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5 Ways Leaders Can Foster Belonging in the Workplace

Now more than ever, organizational leaders are surveying their current culture and asking the question, do our employees feel like they belong? Many organizations have moved from having a goal of being diverse to having a goal of diversity and inclusion, and now they are adding a third component, belonging. Leaders are finding that all three components are needed for their employees to feel that they can be themselves and thrive within an organization, that inclusion and belonging are necessary ingredients to make diversity initiatives work and become ingrained in an organization's culture. As authors Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy explain: "Diversity is having a seat at the table, inclusion is having a voice, and belonging is having that voice be heard."

Leaders recognize that fostering a culture of belonging is a necessary part of doing business. The cost of not fostering a sense of belonging is too high to ignore. According to the Harvard Business Review, high belonging was linked to a whopping 56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in turnover risk, and a 75% reduction in sick days.

So, what are a few things leaders can do to champion belonging within their organization?

Become aware of your own blind spots, negative thought patterns, stereotypes, and false assumptions when it comes to relating to people. Ask yourself, "What assumptions or beliefs do I hold about people that need to be challenged?" "Are those assumptions and beliefs valid?" Enlist a personal development coach or take a training course to help identify unconscious biases, if needed.

  • Become curious about people, their cultures, activities, beliefs, and experiences. As a leader, when your employees see you take an interest in someone or something, it opens the door for it to be acceptable for them also.

  • Be accessible and engage with employees at every level. Beware of those employees who monopolize your time and be intentional about reaching out to others.

  • Be observant before, during, and after meetings. Know beforehand who is attending and note any areas where there might not be a sense of belonging. Be strategic about getting all attendees' views, ideas, concerns, and/or opinions.

  • Be transformational. Hold company-wide unconscious bias training and encourage a broad sense of awareness of unconscious bias across the organization. Be willing to hold others accountable, and speak out when decisions are based on preconceived notions or false portrayal of a person or group.

Ultimately, for an organization to become a place of belonging for everyone, leaders of the organization must be intentional in making that a reality. Identifying their own unconscious biases and taking steps to foster belonging within their organizations is a start.

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