There’s a lot of buzz these days around the concepts of Inclusion and Belonging. We know they are important drivers of employee engagement and retention. We all want to experience inclusion and belonging – and to help create that same experience for colleagues and team members around us. But how to make that happen can sometimes feel mysterious.
I had the opportunity to speak with Bain & Company’s Julie Coffman and Nishma Gosrani. Julie is Bain’s Chief Diversity Officer and the leader of their Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion practice. Nishma is a partner in Bain’s Financial Services practice whose work focuses on human capital transformation, and the future of work and culture.
Both Julie and Nishma bring a wealth of data-backed research and their own personal experience to the table in this rich conversation around what truly drives hte experience of Inclusion and Belongign at work and what actions any of us can take as leaders or just citizens in order to amplify those experiences for ourselves and those around us.
You can listen to the full interview using the audio player and links above.
Here are some of the highlights of our conversation.
We struggle to define what makes us feel included.
“One of the things that we found most interesting…in this research,” Julie explained “… where we interviewed over 9,000 people across seven countries, multiple industries, and asked ‘Can you describe what it feels like when you are included?
And it was amazing how similarly people could describe the feeling of being included…[things like] ‘I feel heard, I feel recognized and rewarded and valued, and I feel like I belong in my organization.’
If you then ask them, what does it take to drive that feeling of being included? That’s where the variance, as you just well said, really showed up and that folks picked vastly different things. And what we found was that your own demographic identity…had a different bespoke thumbprint on what mattered to you.
For some folks, it was a little bit more about in the moment leadership behaviors and how people either gave transparent feedback or were able to talk them through a tricky situation. Other groups found more importance in some of the rituals and norms of the organization and what was expected and what was done, or the systems and processes that were in place.”
In other words, it’s hard for leaders to create consistently inclusive environments when each of us may be looking for something different to give us that experience of being included!
But what are some of the more consistent drivers of an inclusive experience?
There is an imperative that leaders get to know team members and learn what drives their individual experiences of inclusion. But are there some drivers that show up fairly consistently across groups?
Indeed there are, and Julie and Nisham shared the top 3:
- “Number one by far…was transparent feedback and growth opportunities. So actually being given constructive, real feedback in a moment where you can inflect your own trajectory and…there’s an opportunity to develop.”
- “Being able to find a really good connection at work, having a good friend or a mentor or a sponsor… having some connectivity with somebody at work that got to know you as a person.”
- “Knowing that [a focus on inclusion and belonging] was on the commitment level of the senior team, that this was a strong ambition to drive inclusion, to drive diversity, to continue to help the organization progress against some stated ambitions and being clear and signaling commitment to those outcomes…”
How can we be part of the solution if we’re not in a senior leadership role?
Here are some great, accessible-to-everyone strategies Julie and Nishma had to offer:
- Look at your network, your circles, your peer group – and challenge yourself to expand it to those who may come from backgrounds different than yours
- Be curious – instead of living in fear over saying the “wrong thing,” ask open questions of others and truly just listen
- Make space for mistakes – yours and other people’s as well. This is uncharted territory for many of us. So give yourself and your colleagues some grace (as long as you believe intentions are good!)