The ROI of Inclusion and Belonging

September 13, 2016 Sarah Payne

Charlie Brown

One indication that we’re experiencing a renewed focus on inclusion can be found with a simple Google search. The top three questions associated with “diversity and inclusion” are:

  • What is meant by inclusion in the workplace?
  • What do you mean by inclusion?
  • What is inclusive diversity?

There’s a lot of curiosity around inclusion—and for good reason. By 2025, less than 10 years from now, millennials will comprise nearly 75 percent of the workforce. And as with their approach to workplace flexibility, they are changing the conversation and forcing HR and business leaders to re-think what it means to have both a diverse and an inclusive workplace.

The Millennial Take

So what exactly are millennials looking for and how does it differ from previous approaches to diversity and inclusion? Deloitte released an interesting report last year, titled: The Radical Transformation of Diversity and Inclusion: The Millennial Influence, based on a survey of nearly 4,000 people of different backgrounds and industries.

The report reads, “millennials frame diversity as a means to a business outcome, which is in stark contrast to older generations that view diversity through the lens of morality (the right thing to do), compliance and equality.”

Essentially, millennials are bringing more humanity to the discussion. The survey found that when millennials define diversity, they are:

  • 32% more likely to focus on respecting identities
  • 35% more likely to focus on unique experiences
  • 29% more likely to focus on ideas, opinions, and thoughts

When it comes to inclusion, there seems to be an even greater contrast between generations:

Millennials define inclusion as having a culture of connectedness that facilitates teaming, collaboration, and professional growth, and positively affects major business outcomes. Leadership is supportive of individual perspectives and is transparent, communicative, and engaging…Conversely, older generations define inclusion as the acceptance and tolerance of demographically diverse individuals.

As the most traditionally diverse generation that’s grown up in the digital age, it’s no surprise that millennials tend to focus more on culture and connectedness, as opposed to acceptance and tolerance.

A Deeper Dive on Inclusion & Belonging

As you might expect, organizations tend to focus their efforts on diversity—ensuring that their workforce is comprised of a healthy mix of different ethnicities, backgrounds, sexes, etc. While we’ve certainly made significant progress in this area, a separate Deloitte report, titled Waiter, is that inclusion in my soup? reads:

We observed that organisations gave much more weight to diversity than inclusion, and yet the research pointed to diversity + inclusion = improved business performance. Secondly we observed that academics and workplace experts struggled to articulate a clear definition of inclusion.

Originally, inclusion just meant we wanted to be sure everyone in the workplace was treated equally—which was a great start. But research shows that to really feel included, a person needs to agree that their unique value is appreciated and that they belong in the group.

The report further explains that people feel included when they have perceptions of fairness and respect, and as well as value and belonging. “Employees look to whether…they are part of formal and informal networks…this second level of inclusion is about having a voice and feeling connected.”

Pat Wadors, senior vice president of global talent organization at LinkedIn, is a huge proponent of inclusion and belonging in the workplace and is making strides to create a culture at LinkedIn where everyone can belong. She wrote in a recent Harvard Business Review piece that, “Our brains are hardwired to motivate us toward connection and belonging—it’s how we survive and thrive…and findings show that belonging and attachment to a group of coworkers is a better motivator for some employees than money.”

Diversity + inclusion = improved business performance

Research shows that organizations that are able to focus on both diversity and inclusion will experience the best business results.

For example, Deloitte looked at the impact of diversity and inclusion efforts on employee engagement. You can see in the chart to the right that focusing on either diversity or inclusion will raise engagement levels, but not as much as when an organization focuses on both diversity and inclusion.

Deloitte saw similar results when they looked at innovation, customer service, and team collaboration—all of which are improved when employees work for diverse organizations where they feel included.

The connection between social recognition & inclusion

“When different perspectives are recognized and supported, advocated, and most importantly, expected, I think it creates a more inclusive environment…When you are recognized for bringing a different perspective, it leads to higher degrees of engagement.” – Steve Pemberton, WorkHuman speaker, Vice President, Chief Diversity Officer at Walgreens Boots Alliance

If you want more people to feel included in your organization, a great way to start is through social recognition. It’s an organic, authentic way to build a more human culture that gives people a voice and makes them feel connected to your organization’s mission.

As opposed to traditional, top-down recognition, social recognition is public appreciation that happens across all levels of an organization. It adds transparency, which is an especially important characteristic for millennials when it comes to inclusion. A social recognition feed that’s open to everyone in your company also shows how people fit into formal and informal networks.

Data from a recent WorkHuman Research Institute survey supports this:

  • Those recognized in the last month are 19% more likely to agree they fit in the organization
  • Those who believe their leaders care about creating a human workplace are 27% more likely to believe they fit in and belong in the organization

What does diversity and inclusion mean in your organization? Do you see generational differences? Do you think recognition would help your inclusion efforts?

Let us know in the comments!



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