Making a culture of belonging a reality

The anti-racism movement that gained steam over summer 2020 has shone a spotlight on the critical need for global action following the unlawful murder of George Floyd. It sought to create more diversity, drive inclusion, drive belonging and dismantle the inherent biases within our systems and structures. Biases that go unnoticed by the millions who benefit from them, but not by the millions marginalised by them.

And with the global pandemic continuing to keep so many of us apart, now more than ever we need to make sure that belonging is at the centre of our lives, societies and organisations.

This is no small challenge. In the past, many organisations have failed to lead and sustain a culture of diversity and belonging. And often this has come down to a lack of understanding as to what these terms actually mean and what’s really needed here. It’s also been because business leaders haven’t recognised that belonging goes beyond psychological safety and emotional connection – it’s also a business driver that transforms company culture, boosts productivity and fosters innovation.

In our recent webinar on ‘Moving from the D to the I: Making a Culture of Belonging a Reality’, we heard the practical steps leaders need to take to create genuine belonging, and move from representation and quotas, to everyone feeling like they’re respected, valued and have parity.

Here’s our top five take-aways from our enlightening conversation with Georgina Philippou, (Former Chief Operating Officer, Financial Conduct Authority), Wil Lewis (Chief Diversity, Inclusion, & Belonging Officer, Experian) and our own CEO, Rosie Warin:

Our top five takeaway on making belonging a reality

  1. Diversity without belonging is incomplete

    • When thinking about DI&B (Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging), most people gravitate towards the ‘D’ and begin to take actions to increase the representation of people with protected characteristics. Wil Lewis explained that diversity is the counting of representation, inclusion is receiving an invitation and belonging is creating an environment where people can prosper and their thoughts are valued. Georgina Philippou highlighted that in the FCA, over 25% of colleagues are from BAME groups, whilst the same group only represent 10% of the leadership team. She then explained that the habitual behaviours and mindsets that characterise an organisation have to be geared towards allowing everybody to prosper.
  2. Leadership is critical, but so are we all

    • People will look at micro-behaviours of leaders, (are they attending events, who are they speaking to, are they posting blogs, do they invite the quiet person to say something), not the things they’re expected to do. Georgina highlighted that one of the first things the new FCA CEO did was talk about D&I, meet the networks and attend events. However, the responsibility doesn’t only rest on the leadership – it rests on us all. A statement made by Wil that resonated with the audience was “not everyone will do everything, but everyone should do something.” Rosie stated that it is important for organisations to co-create solutions rather than the leadership believing they know what is best.
  3. Recognise and reward networks

    • Networks are a powerful foundation in sparking a culture of inclusion. However they’re often under invested in and therefore their passion may not always convert into action and change. Like any other group of influencers, they need to be given the support, tools, training and opportunities to effect change. Rosie revealed that the reason networks are often ineffective in organisations is because they are constantly asked about their opinions, but never see their opinions being practicalised into strategy. Georgina highlighted that networks need to be given the opportunity to make strategic decisions about D&I, provide a tangible input, support the direction of the company and challenge the way things are done.
  4. Use the power of storytelling

    • A powerful tool that can be used in creating a culture of belonging is senior leaders speaking up in a personal way and sharing their own stories of times they did not feel included. Georgina expressed that leaders do not need to share a protected characteristic to talk about a time when they didn’t feel included. The power of storytelling has been in the mental health space and helps to build trust in authentic leadership.
  5. The systems and processes must match up

    • It is easy to be overwhelmed by the concept of inclusion, but just like any change management project, you need a vision, plan, measurement and an objective. If culture is about the way we do things around here, then think about what you are doing. Where do you search for external recruits? How do you offer development opportunities? What does your promotion and reward system say about your organisation? Do your leaders have objectives? It is easier to start by changing these systems and processes. It is important for us to be alert to solid things like systems and processes and to softer things like culture and inclusion.

We’re here to help, if you need us…

We know that many organisations have started planning their diversity, inclusion and belonging strategy. Alongside designing Inclusion and Belonging strategies, some of our services in this area include:

  • Inclusive ‘listening’ activities to surface the barriers to belonging
  • Co-creating behaviour-change-led action plans to build a culture of belonging
  • Making networks work – setting up effective networks that have a long-term impact
  • Power to you – behaviour change training for networks, allies and ambassadors on using your voice to create change

If you need fresh thinking and an outside-in perspective, please do get in touch on