More and more companies are looking to diversify their workforce. And it’s easy to see why the effort has become a priority. A 2017 study by Boston Consulting Group found “a strong and statistically significant correlation between the diversity of management teams and overall innovation.” The report directly attributed a diverse workforce with positive gain in net profits, EBIT, and innovation revenue. 

If your organization wants to innovate, it needs to care about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I). But simply hiring employees from different backgrounds and ethnicities isn’t enough. 

Truly diverse businesses also create an environment where employees feel like they belong. And, in doing so, they break down the barriers that prevent brilliant ideas from surfacing. 

How can you determine whether or not your employees feel like they belong? In July, global L&D leaders shed light on the topic and provided actionable steps for you and your company in our Udemy Connect virtual conversation series.  

The tell-tale signs your organization needs to foster belonging

The demographic breakdown of employees might demonstrate the strides your company has made to building a diverse workforce. And your internal communications have made it abundantly clear that everyone is not just welcomed but celebrated at your company. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that your employees feel at home. 

Udemy for Business Head of Corporate Sales & Sales Development Abi Williams describes how some employees  might try to hide or mask their true identity when they don’t feel welcomed — a concept called “covering.” 

“Covering is when individuals downplay their stigmatized identity to fit into the dominant culture,” says Williams. “Covering can be appearance based. For example, a black woman may  straighten her hair, not out of preference or fashion, but rather to deemphasize her race. Or affiliation based — when a parent avoids speaking about their family obligations so that colleagues don’t question their commitment to their job.” 

A 2013 Deloitte study on the topic described the unsettling reality of covering at work:

This insight, Williams says, leads us to take belonging seriously. “Unless people in the organization feel like they belong, regardless of how diverse, we might never realize their full potential.” 

3 steps to build and nurture a culture of belonging

When you give employees the freedom to be their true selves at work, you create an environment that fosters creativity and innovation. But how, exactly, do you give employees the power to speak up and take the risks that often lead to success?

Learning Program Manager Bridget Zapata provides steps to approach belonging programmatically, using examples from her work at Udemy. 

Step #1:  Empower employee-led communities. Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are led by employee volunteers who share a characteristic — gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation, lifestyle, or even interest. These employee-driven initiatives are a great way to elevate to voices of minority groups within the organization. They can also influence the organization’s learning strategy. 

At Udemy, Zapata aimed to do more than mention their existence in the company’s communications. “We advocate to leadership on their behalf, establish a collaborative budget process, and even help them avoid scheduling conflicts to maximize attendance.” 

The extra effort, according to Zapata, enables ERGs to offer more value to employees and the organization. 

Step #2: Take a blended learning approach. “We definitely love utilizing our online platform at Udemy,” Zapata admits. “But we also believe a blended learning model is key to our success.” 

In addition to the DE&I courses Udemy provides employees, the Learning and Development team hosts one-hour workshops related to each topic. “These workshops bring employees together so they can apply the knowledge learned in courses,” says Zapata. “They introduce consistent vocabulary and provide employees with tools to contribute to an environment of belonging.” 

For inspiration, here are some examples of DE&I workshops Udemy hosts:

Step #3: Create small gatherings that make a big impact. Company-led initiatives are also important to successfully building a culture of belonging. And according to Zapata, it doesn’t take much to make a difference. 

At Udemy, she explains, there are three types of events offered throughout the year. 

Belonging is a journey, not a destination

When employees don’t feel like they belong, they won’t speak up and share their brilliant ideas. But when they’re able to bring their authentic selves into work every day, the impossible might be probable.

A culture of belonging, however, needs to be constantly evaluated and nurtured. “It’s not one person’s responsibility to build a culture of belonging,” says Abi Williams. “It’s everybody’s responsibility to show up and exemplify what it means to celebrate our diversity.” 

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