Discover more from Dispatches by Deepak Alur
Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging
Essential ingredients for high-performing teams
Vulnerability and psychological safety are necessary to build trust in a team. With them, it becomes easier to be your authentic self in your team. The mental burden of “can I have my say, can I be heard?” is lifted and you can focus more on learning and excelling at your role, delivering your best. While that's good, for a team to be great, you need a few more ingredients — diversity, inclusion, and belonging.
It has become common for companies to show diversity efforts focused on a few tangible identifiers — nationality, race, sexual orientation, and gender. There are many more — age, background, language, religion, education, upbringing, hobbies, appearance, and so on. Focusing on these, one can hire and build a tangibly diverse team. But diversity alone does not automatically make room for inclusion.
Inclusion is essential for us to feel part of the team. I like what Vernā Myers said about diversity: Diversity is being asked to the party, Inclusion is being asked to dance.
To foster inclusion in your team, you must not only have tangible diversity but also foster psychological safety. I might go so far as to say that psychological safety is an essential ingredient for inclusion. Unconscious biases trick us all the time. These biases are deep within our psyche, engrained over years of closed-minded conditioning, ignorance, and reinforcement. Becoming conscious of them is the first step. Therefore it is necessary for us to have a sustained effort to foster and nurture diversity and inclusion.
While all the diversity identifiers are important, one that feels more important to me and less talked about. It is a bit deeper and harder to quantify — diversity of thought.
Certain diversity of thought naturally presents itself when you have a tangibly diverse team. Having people who think differently on our team, opens up so many possibilities. With psychological safety as a backdrop, We as a diverse team can figure out how to get past the differences and yet meaningfully converge and make decisions. When it comes to diversity of thought, groupthink is a serious problem to be aware of, or you get carried away into suboptimal or bad decisions by shutting down alternative ideas and options. Diversity of thought is fragile in a team. It takes one bad move from a leader to shut it down and kill it. If you are not careful and observant, the diversity of thought will be the first casualty of groupthink, and without psychological safety, its demise is guaranteed. Without diversity of thought, what diversity do you have?
A word of caution - do not use evidence of the diversity of thought in your team as an excuse to avoid other forms of diversity. None of this works in isolation.
While it is great to achieve diversity and create an inclusive culture, that alone is not sufficient to create a high-performing team. The third ingredient is belonging. Diversity, to a large extent, is easy to quantify and measure. Inclusion and belonging are not easy to quantify or measure.
As human beings, we have always sought out to belong to a group, yes we get tribal like that. A sense of belonging is one of our most fundamental needs, a necessity for us to be committed, engaged, and thrive. Yet, most organizations stop short by focusing on diversity and inclusion and do nothing about belonging. That can be a costly mistake that goes unnoticed and unmeasured until it is too late — you start seeing performance issues and worse, a drop in engagement. Good team members quietly leave, starting slow but steady attrition. Plenty of research shows the value of belonging at work.
With the pandemic and the move to more remote work, the sense of belonging has drastically dropped. Could it even be one of the underlying reasons for the great resignation? Gone are the days we could chat at the water cooler, eat lunch together, walk for a coffee and chat, play foosball or ping pong, hang out after work - where we really got to know each other — casually exchanging stories, ideas and revealing ourself, perhaps even recognizing ourselves in each other. These interactions help us to build our social capital — benefits people can get because of who they know.
You rely on your social capital every time you’ve hit a dead end and someone pitched in to help you, even though they didn’t have to. It shows up when you need expertise and someone you’d only met once was able to offer it. You also help others build their social capital when you go above and beyond to support them with knowledge, mentoring, or kindness. And the reason you can turn to someone else and offer extra help is that you’ve built a base of familiarity and goodwill through these unplanned interactions that once filled our workdays.
— excerpted from HBR’s What a Year of WFH Has Done to Our Relationships at Work
This is hard to replicate in remote work teams, across video conferences and time zones. So we have to evolve and try different things to create that sense of belonging even without being able to meet and hang out with each other in real life. Some are highlighting what they call belonging-tax:
For individuals, the belonging tax is the price they pay for the convenience, flexibility, and work-life balance gained from remote or hybrid work. For organizations, the belonging tax is less easily shrugged off. It means a drop in the experience of inclusion and belonging felt by hybrid or remote workers now that their work arrangement is no longer shared by the broader workforce.
— excerpted from A new "belonging tax" is reshaping the employee experience by Adam Wood at BetterUp
It is every leader's job to ensure that the team raises itself to a level of awareness that allows everyone in the team to intrinsically care and nurture diversity, inclusion, psychological safety, and belonging. Don’t settle for tangible diversity. Focus on the intangibles — psychological safety, inclusion, and belonging — these are the invisible forces to make a diverse team great.
Get it right, and your team’s potential and performance multiply severalfold.
Social Pain is real
If you think the effect of social inclusion and social pain is imaginary, please watch this fascinating short presentation on exclusion. No, offering pain medicine is not the solution.
The cost of un-belonging is real
There is a huge downside to not investing in workplace belonging. Check out this research from BetterUp.