What does belonging feel like?
As people start to have more conversations on the subject of diversity and inclusion, there’s the realisation that employees are having very different experiences in the workplace. A lot of the time it relates to how much they feel accepted, or how much of their natural self they feel they can actually show.
The British culture is traditionally very polite, and in the more formal corporate world there are nuances that not everyone understands. It can make people feel left out and they can start to feel under pressure to act differently from how they normally would, just to fit in.
This can have negative impacts both on the individuals as well as the company. It negates the benefits that diversity brings to a company because people don’t feel comfortable speaking up and sharing their point of view. And for the individuals it can be stressful – almost like having to wear a mask at work, always thinking about what they’re saying or doing and wondering if it’ll be acceptable or will be something that that they’ll be teased about or rebuked for.
Here are a few examples of instances that could impact a person’s feeling of belonging.
In British corporate culture, when managers make suggestions it’s not really something to consider, it’s a directive to implement what’s being suggested. Somebody that has grown up outside of the UK may have a different and more direct way of communicating. If they’re told to consider something, they may well consider it, but not implement it if it doesn’t make sense to them.
This can then cause friction in the workplace where managers think employees are not open to feedback or aren’t willing to take direction. Whereas the individual may perceive they’ve done exactly as told and used their own initiative.
If companies want to be successful in their D&I efforts, they need to recognise that not everyone communicates in the same way or has the same understanding of what is being implied. Diversity and inclusion is about giving everyone a voice, especially when it’s different. Recognising those differences and accepting that it’s okay for them to communicate in a way that feels most natural to them will help them to feel that they can belong in the organisation without having to change to fit in.
The UK has a strong pub culture where it’s often the norm for work colleagues meet up for a pint or glass of wine after work. It’s a great way to get to know colleagues better in a more relaxed environment, but the downside is that it makes the assumption that everyone enjoys a drink. Often if people chose to have a non-alcoholic beverage or decline an offer of a second or third drink, they’ll be teased. It may not even be done with the intention of being mean, but what is being communicated is that if you want to belong, you need to be part of the drinking party.
People may respond in different ways. They may avoid going to the pub altogether which makes them feel like even more of an outcast. Or they may find themselves putting their personal values aside and drinking for the sake of fitting in.
A big part of diversity and inclusion is respecting a person’s individual values and creating an environment where they feel comfortable saying no if there’s something, they don’t want to participate in. This will give employees the confidence to express themselves without recriminations.
Traditionally formal corporate attire is very polished and neat with not a hair out of place. But cultures are changing and becoming more relaxed, especially with so many people working from home or on flexible working arrangements. Still, people with curly hair, for example, or who like to dress in bright colours to match their vibrant personality, could be made to feel out of place.
If someone with curly hair has it straightened and the comments from co-workers is that she looks more professional, it takes away from the intended compliment, because it’s implying that curly hair makes her look unprofessional. Companies that want to promote diversity and inclusion need to recognise that this means giving people the freedom to dress how they feel comfortable and wear their hair naturally without having to conform to preconceived ideas of what’s professional looking.
Diversity and inclusion are complex and no company is going to get it right straight away. But the important thing is to start having conversations, empower people and give them a voice, then listen to what they have to say. Companies stand to benefit a great deal when there are broader perspectives, and everyone is valued for their individual contribution.
If you want assistance with diversity and inclusion within your business then please reach out to Eloise at firstname.lastname@example.org for an informal conversation or Dana James-Edward our diversity, equality and inclusion partner on email@example.com
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