How to Create a Culture of Belonging at Work

Creating a culture of inclusivity and belonging at your organization can inspire employees to be more productive and produce higher quality work.

Written by
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Kris Kopac
Clinically reviewed by
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    The greatest challenges facing employers and leaders have changed continually and drastically over the past few years. But the number one reason employees leave organizations hasn't changed: a toxic work environment

    Employees want to work at a place that values their skills, offers opportunities for advancement, and treats people with care and respect. Studies have shown that diverse and positive work environments also inspire current employees to be more productive and produce higher quality work.

    So, how can your team create a culture of belonging that benefits both the business and your employees? We pulled together a few ideas.

    Prioritize diverse hiring and equitable compensation

    Hiring and nurturing diverse talent is not only the right thing to do, it also objectively improves business outcomes—such as higher employee engagement and higher customer willingness to buy.

    Source a diverse talent pipeline that pulls from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. There are many different ways to approach this, including:

    • Using inclusive language in job postings
    • Building relationships with organizations with underrepresented people (such as LGBTQ organizations or historically Black colleges)
    • Focusing less on "culture fit" and more on values fit
    • Finding talent you can develop from different industries, instead of people who have already been in a similar role
    • Removing minimum educational requirements (such as Bachelor's degrees) when reasonable and applicable

    Your People team can also gather internal compensation data and benchmark it to create standard salary ranges. Removing the guesswork ensures that current employees are being equitably paid, and prospective hires are receiving equitable offers.

    Evaluating compensation data helps your company close pay gap disparities. With other incentives such as bonuses and public recognition for talented team members, your company will be in a better place to help employees across the board feel welcome and valued.

    Create community spaces for underrepresented groups

    Many members of marginalized groups feel alienated in traditional work settings. This is especially true when they make up a very small minority of the company's workforce.

    One way to address this is by facilitating a space where different affinity groups in your company can congregate and connect with each other. This allows them to speak candidly with each other about any challenges they face, and find camaraderie with people who are in the same boat.

    In order to facilitate these groups, employers should fairly compensate any team members who are involved in the labor of organizing them. Whether that's hiring a dedicated DEI programs manager or offering bonuses or additional salary to dedicated organizers likely depends on your company's size and structure.

    Regardless of how you decide to approach it, facilitating community is an important first step to creating a welcoming and inclusive work environment.

    Ensure meetings give everyone an opportunity to speak

    Multiple different studies have shown that men are more likely to dominate the discourse in meetings. While this likely isn't deliberate or conscious, it does lead to a less welcoming work environment and stifles valuable contributions from different groups of people.

    Beyond gender roles, any employees who are shy or less likely to speak up may appreciate more opportunities to contribute. Your company can train managers to identify this problem and offer all employees a more equitable space to share their thoughts and contribute to the team's success.

    For example, team leads or the designated person running a meeting can use a "round-robin" approach, where everyone is given a few minutes to contribute their thoughts. You may find surprising and insightful contributions that people wouldn't have voiced otherwise. 

    This is especially helpful during remote meetings, where it's easy for people to talk over each other or shy away from participating. For meetings that require more monologuing, like a presentation, open the floor to other team members to contribute their opinions afterward before assuming they have nothing to say.

    Overall, teammates who usually take less airspace will appreciate the opportunity to be heard, and your business' overall engagement and morale will improve in the process.

    Share the burden of office "housework"

    Women—especially women of color—are more frequently asked or expected to perform office "housework". This includes tasks like taking notes, grabbing coffee, scheduling meetings, planning office celebrations, and cleaning up common areas.

    Your company's management can prevent this issue in-office in a few different ways:

    • Hire a designated office manager. This solution relieves the burden of employees performing tasks outside of their duties due to implicit social pressure or bias. It also sends a signal that work that keeps an office running is important and worth compensating.
    • Rotate office housework. Smaller offices without a full-time office manager would still benefit from designating tasks in a more equitable way. And even an office manager can't take notes in every meeting. Encourage managers to rotate team responsibilities for tasks like taking notes, so it doesn't fall disproportionately on the same people time and again.
    • Train managers. Team leads should learn to recognize this behavior in themselves and within their own teams. Leading by example will make sure that managers don't enable other people in the company to exploit office housework tasks and emotional labor.

    For teams who work remotely, office housework often falls into the categories of taking notes, scheduling meetings, and other emotional labor, like planning virtual get-togethers. Rotating office housework and training managers to recognize these patterns applies for distributed workforces, just as it does for companies where employees work on location.

    Taking these steps will bring relief to members of your team who already feel overworked and underappreciated. Best of all, they'll know that they are valued and welcome just as much as anyone else.

    Create a flexible environment for parents

    In the past, workplaces were created to fit a traditional archetype: one parent works while the other stays at home. 

    That structure has long since changed. A study conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2020 found that nearly 60% of households with children had both parents employed. In the current economy, even dual-income families may struggle to make ends meet. Rigid or unpredictable work schedules leave working parents in a bind.

    To retain top talent and create an inclusive workspace, designate an equal amount of paid time off for parental leave, regardless of the parent's gender. This helps people in dual income households (or even single income households) rotate childcare duties and accommodate significant life transitions. 

    Beyond paid parental leave, employers can also offer flexible schedules that allow for childcare pickups, illness, and other unexpected events. This lifts all boats in the company, helps your employees feel valued, and increases the likelihood that employees will remain loyal to the company and continue to contribute their best work.

    The long-term benefits of belonging

    Employees who feel welcome and valued in their workplace are more likely to stay with the company longer, report feeling engaged, and produce better results.

    While not all of these changes will happen overnight, investing in a culture of belonging is a surefire way to invest in the wellbeing of your company—and employees—for years to come.

    Read this blog next to learn more about how to create inclusive workplaces, and where to start.

    About the Author
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    Kris Kopac

    Kris is a writer and marketer based in Chicago. Kris specializes in subjects around HR, recruiting, and employee happiness.

    About the clinical reviewer
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