Corporate 100
Don’t Dream It, B It
DEI policies add up to belonging
By J. Maija Doggett

y now, you’ve seen the initialism DEI, and you know that the letter “D” stands for diversity, the letter “E” stands for equity, and the letter “I” stands for inclusion. But in recent years, the term has become DEIB, with the letter “B” for belonging. What is belonging, and why did DEI become DEIB?

Before explaining the B, let’s review the meaning of each component of DEI.

Diversity can be described as the unique characteristics possessed by individuals within a group. Your workplace diversity initiative may include programs or actions to invite diverse individuals to your organization.

Equity, in this context, is recognizing that not everyone starts from the same place and, therefore, it may be necessary to provide what’s needed so that everyone can get to the same place, i.e., everyone achieves equality.

Inclusion involves taking action to create a feeling of belonging for all individuals in an organization.

And now for the letter B:

Belonging is the feeling that results from DEI efforts. It is an individual’s perception that their uniqueness is welcomed and valued by others in the organization. It’s the security of knowing they can be who they really are.

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people laughing in a movie theater with popcorn and drinks
“DE&I is about your organization’s approach and principles, while belonging tells you if it’s working,” according to Monique McDonough, COO of WorkTango, the Canadian maker of an employee engagement platform.

Notice the difference between inclusion and belonging: inclusion comprises efforts made by an organization and behaviors demonstrated by people within that organization that foster employees’ feeling of belonging.

B Is for Bottom Line
Why is it important for employees to feel belonging?

“Experiences of reduced belonging most strongly relate to feelings of inauthenticity, whereas experiences of exclusion most strongly relate to negative affect (sadness and anger),” according to a study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science by Michael L. Slepian and Drew S. Jacoby-Senghar. “Furthermore, experiences with identity threats were related to loneliness, lower life satisfaction, and worse self-reported physical health… and both aspects predict lower workplace satisfaction, identification, and commitment when experienced in professional settings.”

Employees who lack belonging are less happy, feel less healthy, and don’t contribute to their full potential. They may quietly quit or even outright jump ship to an organization with which they feel better alignment.

Research shows that a lack of belonging creates more stress for employees than being harassed. A work environment where employees are uncomfortable being themselves can damage trust, diminish self-worth, and degrade workplace culture.

Lack of belonging is a top contributor to the Great Resignation, according to research by McKinsey & Company.

In agreement with those findings, a study called “The Value of Belonging at Work” revealed that employees who experience belonging at work perform better and stay longer than employees who don’t. Among the study’s findings:

  • 50 percent lower turnover risk
  • 75 percent fewer sick days used
  • 56 percent increase in job performance

When employees do not feel heard or accepted for who they are, productivity and innovation suffer. Without fostering belonging for everyone, organizations are unable to leverage the unique attributes of individuals into success. Employees and companies miss out on growth opportunities.

Late Night Double Feature
We now know what a lack of belonging looks like, but what does it look like when an organization succeeds at creating a culture of belonging?

Because this article is brought to you by the letter B, we’ll examine successful belonging through a B-movie: The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

You know, the campy cult favorite created by Richard O’Brien that stars Tim Curry, Meat Loaf, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, and other great talents. Released in 1975, the musical comedy is about a conservative young couple whose car breaks down in the rain near an old castle. When they knock on the castle door to ask for help, they find Dr. Frank N. Furter, a mad scientist who is an alien transvestite from the planet Transsexual in the galaxy of Transylvania. The couple spend the night at the castle and re-discover themselves through the rock opera that ensues.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show was a flop when it was first released. It was low budget (and it showed), and people just didn’t get it. But on April 1, 1976, it became the feature for a midnight showing at the Waverly Theater in New York City. When one audience member hurled an epithet at the movie screen, the rest of the audience laughed out loud. Eventually, that one guffaw grew into moviegoers shadow-casting (re-enacting) the story while the movie is playing. The ritual tied together a community.

When employees do not feel heard or accepted for who they are, productivity and innovation suffer. Without fostering belonging for everyone, organizations are unable to leverage the unique attributes of individuals into success. Employees and companies miss out on growth opportunities.
This movie grew into one of the best-known cult classics of all time, in which moviegoers dress in fishnet stockings, tight corsets, and heavy makeup, shouting well-timed sarcastic remarks at the screen. This still happens everywhere the movie is shown! Whether at the Waverly Theater or at The Basement in Fairbanks, when The Rocky Horror Picture Show is shown, moviegoers dress up and dance and joke with the actors on screen.

Because of its themes and tone, The Rocky Horror Picture Show appealed to the LGBT community and created a culture where those who experience gender fluidity or question their own gender identity belong. And then those who were part of the gender-fluid culture created a culture where everyone belongs. Members of the LGBT community began experiencing belonging because of the consistent practices of all patrons of the show—practices that applied to everyone who came to a viewing, regardless of their gender identity, sexual orientation, or any other unique character of the viewer.

Dig It If You Can
If you’re still wondering what this B-movie has to do with the workplace, consider that the word “organization” in the context of this DEIB story can refer to the theaters that offered midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

“Employees” in this context can refer to the movie patrons who consistently carried out the inclusive activities that, to this day, result in all those who attend a midnight viewing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show anywhere in the world receiving the same experience, no matter who they are.

The phenomenon spread even without the internet. In the late ‘70s, a person who had been to the show in California could find themselves attending a show in New York, and they would then “train” all the patrons in that New York theater. The fun caught on!

The Rocky Horror Picture Show even offers onboarding for first-timers. If you’ve never been to a midnight viewing of the show at a theater, experienced patrons are ready to induct you into the culture in a way that is intended to show you how much fun it is to be part of the organization and motivate you to come back.

All of the activities at the show—such as dressing up, onboarding, singing, and dancing—happen in the same way for everyone who attends; no one is singled out for being different.

Because of this organic DEIB effort, the flop that was The Rocky Horror Picture Show in 1975 is still a thriving organization today. Wikipedia says the movie has generated at least $226 million in box office sales; not bad for a movie that started with a $1.4 million budget! This return on investment is easily attributable to the organization’s cultivation of an inclusive culture.

No, you don’t need to add fishnet stockings and corsets to your company’s dress code, but you should consider belonging as your DEIB committee’s end game.
A Bit of a Mind Flip
How does this relate to the average workplace? No, you don’t need to add fishnet stockings and corsets to your company’s dress code, but you should consider belonging as your DEIB committee’s end game. Create a DEIB committee or task force if you don’t have one—and charge them with developing recommendations, guidelines, and checklists to make your workforce, products, services, programs, processes, and communications more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. Your organization should consider taking these actions:

  • Incorporate recruitment outreach activities to facilitate hiring a more diverse workforce.
  • Conduct job leveling that equalizes salaries and promotions.
  • Support diverse family types and situations by offering flexible work schedules, remote or hybrid work, fertility and adoption benefits, and kid-friendly company gatherings.
  • Listen to your diverse employees and learn about ways to retain them.
  • Facilitate career plans for all employees.
  • Provide tools to build skills for all staff to address diversity, equity, and inclusion in your workplace.

Do the things that show you value the components of each employee’s identity, such as their particular race, sexual orientation, or the fact that they have kids or are a military veteran.

Be sure to measure your progress. Ask employees about their trust in the organization, how much self-worth they feel, and their confidence that it’s okay for them to be their authentic selves.

Inclusion is effort fostered by your organization and behavior demonstrated by your people. Belonging is the feeling that results. Your DEIB efforts should send a message to your current and future employees that your workplace is a safe space to be themselves.

J. Maija Doggett, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, CEES, is People Department Operations Manager for an engineering firm with hundreds of employees and operations in several states.