It’s more than a seat at the table: Where diversity and inclusion efforts fall short

Go to any recruitment industry event and you’ll likely hear the following words uttered at least once by every professional in the room: diversity and inclusion.

This phrase gets tossed around so much that it has almost lost its meaning. But when we talk about D&I, we’re talking about people who feel marginalized and excluded on a daily basis. This is a deeply personal issue for many people — myself included.

It’s also often confused with the idea of belonging, which is something else entirely. As Gregory Lewis succinctly states, “diversity is like being invited to a party, inclusion is being asked to dance, and belonging is dancing like no one’s watching.” In other words, it’s not enough to simply have more seats at the table for marginalized folks if they don’t feel safe, or believe they need to act like someone they’re not in order to fit in.

I’m sure we can all agree that there is a need for a sense of belonging in the workplace. But let’s dig a little deeper into why this is so important, what makes people feel like they belong, and how recruitment professionals and companies as a whole can do better and be better.

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Why it’s important

Well, to put it quite simply: nobody likes to feel like a token. Like they might be more valued for the diversity boxes they check off than the skills and potential they bring to the table. But unfortunately, this is how many people from racialized and/or marginalized communities feel when working with recruiters or searching for jobs.

Diversity is a hot topic right now so naturally, candidates are skeptical about whether a company is actually invested in creating an inclusive workspace for their diverse talent or they’re just doing it for show to pad their diversity stats. And this right here is why belonging is so important. It takes the conversation one step further, moving from “We want you” to “We want you to feel good about working here.”

What makes people feel like they belong

So what does belonging look like? What does it feel like? While the concept might seem a little vague, there are actually very clear actions that have been linked to the fostering of a sense of belonging. For example, over half of the respondents to a recent LinkedIn survey of over 6,000 global professionals indicated that the following conditions make them feel like they belong: being recognized for their accomplishments, having opportunities to express their opinions freely and feeling that their contributions to team meetings are valued

While these three actions are a good starting point, I would also add employee resource groups to the list. For example, new Samsung employees are welcomed by ERG members when they join and this simple act has been statistically shown to make a difference between whether an employee stays for the long haul or leaves the organization within a year.

How to foster a sense of belonging

Even though those three ideas really just scratch the surface, they’re still a great entry point into this idea of belonging and now we can start turning those ideas into actions. For instance, this Forbes article suggests ideas like peer-to-peer recognition and organizing celebrations around noteworthy achievements to recognize employees.

Other simple ways to foster a culture of belonging: sharing stories and encouraging others to share their own, getting input from everyone in the room during meetings, and not interrupting colleagues when they do speak up.

You can even follow the women of the Obama White House’s lead and start amplifying your marginalized coworkers’ voices. It works like this: when a woman/person of colour/LGBTQ+ person makes a good point in a meeting, repeat it, and give credit to the originator. It’s a simple strategy but it can go a long way in helping people from these under-represented groups be seen and heard.

Continuing the dialogue

Let’s face it: if nailing diversity and inclusion was as easy as hiring more of X people, we wouldn’t still be talking about it. The reality is so much more complicated. Fortunately, what empowers me as a recruiter, is that I have the power to show potential candidates the receipts, and tell them more than a throwaway “focus on diversity” quote.

Furthermore, as a queer person, this is an issue that’s deeply personal to me. It’s an issue that’s always on my radar and one to which I’m holding my company accountable. So when I’m connecting with another marginalized person through the recruitment process, I could never gloss over something that has impacted my experience too. I could never lie to someone and say, “Yes, we value diversity” if, in my experience, it isn’t true.

What I can do is speak my truth and do everything I can to give them the whole picture. I can share my own story with them, as well as connect them with other people to help them understand what working at the company is really like.

So, if you were to take one thing away from this post, it’s this: D&I is so much more than bringing under-represented groups into your company. It’s about creating an environment where those people feel like they belong.

Hi, I’m Yiorgos! I’m a Toronto based recruitment manager.

My mission is to help attract, develop and retain great teams. I’m also passionate about bringing people together and finding opportunities that help make a difference at work.

I feel very lucky that every day, I get to listen to people’s stories and help set them up for success.

When I’m not busy interviewing, you can find me hanging out with my dog Ouzo, consuming endless amounts of podcasts and spending too much money on sourdough bread.

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