Beyond Inclusiveness and Diversity: Belonging – The Missing Piece of the Puzzle

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Most organizations in Singapore are familiar with the concept of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I). They acknowledge the business benefits that a diverse workforce brings, are receptive to recruiting a diverse talent profile, and make efforts to create an inclusive work environment through policies and practices around fair employment. They may also organize activities to encourage different groups of employees across the organization to interact with one another.

This is even more pertinent in multi-racial, multi-cultural Singapore, as highlighted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during the National Day Rally 2021. He shared the Government’s plans to legislate TAFEP’s Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices to deal with workplace discrimination and pass The Maintenance of Racial Harmony Act. He noted that “sometimes, it goes beyond racial and cultural preferences to become biases and prejudices. Then it is a problem.”

“The real solution to racism is to change social attitudes… This takes time and effort. Legislation can play a role. Laws may not by themselves make people get along with one another or like one another. But laws can signal what our society considers right or wrong, and nudge people over time to behave better.”

Organizations tend to mirror the larger society in which they operate—diversity is a natural state, while inclusiveness requires time and effort, and must be supported by policies and programs to communicate the organization’s stance on fairness and D&I.

However, while some of these efforts work, others do not seem to create the desired synergy and social capital between individuals that form the foundation of authentic care, collaboration and communication, and lets every individual thrive at work and enjoy the people they work with. But what is this elusive piece of the puzzle—the x-factor—that underpins the social fabric of organizations that display a high trust, strong team-based culture?

In recent years, leading organizations have come to recognize that D&I is a necessary but insufficient condition to create a culture of trust and a level of camaraderie among employees. One which allows them to bring their whole selves to work and enables them to maximize their full potential. Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (DIB) is now the goal to strive for.

According to Josh Bersin, diversity is a strategy; inclusion is a goal; belonging is a feeling1. He says that at work, a sense of “not being included” can be deadly. When people feel left out of meetings, don’t have input on their work assignments, or sense that they have been excluded from decisions or opportunities, they feel stress, anger, mistrust, and anxiety.

In our research with the Singapore Management University to develop our Asia’s Best Workplaces™ 2019 Insights report, we found that psychological safety, inclusion and belonging result in strong teamwork, which in turn contributes to building high performing great workplaces that have a strong competitive edge over the others.

When we compared Singapore’s Best Workplaces™ 2020 with the rest, we found notable differences for each of these factors:

2020 Best 83.4%
2020 Rest 77.3%
2020 Best 84.3%
2020 Rest 76%
Psychological Safety
2020 Best 82.3%
2020 Rest 75.2%

Fostering a sense of Belonging continues to be a focus for many of our Best Workplaces, and in 2020, employees who rated Belonging high were 50% more likely to also rate their employer as a great place to work.

Here are six ways to harness your organization’s diversity and cultivate Belonging at your workplace:

1. Address People Decisions
  • Employees’ common concerns tend to revolve around pay, promotions and recognition. Clear expectations and advancement criteria are necessary, along with a high degree of transparency. Hence, establishing clear guidelines for pay levels, promotion, recognition and even how we hire provides a starting point.
  • Many leading organizations also endeavor to provide additional levels of exposure for employees in other areas of the company. This gives managers, promotion committees and other stakeholders greater exposure to the organization’s diverse talent.
2. Make Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging a Management Priority
  • To help leaders at all levels embrace diversity and cultivate belonging, some organizations have mandated goals associated with building a more open and diverse workforce. This may involve analyzing additional metrics, as well as training managers to recognize decision-making biases in their people decisions.
  • Leading organizations also ask their managers to be aware of how opportunities are distributed within their teams.
3. Consider Information and Opportunity Flow
  • While formal communication may flow equally across most companies, informal networks often carry important context that may exclude some members of the workforce.
  • Leaders who make time to connect with those of diverse backgrounds and perspectives will have a better understanding of the dynamics within those groups. It also greatly enhances the perception of inclusiveness—being accessible is not about waiting for people to knock on your door, it is about proactively reaching out to learn what is working well and understand where there are gaps.
4. Make Personal Connections
  • To actively address inclusion and create a sense of belonging, managers can reach out to share experiences and interests with team members. Demonstrating curiosity about families, cultures, hobbies and interests in a work-appropriate way can help break down barriers and increase personal connections. Sharing stories about one’s life and work experiences can also be a powerful way to connect.
  • Everyone on your team has a different story to tell and it is important for team members to have opportunities to get to know one another’s stories.
5. Recognize and Reward Manager Behaviors
  • Changing organizational culture involves changing its individual members’ behaviors. It is often easy to start a diversity initiative, but much harder to maintain momentum. Rewarding managers who try new behaviors, undertake to create more inclusive teams and take steps towards a more open work environment reinforces those efforts.
6. Collect Data to Measure Efforts
  • By collecting quantitative and qualitative data on your diversity and inclusion initiatives, you can develop baseline measures to help track your progress over time. This can also offer a valuable perspective into your employees’ experiences and support your efforts to recognize team and organizational improvements, so you can celebrate successes along the way.

By going beyond D&I to engender a true sense of belonging for every individual, Best Workplaces are able to create a Great Place To Work For All®.

Take your first step by assessing your employees’ day-to-day workplace experiences. 

1 Why Belonging Is Such A Big Issue In Business Today by Josh Bersin· Published August 31, 2020 and updated September 7, 2020.

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To be eligible for the World’s Best Workplaces list, a company must apply and be named to a minimum of 5 national Best Workplaces lists within our current 58 countries, have 5,000 employees or more worldwide, and at least 40% of the company’s workforce (or 5,000 employees) must be based outside of the home country. Extra points are given based on the number of countries where a company surveys employees with the Great Place to Work Trust Index©, and the percentage of a company’s workforce represented by all Great Place to Work surveys globally. Candidates for the 2017 Worlds Best Workplaces list will have appeared on national workplaces lists published in September 2016 through August 2017.