DEI vs. DEIB: Why belonging is critical to your DEI strategy

Cartoon image of a diverse group of coworkers all putting their hands in for a high-five and working together

In recruitment and retention circles, belonging is a hot topic. We’ve talked about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) for years. Now, studies stress how top organizations like NASA that have added belonging to their DEI strategies are creating the most connectedness among employees – especially those who previously felt left out or ignored. In DEI consulting, terms like “belonging” and even “DEI” itself can suffer from definition creep or ambiguity. Let’s pin down a specific definition of belonging and define its critical place in your DEI — or DEIB — strategy.

What does belonging mean in DEI?

Belonging as a DEI definition is a purposeful, design-led workplace experience. It doesn’t just happen. It needs to be fostered. We define belonging as: A person’s perception of acceptance within a given group, including a work environment. Fostering belonging means that people of all backgrounds get a seat at the table and feel heard, seen, and recognized for their contributions.

Why is belonging important?

Psychologically, humans have a fundamental need to be accepted in social groups. This is explained by the "need to belong” theory. We simply must establish and maintain good relationships in order to feel like staying put in most environments, including a work one. If we don't belong, we move on.

DEI vs. DEIB: why was belonging added to DEI?

What does diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) mean? DEIB includes the belonging definition as part of an overall strategy to deepen inclusion and invite acknowledgement, acceptance, and authenticity for all in the workplace.

Belonging is emotionally vital for friend groups, family, and especially at work. The strength of need can vary from person to person, but there is a near-universal desire for individuals to feel genuinely welcome to participate, secure in their role, and connected to their colleagues.

Adding the “B” to DEIB recognizes that a sense of belonging improves employees’ personal feelings of positivity. Employees who aren’t engaged, don’t feel valued, or who are burnt out will not be as productive. Positive employee experiences are critical to long-term success in recruitment, retention, and performance outcomes.

The financial value of belonging in DEI strategies

Seventy-two percent of young workers say they’ve started a new job and regretted accepting it. That’s nearly three out of four unhappy new hires. Belonging, by definition, builds an environment where top talent wants to be.

Belonging correlates with meaningful contributions and future business success. Research shows that organizations with a high measure of belonging demonstrate a 56% increase in job performance, a 75% reduction in sick days, and a 50% drop in turnover risk.

Studies also show that diverse teams are 35% more likely to have financial returns above the industry mean. When belonging is added to existing DEI initiatives, you reduce hiring costs on top of increased financial returns.

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How is belonging different from inclusion?

To add belonging to DEI, we need to understand how it is unique. While diversity and inclusion (D&I) refers to an organization’s attempt at creating an environment for individuals to be their whole selves, belonging is the success of those efforts. More than a simple case of adding letters, DEIB is a continuum:

Diversity → Equity → Inclusion → Belonging

  • Diversity is having and encouraging differences in backgrounds, beliefs, and behavior.
  • Equity is giving each person the resources and opportunities they need based on their circumstances to reach an equal outcome.
  • Inclusion is the state of being valued, respected, and supported, with the right conditions in place to achieve your full potential.
  • Belonging is a person’s perception of acceptance and feeling heard and seen within a given group.

This is why so many organizations are changing from D&I or DEI policies to full DEIB. Inclusion can be measured in quantity, or numbers of activities or initiatives. For deeper impact, the aim is to drive belonging, especially for those who have historically been marginalized in society or by the organization.

Belonging is the outcome of your DEI activities. Did they work? Belonging cannot be measured in numbers, but in quality. It is a feeling that must be measured by feedback.

What are the elements of belonging?

Belonging in DEI is a critical factor because it describes real outcomes. How do we know if current DEIB efforts are successful? Your organization has a culture of belonging when these elements of employee satisfaction are reported.

1. Managers give fair feedback.

People do not report experiencing microaggressions from their superiors. Nor do they report dealing with ostracism in the workplace.

2. Employees feel safe.

People report feeling comfortable speaking up with new or different ideas. A diversity of approaches is encouraged. There are no clear trends among the people who are rewarded for contributions or shut down.

3. People are on the same page.

Terminology surrounding belonging and other DEI issues is well-understood at all levels of the company. Articles and resources from DEIB educators like PowerToFly are regularly shared in employee newsletters.

4. Diverse social bonds exist (and are encouraged).

You encourage interaction and teamwork between individuals who may not otherwise interact. People report trust and respect across departments, levels, and demographics. They report few feelings of isolation or exclusion.

5. Direct communication is preferred over back-channeling.

This points to a high level of trust and low fear of retaliation. Traditional systems and processes of exclusion are discussed openly, as are solutions for creating a more inclusive workplace.

6. Remote work is the new norm.

The benefits of remote work for diverse talent are recognized. Flexibility in office hours has remained or improved after the pandemic. Fully remote and hybrid options are available to most.

7. Belonging is a genuine intention — not an “HR thing.”

Conscious efforts to improve belonging and DEI are visible in the workplace. From the hiring process to training programs, staff report seeing intentionality behind your efforts.

8. Employee resource groups (ERGs) and diversity mentorship programs are present.

People from underrepresented groups have dedicated resources and support communities where they can connect and share experiences. Most of the time they gain professional guidance. Sometimes they simply blow off steam.

9. You have trainings on diversity and unconscious bias.

You have well-attended DEIB trainings to help employees prevent harassment, discrimination, and microaggressions. Your employees continuously become more mindful with their words and actions. They see the organization as willing to learn and grow.

10. There is no pay gap.

Even the perception of a pay gap is a problem. You watch pay equity metrics closely within the organization. You fix any problems by building and implementing a compensation strategy that employees are aware of and that is transparent.

11. Employee benefits are inclusive.

Employee benefits are well-distributed. They don’t focus on one majority group or overlook the needs of the underrepresented. You have health care plans for LGBTQIA+ staffers that include partners and kids. You offer flexible schedules with days for mental wellness. Your floating holidays are sufficient for all religious and non-religious employees.

4 ways to understand belonging at work

The key to claiming any belonging (or DEIB) progress is the ability to measure it. That means soliciting and tracking employee feedback. A survey can tell us if the needle moves in a positive direction. Understand that when it comes to belonging in the workplace, progress is victory.

Here are a few diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) feedback examples for soliciting evaluation from your teams.

  • Listening sessions. In-person or virtual meetings allow employees to speak freely. They open up conversations in a safe manner so that every workplace conversation is perceived as honest and safe.
  • Anonymous surveys. Underrepresented individuals can share grievances without fear or repercussion or judgment. Use a scale (e.g. score of 1-10) to track and prove progress. Use both multiple-choice and open-ended questions.
  • New teamwork setups. Rotating hot desks, new office setups (without creating problems), and strategically structured teams can be a part of team building during meetings or everyday work. Give remote and hybrid workers a chance to come together.
  • Regular DEIB reports. Don’t forget to close the feedback loop. One of the most challenging parts of this work is convincing employees that belonging initiatives have authentic goals. Be transparent about the aims and progress, or lack thereof, with every aspect. Quarterly communication is an ideal starting point.

Putting the “B” in DEIB

When it comes to adding belonging to your DEI strategy, measurement goes hand-in-hand with a corresponding action plan. Feedback can only lead to belonging if you listen and act on what your employees say about how to focus and direct your policies. When done right, your company will see improved retention, more productivity, happier employees, and financial gains.

Every company has unique ways it can improve belonging efforts. Schedule a free DEIB consultation today to learn what yours are.

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