Diverse representation in organizations becomes narrower the further you go up the ladder – and this is not necessarily because of lack of opportunity.
The majority of decision-makers in organizations are white men over 45. Recent research also shows that maternity and motherhood cannot be attributed entirely to women’s lack of progress.
Many women get to a certain level in the organization and then self-select out. Why? Because the general approach to inclusion in organizations is to give people the opportunity to progress with the unspoken proviso that they must then ‘include’ themselves.
For example, female senior leaders are often lonely in their positions and find the culture in the leadership teams intolerable. They may feel unheard and insignificant. And so the groupthink associated with the homogeny of leadership teams continues.
We talk about bottom-up and top-down initiatives, ignoring the fact that the critical challenge may be the middle.
Engagement, diversity, and culture surveys don’t ask the really difficult questions, the ones which would expose where toxicity lies, and give a view of what is really happening on the ground.
A belonging culture combines a focus on diversity, inclusion, engagement, psychological safety, and wellbeing. A belonging audit combines the power of qualitative data regarding the lived experience of employees to understand who in the organization has a sense of belonging and, more critically, why some people don’t.
This gives insights upon which organizations can then build a truly transformational plan.
This process may uncover some unexpected issues or ‘elephants in the room’ that are unpalatable for some organizations, so before you begin it is important to ensure that the senior leadership team is prepared to understand and address any challenging insights that are present.
If there is no appetite for addressing anything that arises, then conducting the audit and not acting on the information could disengage those who are marginalized even further.
Engage the participants
Consider asking your leadership sponsor to put his name to the launch message if you think it will increase engagement. As with any survey, it is important to prepare the audience for the survey by communicating positive messages as to its purpose.
Crafting a message that signals the positive goal of wanting to understand the extent to which people feel like they belong in the organization, the anonymity of the survey, and the intention of wanting to use the results to improve the employee experience for ALL employees will likely increase engagement across all groups.
There is growing D,E&I engagement survey fatigue in organizations where they have found there to be few positive changes as a result.
This message signals an inclusive, no-jargon, personal approach, which should help to drive engagement with the initiative – if only, at this early stage, out of curiosity.
Create the survey
If you wish to create a bespoke questionnaire, most survey platforms have lots of guidance for dos and don’ts when doing so, considering things such as survey length, formulating questions, response scales, and open answer questions. In larger organizations, you may want to outsource delivery and analysis of the survey.
It is critical that a belonging survey feels different. It shouldn’t have all the usual questions included in engagement or D&I surveys, that will deliver the same responses without providing insight into the real issues and opportunities.
By all means, use some of the questions from survey banks, but add in some questions that feel different.
Questions that will make people sit up and understand that this time you mean business. For example:
- Being an employee here does not require me to relinquish my values or principles
- I am often treated in a way that makes me feel ashamed, inferior, unimportant or excluded?
- I often witness behaviors or actions which appear to make somebody feel ashamed, inferior, unimportant or excluded?
- If I see someone being treated in a way I find unacceptable from a respect or moral perspective, I always feel comfortable about ‘calling it out’
- In work I am happy more often than I experience negative emotion
- I sometimes feel scared, sad, insecure or alone here
Engagement with the process has to ensure that the respondent feels in control so you should make it clear that there is no obligation to answer any of the questions. Where respondents don’t answer this in itself is useful information when it comes to the analysis.
Analyze the data
Using employee demographic data you collect (which should of course comply with local data legislation) you can cut the survey data to identify exactly where the belonging hotspots and coldspots are.
Survey platforms provide extensive guidance on how to cut data and do different analyses if you are not working with a dedicated data analyst.
Be curious and look for ways of cutting the data to provide insights such as:
- Which functions/areas of the organization have the strongest and weakest sense of belonging?
- Which demographic qualities experience the strongest and weakest sense of belonging?
- Which demographic intersections experience the strongest and weakest sense of belonging?
- What is the impact on those who feel that they don’t belong?
- Is there a correlation between wellbeing, health, happiness and optimism responses and a sense of belonging?
- Where is there greater confidence to speak up in defense of others who are marginalized
- How is the wellbeing and happiness in these areas?
- What are the key themes of the verbatim responses?
Get creative, dig deep, keep asking questions about what the data is telling you – and when you think you have the answer, dig deeper again.
The more curious you are, the better you will understand the lived experience of your employees and can tell emotionally engaging stories to get buy-in for the belonging, diversity and inclusion plan you build.
From these insights, you can target investment exactly where it is needed.
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