While the focus on diversity, equity, and belonging in the workplace has gained more attention in recent years, it is not a new concept. DEIB, as it’s often abbreviated, has been around for as long as people have been working together. It’s only in more recent years that the concept has become formalized, studied, and tied to company goals and success metrics.
Common doesn’t always mean well-understood or well-executed, however.
Many companies are still struggling to make employees feel they belong authentically. During the Great Resignation of 2021, McKinsey found that over half of employees across Australia, Canada, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United States who quit their job during this time did so because they didn’t feel a sense of belonging at work.
Now add in a heavy dose of Quiet Quitting, which was identified as a trend in 2022 and persists to this date. Gallup reported 50% or more of US workers were mentally and emotionally checking out.
The lack of workplace belonging results in high employee turnover and pervasive hidden costs that come part and parcel with employee disengagement. It all comes down to how you build and promote Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) in the workplace.
This guide will help you better understand what DEIB means, why it’s important, and how to start authentically building programs that effectively address this need.
Choose Your Own Adventure!
What Is DEIB: Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging?
DEIB is a simple acronym that stands for:
These key principles and practices create a focal point that organizations can use to embrace and promote a more inclusive environment. When DEIB is in focus and taken seriously, the result is an equitable workplace for people of all backgrounds, identities, and experiences. These values typically come together as a framework because they’re equally important but also distinct enough that organizations should consider how they’re addressing each one.
Diversity refers to both the demographic and, at times, psychographic representation of differences within the organization, such as backgrounds, characteristics, experiences, and viewpoints. The concept of diversity encompasses both visible and invisible factors, from gender identities, sexual orientation, marital status, age, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and abilities.
While racial, ethnic, and gender identity tend to be in the spotlight of DEIB initiatives, it’s equally important to venture beyond them and into less visible facets like age, neurodiversity, and experiences.
Neurodiversity is too important to ignore: For that reason, check out our blog post on How to Support Neurodiversity in the Workplace.
Equity recognizes that different individuals have unique circumstances and needs and ensures everyone has the necessary support and resources to succeed and thrive. Action on this concept is one where companies actively address and and remove structural and systemic barriers that have historically prevented certain groups from achieving their full potential.
A common pushback on equity is that it creates unfair advantages. However, equity is about providing an equal chance of success rather than an equal access to outcomes. E.g., it’s about leveling the playing field so that everyone can perform at their greatest potential.
Equity vs Equality: While these two terms are often used interchangeably, they project different meanings. Equality means individuals or groups have equal access to resources and opportunities. Equity recognizes that each person has different starting points and may require different levels of support to reach equal outcomes. Hence, we should strive for equity, not just equality.
The equity vs equality conversations were just starting to take shape when I was an early-career high school teacher in the late 2000s. And during that time, the following image (and many variations of it) emerged to help explain these differences:
As with any image that tries to whittle down a complex debate, this one isn’t perfect. But it gets the point across as succinctly as any image I’ve seen.
Inclusion is the action companies take to achieve and foster diversity. It’s the commitment to creating a work environment where employees of diverse backgrounds and characteristics have access to equal opportunity and fair treatment. In inclusive workplaces, employees feel valued, heard, and seen without judgment.
Belonging is the latest addition to the DEI concept. While the concept existed before the global pandemic, emphasis on it and its inclusion alongside Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is a product of the racial injustice conversations that now highlight that pandemic era. You can even see this concept take off immediately following the pandemic in Google Search Trends:
When we talk about “belonging,” we’re referring to the feeling of acceptance and “inclusion” as an integral part of the team. Much like equity vs equality, inclusion vs belonging can be a bit harder to understand, but think of it in these terms:
- Inclusion is an action
- Belonging is the result of that action
Inclusion is about creating an environment where every person feels confident to bring their whole, authentic self to work. A sense of belonging is the personal feeling that comes after inclusion efforts. What makes one person feel like they belong may differ from what makes another person feel the same way. Hence, diversity, equity, and inclusion are the building blocks of belonging, which can be seen as the ultimate goal for DEI strategies like mentoring and employee resource groups.
What does DEIB mean as a collective concept?
Bringing these ideas together, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging are interconnecting concepts that any company can (and should) adopt. An employee engagement strategy that includes DEIB helps lay the groundwork for building an inclusive workplace culture. The goal of DEIB initiatives is to create a workplace where every individual feels valued, respected, and empowered to contribute their unique perspectives and talents to the organization’s success.
When employees from all different walks of life are treated fairly and provided with all the support they need to thrive, they feel seen, heard, and ultimately belong. DEIB is not a one-time fix to get signed off but requires ongoing efforts and commitments from everyone across all levels of the organization.
That said, far too many companies treat it as such. A 2021 Josh Bersin report found that around 80% of companies were just “going through the motions” with DEI. E.g., they were doing the bare minimum to check off the boxes and look good on paper. Anyone pulling back the curtain would see a very different story in their level of support.
It’s no wonder that as layoffs have ramped up across different industries in 2023, DEI roles were getting cut at a much higher rate than other roles, according to Revelio Labs.
From DEI to DEIB: Why Belonging Matters and Why Metrics Are Necessary to Prove It.
The shift from DEI to DEIB happened organically and as a response to a growing need to refine the concept. It reflects a new understanding that creating a diverse and inclusive workplace is not enough to promote equity and justice.
In addition to valuing and respecting differences, DEIB is crucial to creating a sense of belonging among employees of all backgrounds, identities, and experiences.
Belonging matters because it’s a fundamental human need that affects people’s well-being, motivation, and engagement. When individuals feel like they belong, they are more likely to bring their authentic selves to work, contribute their unique perspectives and talents, and collaborate with others toward shared goals. Belonging also promotes a sense of trust, safety, and psychological safety, which are essential for building strong and resilient teams and organizations.
As you might expect, the push-back to DEI and DEIB from leadership has to do with outcomes. For DEI initiatives, those outcomes are usually seen in two places:
- Increased employee engagement and productivity
- Increased employee retention (or a reduction in voluntary turnover)
Executives often have a hard time understanding or seeing the value in DEIB because HR leaders often don’t know how to measure it. Yet measurement isn’t as hard as it sounds:
- Use software that helps you create and run program DEI engagement programs
- Pair your HRIS system with that software
- Track participants with measurable outcomes that are reflected in your HRIS data
- Create reports that identify the dollar figures executives need to see
By embracing the value of belonging, organizations can create a more inclusive and supportive work environment where everyone feels valued, respected, and empowered to contribute their best work. This involves creating a culture that celebrates differences, provides opportunities for growth and development, and cultivates a sense of community and connection among employees.
Ultimately, the goal of DEIB is to create a workplace where every individual feels like they belong and can thrive. But to make that happen, DEIB programs also need to be tied strongly to trackable and visual metrics that show these programs have an overwhelmingly positive return on investment.
Metrics? What Metrics? Check out our Mentoring ROI page for more details about how to measure the ROI of mentoring programs and use our free ROI calculator to see what ROI you could get.
The Culture of Belonging in the Workplace
What does the culture of belonging at work look like? Here’s a story that will help illustrate the benefit and impact of DEIB in the workplace. Feel free to share this narrative as you build the case for DEIB at your company:
Sofia had just landed her dream job at a large consulting firm. She was thrilled to start working with a team of experts in her field. However, Sofia was nervous about fitting in with her new coworkers because she had heard stories about how competitive and exclusive the industry could be.
To her surprise, Sofia found that her team was incredibly welcoming. On her first day, they took her out for lunch and introduced her to everyone in the office. They also made an active effort to include her in conversations and invite her to team outings.
During her first month, Sofia was also paired with a Work Buddy who she could ask for support without feeling uneasy. She saw that her colleagues were not just friendly and welcoming to her personally, but they genuinely valued diversity and worked to create an inclusive workplace for everyone. This made her feel even more excited and proud to be part of the team.
As she eased into her role, Sofia realized that the company had a strong culture of belonging. Her coworkers came from various backgrounds, and they celebrated each other’s differences. The company also had regular diversity and inclusion training sessions, which helped employees understand and appreciate the unique perspectives of their colleagues.
What we can easily observe from Sofia’s story is that the company demonstrates a strong commitment to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging. That commitment is shown through different DEIB initiatives and programs that foster a culture of belonging in the workplace. From an engagement perspective, because she feels welcomed at the start, Sofia is less likely to quit during the onboarding period and more likely to stay long-term.
Sofia’s story leads us to the next important section, where we look into how companies can benefit from their DEIB efforts.
What Happens When Employees Feel They Belong?
Executive leaders often want to know how employees feel about the company and whether they feel like they’re actively part of the team. When employees feel like they belong, it shows up in many different ways. This can include some areas that are critical to the organization:
- Engaging: Employees are more likely to be fully invested in their work and committed to the company’s goals. Employee engagement can lead to higher productivity, creativity, and innovation, which drive business performance and success.
- Contributing: As employees feel valued and recognized, they develop a sense of ownership in their work and contribute their best efforts and ideas to the company.
- Collaborating: Teamwork and collaboration can lead to more effective problem-solving and decision-making processes. When employees feel empowered to share ideas, opinions, and concerns without judgment, they treat one another with respect.
- Providing: With a sense of belonging and ownership, employees go above and beyond in their work, providing excellent customer service, delivering high-quality products or services, and generally being ambassadors for the company.
- Staying: As workers feel connected to their colleagues and the company, employee retention increases. This can save the company money on recruitment and training costs, as well as help maintain institutional knowledge and expertise.
As long as companies proactively take all the steps to ensure employees engage, contribute, collaborate, provide, and stay, companies can spend more time creating meaningful changes and achieving business goals—rather than worrying about The Great Resignation or Quiet Quitting.
How to Create a Sense of Belonging at Work
As tempting as it might be, don’t try to create a sense of belonging at work alone. We all carry our own biases with us that make it impossible to see those blind spots. Internalized biases mean that if we try to create and launch DEIB initiatives with nobody to check our work, huge errors and oversights will occur.
Use the following ideas as a starting point, but confer with a team before launching any new strategies for DEIB:
1. Foster a culture of psychological safety
Encourage open communication and make it safe for employees to express their opinions without fear of negative consequences. Using Sofia’s story as an example, she feels she can ask for support without feeling uneasy, which is a great start to promoting psychological safety at work
2. Promote a sense of community
Team building activities and social events are excellent opportunities for employees to get to know each other and collectively develop a sense of community. Even a tiny gesture like a team lunch can go a long way for employee bonding.
3. Provide opportunities for growth and development
Offer training, mentorship, and career advancement opportunities to help employees feel valued and invested in. From Sofia’s story, the Work Buddy is an excellent example of how companies invest in mentorship to provide guidance, advice, and support to help their employees advance in their careers
4. Recognize and celebrate diversity
Apart from formal D&I training and programs, companies can organize events that showcase cultures and traditions, such as food festivals and cultural holiday celebrations. Employee resource groups can also represent different cultures, religions, and identities
5. Give regular feedback and recognition
Provide constructive feedback that focuses on behaviors or actions rather than personal characteristics to help employees understand what they did well and what they can improve on. Recognize their achievements to show appreciation and encourage improvement, ranging from verbal praise and written or public recognition to rewards or incentives and promotion
6. Create a flexible and supportive work environment
Flexible schedules, Work From Home (WFH) and Work From Anywhere (WFA) options, mental health support, and wellness programs are among many initiatives that companies can implement to prioritize employee well-being. Not only can it to increased job satisfaction, engagement, and productivity, but it can also help to attract and retain top talent.
7. Lead by example
There are far too many cases of companies failing their DEIB efforts because people in power and authority don’t practice what they preach. Set the tone for a positive work culture by modeling the behavior you expect from employees.
Mentorship: Cultivating a Sense of Belonging
Mentoring programs are among the best strategies available to help create a sense of belonging. Because mentoring programs are social learning engagements, they can also help you solve multiple needs within the organization, including employee development and building a cohesive culture. There are also multiple types of mentoring that you can use, making mentoring highly versatile as a DEIB strategy.
Establish mentoring relationships that focus on shared goals
When establishing mentoring relationships, ensure that the goals of the mentor and mentee align. This helps build a sense of purpose and a shared vision, promoting a sense of belonging and connectedness.
Match mentors and mentees thoughtfully
Take the time to match mentors and mentees thoughtfully, considering factors like interests, career goals, and backgrounds. This can help ensure both parties feel engaged and invested in the mentoring relationship.
Visualize it! Our Mentoring Soundbites videos on matching mentors and mentees should help get you started:
Encourage active listening and open communication
Both mentors and mentees should engage in active listening and open communication. This helps to build trust, establish a sense of mutual respect, and promote a culture of openness, which can contribute to a sense of belonging.
Foster a culture of inclusivity
Ensure that mentoring programs are open to all employees, regardless of their background, experience, or position within the organization. This helps to build a culture of inclusivity where everyone feels valued and supported.
Create opportunities for cross-functional mentoring
Break down silos and promote collaboration by encouraging mentorship between employees from different departments or backgrounds. This way, their shared learning leads to increased creativity, innovation, problem-solving capabilities, and improved communication and teamwork.
The Bottom Line: Help Everyone Belong.
DEIB is a continuous journey toward creating a better workplace for everyone. And that newly-added “B” to DEI can’t be overstated. Although DEI is ever evolving, getting as close as possible to make during everyone feels they belong at your organization is one of the best retention efforts you can put time, energy, and resources into.
Your company’s “Sofia” may be a risk of leaving. Book a demo to learn how MentorcliQ’s software supports bold DEIB ideas and turns them into ROI that even the toughest executives love to see.