For years, diversity and inclusion was just that. D&I, I&D. More recently, we’re seeing the definition shift and evolve and adding in a new letter in the process – B, for belonging. Recognizing that there are potential limits on what diversity and inclusion can achieve, especially given current initiatives, belonging seeks to expand our understanding of one another, open up our interactions and establish a workplace where everyone can engage and thrive. And that’s the dream, isn’t it? Provided we know what belonging actually means and how it operates, something that many organizations are still figuring out. So here’s a look at where belonging can take us, starting from recruiting and hiring:

Defining the B word

By most accounts, use of the word belonging traces back to Pat Wadors during her time as CHRO of LinkedIn. Around 2016, she went on record at Talent Connect to speak about “The Power of Belonging.” Acknowledging that D&I had been around for some time without making much headway, Wadors suggested that this third arm could move the needle. And while Wadors made a strong case for feeling included, even citing personal examples, she did not invent the concept – though it is a good story.

In reality, belonging or belongingness stretches back decades and reaches across multiple disciplines. The basic idea being that humans have an innate need for validation and connection with others. No surprise there and a lack of belonging can cause “work loneliness,” proven to have a direct impact on employee performance. So even though your recruiting may be diverse and company policies inclusive, without belonging, employees won’t necessarily know their place in the organization. Basically, we need to play nicer with one another, something that happens at all stages of the employee journey.

Calling DIBs  

Still, despite this additional context, Wadors captures much of the attention around belonging. And while she certainly didn’t coin the phrase “calling dibs” (or in this case, DIBs), she did promote the concept in HR, and we thank her. With belonging taking hold at organizations around the world, a trend on the rise if you will, interested employers need to know how we got here and where we stand.  

For that last piece, there’s the recent EY “Belonging Barometer” study, which asked 1,000 American employees to define what the term means and what makes them feel like they belong at work. Releasing four key findings, EY uncovered that 56 percent of respondents feel they belong most at work when they feel trusted and respected. Echoing this, 39 percent say that when colleagues check in with them about how they’re doing personally and professionally, they feel their greatest sense of belonging at work. All that changes when exclusion comes into the picture. EY summarizes, “When social exclusion happens at work, people feel physically and emotionally isolated. More than 40 percent of respondents across generations and genders feel physically alone, or in other words, ignored. Others also experience feelings of stress and sadness.” And no employer wants that to happen.

Reframing the narrative

And that begins with recruiting and hiring, working to attract candidates through an open door into forums and communities that showcase the organization’s ideals, before engaging them with tailored messaging. Employers can easily supplement these efforts with events, virtual or in person, designed to highlight existing employees and what the organization looks like on the inside. With this deeper level of transparency, job seekers gain an understanding of their place, their fit and whether or not they align with the organization. From here, recruiters can connect the dots, moving interested candidates from interview to offer to onboarding and so on.

From the initial interaction through to every day around the office, belonging encourages employees to reach out, connect and check-in with one another regularly. With the support of recruiting strategies and technologies, belonging builds a place for everyone from day one and makes it possible to redefine culture and foster community. And that’s where the magic happens, with open hearts and open minds, with common values and ideals, working toward a shared goal.

Jeanette Maister

Jeanette Maister is Managing Director and Head of Americas at Oleeo. At Oleeo, Maister drives growth, influences the product and helps customers leverage technology to transform their recruiting efforts.  Prior to Oleeo, Jeanette spent most of her career as a recruiting practitioner holding leadership roles at Credit Suisse, Lehman Brothers, IBM, and Gartner. A graduate of Washington University in St. Louis with an MBA in Management from Columbia Business School, Jeanette was recognized as a 2018 IT Women of the Year finalist. She also received the Stevie silver 2017 Female Executive of the Year and the 2017 SmartCEO Brava Award.