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Belonging Podcast
8 Min Read

Engagement As A Proxy For Inclusion and Belonging (Podcast)

David Hassell, Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of 15Five

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion has been changing the business landscape for some time, and have especially picked up speed within the last year or so with renewed commitment from HR and other business leaders to build diverse workforces and leadership teams. While we still have far to go, I’m inspired by the momentum here, and the rising movement to expand the conversation beyond DEI to also discuss the element of Belonging.

In a special live recording of the HR Superstars podcast at the recent HR Superstar Summit, I interviewed my colleague Santiago Jaramillo and Power To Fly CEO, Milena Berry, which yielded an in-depth conversation around Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging. 

What follows is a condensed and lightly edited transcript of the show. Enjoy! 

Milena: We can do all the great work of attracting people into the funnel, but they’re not necessarily proceeding through the process and through the funnel the right way. Worst of all is they’d find a job, dream job, amazing company, all that stuff, and then they’ll figure out that they don’t belong. So, really in the last three years, a lot of the work that we’re doing is becoming more 360 with how we look at things and starting the cycle from, “All right. You have these talent acquisition goals, but what is happening on the belonging sphere? Let’s talk about this first.”

David: What are a couple of the things you’ve clued into about when you said ‘they’d find out they don’t belong’? Are there specific, very common attributes about a culture that would have someone not feel they belong?

Milena: I mean, microaggressions. I think that is a very good example, right? People don’t even know when they say things that are microaggressions in most cases. This month, obviously, we’re really talking about Asian Americans, and now, you’re going to your Asian American colleague and expecting them to teach you everything. Things like that can become really detrimental to how people feel at work on a day-to-day basis, and there’s a lot that we can do just building out the culture of belonging and a recognition that we’re all dealing with whatever we’re dealing with.

David: I’m excited to hear the rest of your talk and to go deeper in these topics. Not to steal all of that right now, I have a question for Santi. Having built Emplify over the last number of years and working with companies to understand are people engaged there, and I would imagine belonging plays a factor in that… how have you seen companies utilize the Emplify platform to uncover some of the issues they need to work around?

Santi: That’s a great question, and I thank you, Milena. I love the expanding horizon and the 360 view of this topic because… I read an article in Harvard Business Review, around this. They made a metaphor of inclusion and belonging and diversity and compared all those necessary components of an effective and humane employee experience. Diversity is being invited to the dance, and inclusion and belonging are being invited to actually dance when you’re there. And boy, does it not feel good to be invited to a party where no one wants to dance with you. Certainly for me, as a Colombian American that immigrated here to the US, I deeply resonate with that.

It’s not only the numbers of the diverse candidates, the top of the funnel, but also the middle or the bottom of the funnel, which is to say, ”Are we creating an inclusive environment once we attract and hire diverse candidates that make our organizations and our teams stronger and better? Do we welcome them? Do we hear their voice? Do we invite them in and continue to invite them into the conversation?” 

That was one of the focus areas at Emplify. If you’re not familiar with Emplify, we’re now extremely proud to be part of the 15Five Family, and Emplify, now, is the engagement product pillar of 15Five. At Emplify, we would measure employee engagement in a really actionable way and then be able to then consult with HR leaders and managers to actually coach them on the data on how to improve engagement.

Engagement is actually a proxy for inclusion and belonging. We would often see customers that would set up employee segments, data attributes, in their data that they would give to Emplify that would include demographic information, whether it’s age, ethnicity, or various other attributes of diversity. They would then slice the data by how they are doing with Hispanic team members, for example.

Many times we’d see that a company would do a great job of improving diversity from a numbers perspective, and then there’d be rampant disengagement inside of that one segment and attribute.

To have actual data that employees feel safe, because it’s anonymous and confidential, to actually have an honest answer about how included they feel and what their current sense of belonging is, and then, for HR to be able to look at that data and understand where the inequities are happening, where they’re doing a great job of building a diverse team, where they’re falling short in terms of creating inclusive and belonging environments, and being able to know where the opportunity to improve that is and what to do about it, provides clarity to strategically diagnose an issue and get after it.

Certainly, there would be times where some of the issues would be in a particular area of the business, which is really curious. Why is there an inclusion and belonging problem in the marketing organization and not at all in the sales organization with similar levels of diversity? Many times we’d realize that it would be something that a manager, unintentionally many times, was doing and creating an unwelcome and non-inclusive environment for those team members. 

So, I’m curious to actually ask you Milena, from that perspective. To be sure top-down policy around DEIB matters, but also at the local level, at the manager level, that’s often where the employee is receiving a lot of their employee experience, right? With their peers and with that direct relationship with their manager. So, I’m curious what you’ve seen in terms of that balance of top-down policy, but also the importance of that local level of the manager relationship.

Milena: I once was meeting with a large technology company, and their chief of staff shared the story of a huge top-down initiative about DEIB, so much so that the CEO was given a mandate to improve the metrics and KPIs  in whatever fashion they had agreed on, and they tied his executive bonus, to meeting those metrics. The story doesn’t end well here, because that executive did not pass that incentive down the ranks. He said, “This is very important,” but the KPIs didn’t trickle down the chain, and that’s where things disconnected.

Apparently, the story is that the board said, “If you don’t meet those metrics, the bonus that we were going to give you is going to go to charities promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion.” Which I thought was a really interesting strategy to get executive buy-in, and if the results aren’t met, then to support the industry and the movement. That would be one of my recommendations. Whenever you’re initiating any top-down approaches, make sure that the success metrics are propagated and actually tied to people’s compensation.

You also need money allocated to it. That’s the other piece I’ll say. I don’t want to tell you how many chief diversity officers I’ve met with very tight budgets. They have to go and ask the businesses for budgets, and I think that to my eye is often quite performative, right? You’ve hired this amazing chief diversity officer, but if you don’t give them money so what? You’ve just hired them so you can say you have one of a certain demographic? That’s not okay; you have to give budgets to the chief diversity officers. 

What happens when it’s only a bottom-up approach is that when you don’t have the budgets to execute any of these programs, a lot of it gets stifled in the works. Lots of activities happening, but not a lot of results. 

Visit our podcast page to access interviews with other outstanding guests, such as the HR leaders at Twitter, Eventbrite, and Siemens.

Photo by Naassom Azevedo on Unsplash