Despite the increased emphasis placed on diversity and inclusion (D&I) within both the business community and the media, a prevailing idea still exists that, once an organization has brought on a diverse group of employees, it can call itself inclusive. Of course, diverse recruitment and representation are critical steps when establishing an inclusive business, but they are not the only requirements. Inclusive businesses see past the differences and focus on creating a true sense of belonging.

Everyone Wants to Belong

In the early 1940s, humanist psychologist Abraham Maslow published his paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” in Psychological Review, setting out what he believed to be the hierarchy of human needs. At the third rung of the hierarchy is love and belonging.

However, businesses often fail to recognize that placing an emphasis on single initiatives, such as attracting and recruiting a diverse group of individuals, will not lead to inclusion and an environment with a sense of belonging. Without a culture of belonging, both the employees and the business will be unable to reap the benefits of diversity.

How can organizations go further than the traditional depictions of diversity and move toward inclusion for all?

Demonstrate the Value Each Person Brings

Valuing employees not only includes recognizing the importance of seeking and listening to feedback but also taking action on it. By considering the ways employees provide feedback and enabling them to raise issues when they arise, companies can both address problems before they escalate and help employees feel valued.

Organizations also help employees feel valued by creating opportunities for employees to provide feedback on the topics they want to provide feedback on (rather than responding to prescribed questions), at points in time when they want to provide it (rather than responding to an annual survey), using a range of mediums that fit different styles of communication.

It is not only important for organizations to LUV (listen and understand views) employees; it’s also important that they act upon their feedback. When employees know that their views are important and that they can influence and shape the organization, it helps create a sense of belonging.

Similarly, there are many talented individuals who fall under the radar when it comes to training and mentoring. Learning and development (L&D) can take many forms. It’s not about developing exclusive D&I programs that, often, fail to address systemic bias and run the risk of alienating the majority of employees or responding to the ones who shout the loudest. Inclusive organizations encourage all employees to develop an unquenchable thirst not only for learning technical skills but also for creating meaningful relationships with colleagues. Learning about differences and understanding how each person adds value creates opportunities for all to shine.

Celebrate Together

Equality, diversity and inclusion networks are an effective way for businesses to demonstrate that they value their employees. Coming together and sharing experiences can be powerful. There are, however, several considerations to take into account when setting up such networks. Firstly, be clear on the purpose of the group. These meetings are not moaning sessions but an opportunity for individuals to share their experiences and support each other and a way to educate others and to influence the organization, particularly when senior leaders attend and champion the networks.

It’s also important to recognize that we are all intersectional. We rarely align with a single trait, be it gender, race, disability, religion or other characteristic. Therefore, many people may have an affinity to one or more network groups. The sharing of experiences across networks, to make sure as many opinions are heard as possible, is beneficial.

Widely sharing details of the network’s activities within the organization and encouraging broad support and participation helps to avoid the creation of “exclusive inclusion.” In addition, while annual events aligning with particular months or days are popular, being an ambassador and ally should occur year-round.

Integrate Inclusion Across the Business

To develop a culture of belonging, it’s critical for inclusion to be at the heart of everything, spanning the breadth of the organization and including both internal and external activities: every operating practice, every business strategy, every customer engagement, every company policy and every employee experience. Diversity and inclusion is not a stand-alone activity or something that occurs annually when gender pay reporting comes around. Employees quickly become disillusioned with their employer’s inclusion strategy if it appears to rest on one initiative that is quickly forgotten when the spotlight moves on. A more sustainable approach is to weave inclusion into the fabric of the organization and for everyone to recognize his or her colleagues’ roles and contributions. Inclusion is not the role of one but the coming together of many.

The journey toward this destination can feel daunting, particularly as it often requires the examination of deep-rooted traditions as well as a shift in mindset and behavior that, in many ways, can be far more challenging than writing a policy. However, when organizations assess their culture, when they are honest and transparent with their findings, and when they work collectively with their people to create tangible yet holistic actions, they can successfully transform into the destination of choice for talented employees who seek an inclusive environment.