The ROI of Inclusion and Belonging

Sarah Payne

7-minute read

colored chalk

Summer has come and gone since the world witnessed the agonizing death of George Floyd. And yet, despite the angst and outrage, it seems the parade of such events continues unabated. In just late August, Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin.  

It’s against this backdrop that interest in workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion has intensified dramatically in recent months. By 2025 – just five years from now –  millennials will comprise nearly 75% of the workforce. And as with their approach to workplace flexibility, they are changing the conversation and forcing HR and business leaders to rethink what it means to have diversity, equity, and inclusiveness in the 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.

According to the report, “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 – one that grew 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 and belonging

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

We observed that organizations 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 companies 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 – 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, chief talent officer at ServiceNow, is a huge proponent of inclusion and belonging in the workplace. While at LinkedIn, she was known for making significant strides in creating a culture where everyone can belong. In a Harvard Business Review piece, Pat wrote: “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 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 engagementlevels – 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 and inclusion

“To achieve success in today’s workplace, we must be committed to inspiring and empowering one another day in and day out,” notes Workhuman® CHRO Steve Pemberton. “This type of transformation starts with galvanizing HR leaders worldwide to build cultures based upon foundations of humanity, appreciation, diversity and inclusion, and belonging.

If you want employees to feel more appreciated and included in your organization, a great place 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 a recent Workhuman paper, Creating the Future of Diversity & Inclusion, notes:

It might not be what you first think of, but an employee recognition program can offer many insights into unconscious bias. In general, peer-to-peer recognition leads to greater feelings of inclusion and helps employees feel that diversity is valued in the workplace. But it goes deeper than that. There is so much a recognition program can do to help your leadership team understand the state of diversity and inclusion in your organization.

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.

Recognition delivers the data

It’s one of the often unsung benefits of a true social recognition program: crowdsourced data that delivers deep insights into your culture. A social recognition platform includes data tools that let you visualize the connections among employees. In fact, data delivered through an employee recognition program is the only true, impartial performance data in your company. With that in mind, what can a social recognition platform tell you about diversity and inclusion in your organization? Quite simply, it:

  • Reveals whether one group receives more recognition that others – while comparing the value of awards
  • Shows whether one group has a larger or smaller group of connections within your organization – and how balanced the composition of those groups is
  • Illuminates how connections impact the outcomes your business cares about – such as inclusion, cultural productivity, and innovation

And it should be noted that the data provided isn’t just about race. Social recognition can also show bias in gender, age, and sexual identity. For instance, women receive rewards at a higher rate than males, according to Workhuman research. Yet the average award amount for males tends to be 12% higher than females.

Meeting challenges of diversity, equity, and inclusion

Steve Pemberton has acknowledged the challenges of achieving diversity – especially in the most senior levels of organizations. As he puts it, he knows of no Fortune 50 company that can say, “I’m satisfied with the composition of the senior leadership of our organization.”

In general, it’s been challenging for many companies to find and implement technology that can affect real change when it comes to driving culture across an organization. But with the introduction of a new breed of enterprise applications, human applications, that is beginning to change.

Human applications create a culture of belonging by building and supporting relationships, bringing people together, and increasing a sense of community. Because they elevate all voices and reveal organizational patterns, they promote diversity and inclusion, and encourage equality and involvement for all. Workhuman has prepared a solution brief that outlines 10 ways human applications can help companies pursue their D&I initiatives – from amplifying employee voice, to avoiding bias, building empathy, and aligning employees on shared core values. It provides a powerful roadmap on how to achieve your D&I goals.

Talking about advancing equity in the workplace, Steve notes, “The first question is: What are you willing to change about the way you do things in order to realize it? You start answering that one and then I think you’ll begin to get the answers to a lot of other things about where the organization really is.” The good news? “I’ve yet to encounter a company that really put the longer-term effort and resources into diversifying its workforce and has not found success,” says Steve.

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.


A Deeper Dive Into Diversity and Inclusion

The Why Behind D&I: How Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives Benefit Business

Brittany J. Harris: Embedding Justice Into Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

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