'Do I belong here?' The question potential employees are asking themselves
Employers need go far beyond the tick-box exercise of recruiting diverse talent to develop a dynamically rich and inclusive workplace culture. Making employees feel like they belong within your business may be the answer, but what does this actually entail?
Diversity and inclusion experts have long sought to diversify the attraction and recruitment process. Unconscious bias training is now frequently adopted to mitigate bias that occurs in recruitment. And some employers have even disaggregated their recruitment data to pin-point the stage where diverse talent is lost, which has proven successful for many. But can employers be sure that they are attracting diverse people in the first place?
Several attempts have been made in the past by employers. At a bare minimum, a statement on the company’s recruitment site is issued expressing a willingness to recruit diverse talent. Some have gone a step further and ensured recruitment material and interview panels reflect diversity, while organisations committed to best practice have included targeted community outreach for specific recruitment drives.
Yet once this recruitment of diverse talent begins, employers would be wrong to assume they have done what is necessary to reap the benefits of a diverse workforce. The next step is for employers to consider how they can make their new hires feel as though they belong.
What does it mean to ‘belong’?
The Cambridge dictionary defines the verb ‘to belong’ as “to feel happy or comfortable in a situation” and/or “to be in the right place or a suitable place”.
Many working cultures have broken down because nobody has sought to change them. They may not be perfect, but they are comfortable for many people, particularly with those that lead them, so they are left untouched.
For a long time, non-inclusive work practices have been not just accepted but positively endorsed.
In such circumstances, it is inevitable that some employees will not be comfortable with the current working structures – and this will only increase as the UK workforce grows more diverse in composition and the expectation of a healthy work-life balance rises.
To achieve a sense of belonging within a company, all employees need to be happy and comfortable in their working environment and feel like their employer welcomes the difference that they bring.
Why do some employees lack a sense of belonging?
For a long time, non-inclusive work practices have been not just accepted but positively endorsed. Employees are regarded as hard-working and loyal if they work excessive hours and are always present in the office.
‘Bonding’ meetings may take place in pubs, male-only golf courses and client dinners out of usual hours. But such work practices and environments are simply inaccessible to some. Furthermore, too often these described work practices are linked to reward, development and promotion.
Why is such behaviour so prevalent within business? Because we are predisposed to form ‘in-groups’ with those who share similar characteristics to ourselves and therefore feel most comfortable to us.
This inevitably leaves some employees excluded from the opportunities proffered via the ‘in group’.
For example, UK senior leadership teams are still predominantly male and white, meaning their ‘in groups’ are more likely to comprise those with similar interests and backgrounds. If minority groups do not belong to these ‘in groups’ at work, they are unable to access the opportunities available through being a part of them.
What has recently changed for employers?
The past few years have brought about some exciting changes for diverse employees. In 2014 same sex marriage became legal in the UK, and in 2015 shared parental leave came into being. This was shortly followed by the legal requirement to publish a company’s gender pay gap in 2016. The #METOO movement, which commenced in 2017, has brought gender equality into the spotlight for all employers, and the general public as a whole.
While hugely positive, this has undoubtedly introduced challenges for employers. This combination of new legislation and social attitude has led employees to have greater expectations of their employers.
Just like investing in new IT systems, or a more suitable office, organisations must invest in the future of their working culture.
How can employers change policy to increase belonging?
Employers must seek to level the playing field for all. The starting point for this is to revise company policy and practice.
One such example of this is shared parental leave. Parents now have the gift of being able to find a situation that works for their family, and their respective careers. While the benefit to women is obvious, men will also gain significantly. They will be granted the opportunity of finding a new and exciting way to manage their work-life balance, which they may not have had the ‘permission’ to do previously, as it was not an accepted or comfortable part of their working culture.
Why do employers need to make changes now?
Employers need to be sustainable in a modern and increasingly global market. Inevitably, to achieve this, they will need to make policy, process and system changes that will incur some financial and resource compensation.
Just like investing in new IT systems, or a more suitable office, organisations must invest in the future of their working culture. Through doing this, talent that may have been previously restricted or ignored will be unleashed. Subsequently, by creating an inclusive and engaging environment for all staff – no matter their background – a sense of belonging will be felt.
Tips for creating a sense of belonging
Ensure all recruitment material, including adverts, JDs and assessment questions use inclusive and unbiased language
Work in partnership with diverse agencies and outlets to approach diverse talent directly with a considered and bespoke approach
Investigate further employee benefits that can allow staff to find a better work-life balance
Provide diverse talent and senior leaders with reverse mentoring, to increase mutual understanding, empathy and help move outside of ‘in groups’
Provide diverse talent with formal senior sponsors to provide learning and access to development and opportunities, which are usually closed off to them
Build parental leave into a comprehensive programme that seeks to change the current perception of ‘a career break’ to a ‘career development opportunity’
Adopt a companywide policy of innovative flexible and agile working supported by suitable IT infrastructure and workspaces
Review all People policies to ensure that all demographics of society are acknowledged and considered, such as adoption leave for same sex couples and inclusive dress codes
Build dynamic staff networks that provide specific groups within the company with peer support and a voice for influencing the company inclusion strategy
Ensure corporate events, reward and celebration recognises difference and diversity
Ask senior leaders to promote an environment of anti-presenteeism
Provide senior leaders with inclusive leadership training to help them demonstrate behaviours that create an inclusive and comfortable environment for all