “People need to see role models, they need to see reflections of themselves in your organization. Technology can help with that,” Kohl said.


Pro tip: Look at data from all angles 
In implementing AI solutions, Kohl urged leaders to pay attention to how algorithms are created, what data sets are used, and whether diverse voices have been included in the selection and design of tools. 
 


Related: Leveraging AI to Hire for Diversity


Actions that Promote Belonging 
 

Organizations that get DEI&B right are better positioned to survive the Great Resignation by creating a culture where employees will not just stay, but thrive. If you think of it as the Great Realignment instead, Kohl suggested, you will more easily adjust your actions to promote belonging.
 

“People are valuing different things; the workforce is changing. The largest percentage of the workforce participants are now millennials, and they have a different view.” 
 

With this in mind, Kohl defined specific actions that help support a culture of belonging. Consider how your organization can:
 

  • Examine philanthropic efforts to determine if there’s a better way to help the community
  • Redesign leadership development and training to be more equitable and inclusive 
  • Invite authentic storytelling and encourage diverse voices within the organization
  • Train managers to really listen to team members and understand their challenges
  • Position employee resource groups (ERGs) for success by giving them a budget and aligning them with a senior leader


Her final thought on DEI&B? “It’s not only the right thing to do — ultimately, long-term, it’s the most profitable thing as well.” And in this economy and labor market, that’s priceless.
 

 

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