HR Indaba Network reveals that belonging is the next step in diversity and inclusion

HR professionals are seeing beyond the jargon, ensuring that a sense of belonging is a reality in their organisations.

The next step in the diversity and inclusion journey is belonging, said the HR experts on the Belonging and Inclusion – How to Tell Buzzwords Apart from Genuine Change panel at the 2020 HR Indaba Network.

Sharon Taylor (pictured), chief people and culture officer at Standard Bank said that fundamental to addressing the question of inclusion is asking, are people drawn to who you are and what you stand for as an organisation? Do they feel a deep connection with your purpose and values and does that resonate with who they are and what’s important to them?

She contends that if a company is not able to achieve alignment in that area, you end up with people feeling as though they have to leave their true selves at the door when they arrive at work. “But if you get it right, I think you can really unlock something very special in your people,” she said.

Fortune Gamanya, associate director Deloitte, said belonging came out as a top trend in their 2020 human capital trends report. She asserted that before people could feel a sense of belonging, they first needed to feel a sense of psychological safety, which is based on “the science of inclusion”. This comprises feeling a sense of fairness and respect in addition to feeling valued, having a sense of belonging and that they can bring their whole self to work; that the environment is safe, open and can empower them and allow them to grow.

Walking the talk
Director of human resources at JSE Donald Khumalo pointed to the recently launched “One JSE” initiative as an example of on-the-ground action. The drive is predicated on the concept that diversity plus inclusion equals belonging (D+I=B).

“In the key elements of race, gender and related areas we believe that we’ve done exceptionally well,” said Donald. “Similarly, we have created an interesting environment where colleagues from diverse backgrounds can coexist and work together to deliver JSE objectives. The next step is belonging, which looks like a feeling of being fully accepted, knowing that as an employee I matter and that my value is recognised, and a sense that am I being cared for.”

Sharon explained that three years ago Standard Bank introduced a powerful employee insights platform. The tool gives teams as well as leaders immediate access to the results and insights. These insights and actionable data can be assimilated into people strategies at all levels of the business.

“I’ve learned that what gets measured gets done and most organisations focus predominantly on tracking financial results,” she said. “We have included employee engagement as a metric. It gets tracked on an annual basis and internally it gets reported to the board and the leadership, and externally it goes into our annual report to shareholders.”

The responsibility of leaders
All experts agreed that the role of leadership is key. Donald said, “On a practical level, this means deliberately choosing a leadership style that is people centred and oriented around the principles of servant leadership. It is about leading from the heart with empathy and care, not from a spreadsheet, which looks like real conversations and investing time in an understanding people’s realities.”

Fortune said that the idea of inclusive leadership is complex: “It is hard work, it requires commitment and requires you to really stick with it.”

According to Fortune, the traits required to succeed include commitment, because it enables leaders to stay the course. She added that, “You have to be empathetic and caring, which is not something that conventional management taught most of us. Another trait is courage, because when leading differently you may fear people taking advantage of you.

“The next one is collaboration, because multiple perspectives certainly are much better than just a single perspective.” She outlined the importance of curiosity as an important trait, because you need it to seek multiple perspectives.

Cognisance plays an important role in being aware of your own biases and she clarifies that, “I always say that exclusion is not something that we do intentionally. So, if you’re not consciously including someone, you are then subconsciously excluding them. Finally, cultural intelligence is important, especially when your operations span various countries or regions,” she explained.

Sharon noted a shift she had observed:

“Organisations historically placed a lot of emphasis on what I would call the economic contract, but I think that’s not enough anymore. Employees today are discerning; they want to be able to contribute to something greater.”

The panellists agreed that companies must answer the tough question of whether they have created an environment where people can bring their authentic, true selves to work and be valued for that.