6. Belonging: The Binding Factor for Equity, Diversity & Inclusion

Belonging: The Binding Factor for Equity, Diversity & Inclusion

Adlerian expert specializing in Democratic Leadership and Organizational Health, Karen John (2020) wrote, “There is pure genius in the comprehension of our human need to belong, and, through contribution and cooperation within communities of social equals, to find significance in our belonging.”28 While many will hear the term “belonging” and snicker at its ability to produce meaningful productivity, motivation, and action oriented behaviour, its principles and capabilities are 110 years old. In fact, belonging is one of the founding principles put forth by one of psychology’s founding fathers, Alfred Adler, it simply has not been prioritized until now because the world was focused on industrialistic principles. While most people have never heard of Adler or Dreikurs, their theories have infiltrated industrial & organizational psychology, organizational consultants, leadership consultants, organizational health, and leadership management practices for the better part of the last century. Early writings of Adler (1910/1956) substantiate that responsible leadership needs to be autonomous and inclusive.29 Moreover, responsible leadership requires an awareness of one’s power within roles and relationships while fostering an interdependence that creates a shared understanding of vision, mission, and values. When belonging becomes part of an organization’s culture, it not only mproves retention, talent management, and succession planning, it also improves the industry.30 Belonging is a basic human need that motivates and causes individuals to perform optimally. It does not mean though that everyone is the same or that groups should strive to be the same. In fact, Adler stressed that diversity and differences are important for groups to thrive and when people with differences feel equally valued and respected, regardless of where they are within the hierarchical structure, engagement and motivation for betterment ensues.31

When belonging becomes part of an organization’s culture, it not only improves retention, talent management, and succession planning, it also improves the industry.

When examining equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives through the lens of belonging it takes on a whole new dynamic. Rather than amplifying unconscious bias training, which data consistently shows is ineffective and costly, and leads to an increase in the propensity for microaggressions, social exclusion and ostracism in the workplace32creating a belonging-first culture provides the binding factor linking equity, diversity, and inclusion.33

The reason a belonging-first culture is so powerful is that it operates by recognizing diverse people and including them with full membership. From a talent perspective, this holds importance because in typical workplace behaviour when a new hire is onboarded, an employee changes teams, or a leader advances, they are treated as an outsider until they prove they belong.34 The need to prove belonging stems from the historical and patriarchial oppressive tendencies linked to slavery, and ultimately has no place in an organization.35 This does not mean that individual competition has fallen to the wayward, it uses different guiding factors, built into the concepts of belonging to thrive. Belonging, as it is predicted today, is as bound to the advancement of equity, diversity, and inclusion as it is to the continuation of occupational safety, and the survival of the industry.

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