Is Belonging the New Diversity?

Diversity at the top clearly drives value. A McKinsey study of 180 global publicly traded companies, for instance, found that "for companies ranking in the top quartile of executive-board diversity, ROEs were 53% higher, on average, than they were for those in the bottom quartile. At the same time, EBIT margins at the most diverse companies were 14% higher, on average, than those of the least diverse companies."

But diversity at the top is not enough. Diversity is critical at all levels of an organization to drive innovation and a sense of inclusion. The customers and markets we serve have become increasingly diverse, and in order to meet their needs, organizations must continuously adapt.

But let's take a step back and define what we mean by diversity. Diversity in the workplace is not some feel-good, politically correct goal. It opens doors, facilitates communication and broadens both perspective and thought. And, most important for any resistant naysayers, it stimulates solid financial results.

Diversity is complicated because its definition is, well, diverse. It encompasses all those differences that make us unique. This is not only race, color, ethnicity and gender, but also language, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, socio-economic status, age and physical and mental ability. And we cannot stop there. We also have to consider diversity of thought, family status, cultural background, political beliefs and so on. When we think of humans, the possibility for diversity is as endless as each of us is unique.

Rather than trying to figure out what diversity means, let’s think about it from a different perspective: acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique and being willing to recognize and value these individual differences.


When we consider the concepts of acceptance and respect, we start to shift our mindset. Diversity isn't simply having representation across multiple aspects of humanity, rather it is about how we react to these differences and how we feel about them.

Diversity is an intellectual concept. For that matter, so is inclusion. We can think of diversity as the mix, blend or variety of people in our workplace. Inclusion is how well all these different types of people work together. The challenge is that we cannot even stop here. The deeper question is whether we create a work environment where each individual feels fully accepted. This moves us toward the concept of belonging, which is not an intellectual concept at all.

Belonging not only means being accepted; it also means being fully involved and invested in the organization's purpose and its mission. Belonging fosters participation, buy-in, engagement and trust. It also means being invited to participate and being made to feel welcome and valued. A recent Wharton blog shares the analogy of being invited to a party to bring this point home. The writer shares that being invited to the dance is good, but it is not enough. What really matters is being asked to dance.

How well is your organization doing with creating a sense of belonging across all employees? Here are some questions you might want to ask in leadership meetings, in surveys or at focus groups. These are also great discussion topics in your affinity meetings.
  • Do employees who come from unrepresented groups celebrate and share their differences (whether they be racial, cultural, ethnic, gender, sexual preference or other differences) or do they try to conceal them?

  • Do leaders respect cultural needs or try to suggest to employees that they need to try harder to fit in?

  • Are employees welcome to express their differences in a positive and meaningful way?

  • Do leaders open up and discuss their own personal differences?

  • Are there unwritten rules around power or prestige at your organization (for example, where you went to school or what kind of degree you have)?

  • Do engagement and other surveys ask employees questions about their sense of belonging?

  • Are cross-functional, diverse teams frequently utilized to solve problems?

  • Are offices designed to encourage social interaction?

  • Are remote teams given special attention so they feel included in company events and activities?
There is ample data on the power and impact diversity has on organizational success. If organizations wish to benefit from the value diversity provides, they must continue to evolve and develop this concept and the purposeful efforts they make.