How belonging improves diversity at work

As businesses need diversity in their customer base, they equally need diversity among their employees and leaders.

Creating an environment which is welcoming and accepting of diversity at work, gives your employees a sense of belonging. It gives them a safe place, where they feel they can be themselves, and thrive.

However, it has emerged that 1 in 5 UK workers say that they don’t feel a sense of belonging at work.

The research from Randstad also found more than 1 in 4 workers have felt pressure to hide or change something about themselves to fit in at work.

The effect of this is people from diverse backgrounds, specifically minority groups, don’t feel comfortable to speak up openly at work without fear of criticism, suggesting that working environments aren’t as supportive as they could be.

What diversity in the workplace looks like

When thinking about diversity, it is useful to consider it in a social context.

At work and school, we meet people who have different characteristics to you, like age, gender, and ethnicity.

The people we meet can have a range of different experiences, talents, skills and personalities.

Diversity is the range of people in your workforce. For example, this might mean people with different ages, religions, ethnicities, people with disabilities, and both men and women. It also means valuing those differences. (Source: ACAS)

Other areas of diversity can include:

  • Citizenship status
  • First language
  • Disability
  • Education
  • Faith
  • Race
  • Skills
  • Beliefs
  • Upbringing
  • National origin
  • Sexual orientation
  • Management status
Employee mental health matters

Leaders in the workplace can set the tone when it comes to diversity, also mental health.

What is emerging is that fostering a sense of belonging has been overlooked by many British employers.

A survey by MHR has found nearly half (47%) of UK employees fear being honest about their mental health in the workplace. These employees cited feeling uncomfortable talking about their mental health with their employer, because they worry it could harm their careers.

Level of seniority is a factor which clearly influences our mental wellbeing at work.

For example, employees who experience being left out of social gatherings are three times more likely to report poor mental health than they are to report good mental health.

Inclusive managers value differences, seek a range of different ideas, be equitable and act on inappropriate behaviour.

Feeling included in a team makes us feel connected to our colleagues. We feel respected, like we can confidently contribute and progress at work, our ideas are valued respected.

Bringing our authentic selves to work

Social belonging is a fundamental human need and businesses who actively seek diversity perform better.

“…there is no magic wand for correcting diversity and inclusion. Change happens one person at a time, one act at a time, one word at a time” says Melinda Epler.

Making progress to enhance diversity and inclusion presents a wealth of benefits. Diversity and inclusion policies have holistic benefits for employees and cost-effective benefits for employers.

Employees with a lower sense of belonging are 80% more likely to quit their jobs, according to Randstad.

For businesses wanting to rectify this uncomfortable statistic, especially when trying to attract new talent, there are inherent benefits.

BetterUp research found that organisations that are highly connected experience 32% higher ratings on Glassdoor and are 25% more likely to be recommended by an employee to their friends.

Teams with more socially connected workplaces are 52% more able to generate new and useful solutions when faced with challenges, 38% more likely to take calculated risks and 17% less likely to experience conflict.

Better job performance, along with reduced turnover risk and a reduction in sick days are all outcomes worth making changes for.

The primary goal of a policy should be to create an environment which is welcoming and accepting environment at all levels of employment.

Recognising microaggressions

The presence of microaggressions at work can hinder measures to build a welcoming workplace.

They are the everyday, subtle, intentional – and oftentimes unintentional – interactions or behaviours that communicate some sort of bias toward minority or marginalised groups.

Microaggressions are a comment or action – sometimes unintentional – that negatively targets groups of people who might be underrepresented, face barriers or discrimination in the workplace.

Examples of microaggressions can include:

  • Microassaults – a type of overt discrimination or criticism which is done intentionally to discredit a marginalised group.
    • E.g. Direct and indirect put-downs, bullying or belittling behaviour, slurs, historically offensive symbols or images of subjugation.
  • Microinsults – is a comment that communicates that the demographic group is not respected, but the target is seen as an exception to the stereotype.
    • E.g. Suggesting a person is ‘exotic’ because of their heritage, making comments which feed cultural stereotypes (i.e. people of Asian descent are good at math).
  • Microinvaildations – is a comment or action that dismisses the experiences of a person of colour or historically disadvantaged group members.
    • E.g. Suggesting to someone they’re being oversensitive or imagining it, saying to someone who is on the receiving end of a comment/action ‘I’m sure they didn’t mean anything by it’.

(Source: University of Edinburgh)

They can target the communities or groups which can make a workplace diverse. Unaddressed, microaggressions can decrease employment engagement and create a toxic work environment.

How organisations can create a welcoming environment for diversity, equity and inclusion
  • Ensuring job descriptions and job application processes actively seek those from different backgrounds.
  • Promote flexible working arrangements which support people with diverse needs.
  • Ensure that your company meets accessibility standards for those with a disability.
  • Providing mentors for new workers with a disability.
  • Facilitate ongoing feedback through your workplace.
  • Acknowledge employee birthdays and holidays of all cultures.
  • Find ways to celebrate and support employee diversity, including those with disabilities; and
  • Ensure that all employees are aware of the support they have available to them.

6 ways to lead by example/be a better ally at work
  • Educate yourself to recognise microaggressions and how to address them
  • Be willing to listen, give your full attention by putting down your phone and laptop
  • Be open minded, be open to learning, re-learning positive behaviours
  • Don’t interrupt people when they are talking or sharing
  • Normalise allyship by advocating for people who are underrepresented
  • If you witness something, say something
  • Make it safe to talk about mental health at work