Insights

Belonging: Why Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Matter

Diversity equity and inclusion are such popular topics of business discussion and actions that they are frequently simply referred to as “DE&I.” However, when that acronym is expanded, there’s a compelling, credible argument that it’s short one letter – “B,” for “belonging.”

Diversity is a fact. Equity is a right, and should be a given. Inclusion is an action. And all three are things leaders and organizations can and should foment, encourage, and support.

Belonging is a feeling. It is a need, it is a response, it is the result of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion working together in an intentional way.

Evolving circumstances make those DE&I efforts increasingly challenging. We’re used to organizations being made up of diverse groups. However, there are intersectional identities for individuals as well. For example, many Americans’ self-identify on surveys as two or more combined ethnicities and there are other factors including gender, class, sexuality, ability and more. Many of us also support communities and causes easily seen as outside of our logical defaults or obvious “comfort zones.”

As we become more multi-tribal, each of us is unique and ever-evolving, with internally diverse experiences and choices about where we invest ourselves and our resources. Those leading and participating in DE&I efforts must take these evolutionary shifts into account to gauge accurately how well they create and foster belonging. We also need to account for the effects of shared experiences on us and on DE&I efforts.

Belonging for one individual or group may be taken as exclusion or unwarranted preferential treatment by others. DE&I leaders and advocates must be mindful, to get and keep positive senses of belonging balanced with inclusive behaviors for all.

To get from “DE&I” to “DEI&B” will not be simple or easy. What creates a feeling of belonging for one person does not and cannot limit the experience of another. Instead, creating space for all teammates, clients and partners to be their authentic selves, without judgement or exclusion, creates power for everyone.

And there are good economic reasons to support this. Michael C. Bush is CEO of Great Place to Work. His company certifies others as “Great Places to Work” based on extensive survey-based research into employee experiences. During an engagement with Comcast employees, Bush noted that companies certified as “Great Places to Work” financially outperform the Russell 2000 stock market index of companies by as much as three to one.

 

What Organizations and Marketers Should Do

Many companies are already pursuing efforts to reach specific audiences with clear interests in DE&I efforts and issues. Those companies are consistently inclusive in their messaging, branding and approach to their audiences.

From an advertising perspective, this approach is both the “right thing to do” ethically and it makes good business sense. Surveys of two economically prominent audiences bears this out:

  • Research cited in Comcast Advertising’s 2021 “Understanding Asian American Audiences and How to Reach Them” found Asian Americans to be the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group in the U.S., with more than $1 trillion in annual buying power.
  • TV advertising is a very effective medium for reaching Asian Americans, and 36 percent say they are more likely to buy products that feature Asian Americans or other people of color in their ads.
  • However, 62 percent say they are rarely represented in those ads, while 70 percent of Asian American women want to see Asian Americans portrayed in more modern and diverse ways — strong opportunities for more and better outreach.
  • Research cited in Comcast Advertising’s 2021 “Reaching the Growing LGBTQ Population with Thoughtful Advertising” shows the LGBTQ community makes up 5.6 percent of the U.S. population and is the country’s fastest-growing consumer group.
  • Further, 73 percent of LGBTQ individuals said they had made a purchase in the past year driven by a company’s inclusive outreach, employment practices or political stances.
  • And 80 percent said that brands that support LGBTQ equality “will get more of their business this year.”

These survey results strongly indicate that advertising that creates a sense of belonging is more positively received and more effective. And it seems likely that what’s true about advertising that encourages belonging is true about actions and policies that do the same.

Many companies are also already pursuing significant DE&I efforts and programs. As these evolve and expand, they should be closely aligned with all other relevant audience-specific outreach efforts. But it is equally critical that DE&I efforts also include efforts to measure and respond to how constituents feel about the efforts.

In short, DE&I efforts only matter and only succeed if the constituencies for which they are being pursued experience them positively. Attempts to gauge belonging can help to determine whether those constituents are seeing benefits from those efforts.

But how to measure belonging? Well, the simplest answer is “ask the constituents.” Periodic organizational-wide and team surveys as well as more focused group discussions should be integral elements of every DE&I program, and results shared with employees, managers and leaders across the organization.

When, whether and how those results can or should be shared more broadly is likely best decided by each organization. Where such sharing has the potential to educate or motivate other organizations, or to put the surveying organization’s DE&I efforts in a positive light, it is strongly worth considering but requires a deft touch.

In addition, indicators such as staff retention and recruitment referrals can indicate whether and how well DE&I initiatives are working. Those who feel they belong tend to want to stay where they feel that way, and to invite others to join them.

 

DEI&B: Essential Steps

Bush of Great Places to Work said that there are three pillars necessary to support DEI&B efforts. These are lifelong learning, demonstrating compassion, and acting with intention.

Lifelong learning helps to break habits of old/bad thinking and encourages continuous improvement and transformation. It delivers these benefits best if led from the top, Bush said. Demonstrating compassion is effectively empathy in action, while acting with intention underscores commitment to DEI&B.

That commitment must start with the leadership team and extend to the HR pipeline and the board. Leaders must not only say they understand the need for DEI&B – they have got to demonstrate it, in everything from how people get promoted to how people get treated. “You can’t tell people to change if you’re not changing.”

Getting belonging right is essential. Those pursuing DE&I efforts must treat belonging as a goal and a worthy measure of the effectiveness of the DE&I efforts. Doing so creates a collective and individual sense of worth, innovative spirit and positive business impact. Creating belonging enables magic for the organization and the individual.

Written by Michael Dortch, the above content reflects some of the perspective and work being done by the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion committee within the FreeWheel Council for Premium Video, a group of publishers focused on enhancing the TV and video ecosystem. Click here to learn more.