Cultivating Belonging Is the Ultimate Goal of DEI
- How do humans bond with each other?
- Why is social exclusion so painful?
One of the hottest topics in leadership conferences is DEI (Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion). State and federal laws require that companies and organizations make their workforces and membership closely reflect the population in terms of race, gender, and other factors.
Increasing evidence shows that many DEI efforts are counterproductive. DEI initiatives often cause resentment and dissatisfaction because they heighten rather than lessen friction among different groups.
Human beings have always needed to belong to groups. In prehistory, survival and safety depended on being part of a tribe. Today, we also voluntarily align ourselves with and actively support numerous groups. Political parties, religions, clubs, schools, sports team fandom, and social status are all part of this need to belong.
Membership in groups helps us work together, avoid stress, and find support from others. Simply ensuring that a team or workforce is diverse, equal, and inclusive means only some team members feel they genuinely belong to the group.
The Ins and Outs of Belonging
Scientific research has shown that people belonging to a specific group like in-group members more than out-group members. In a recent study, avid soccer fans were asked to squeeze a hand grip to give a monetary award to themselves, fellow fans, and non-fans. The effort used determined the amount of the reward. The results showed significantly larger reward intentions for self and fellow fans than non-fans.
Among corporate employees or organization members, each person might belong to any number of groups based on racial, gender, political, or religious identifications. Establishing a healthy identity as a member of the company’s team or organization is a determining factor in creating a sense of belonging. As the soccer fan study indicates, a feeling of belonging to the group will result in more effort exerted to benefit that group.
Team Building Enhances Individual Belonging
In a diverse group environment, identifying with the group is essential to creating a team that works effectively toward common goals. Simply implementing a DEI policy cannot lead to a sense of belonging. Leadership should encourage team unity to help create an in-group that encompasses the entire organization.
A very effective way to bring people together is to find shared commonalities. Very often, what truly bonds your team members is more than shared goals.
One study found that people with the same first name were three times more likely to help each other. Another study found that people were three times more generous toward those who shared their first names. These minimal commonalities create a sense of belonging at the unconscious level. They serve as a strong glue that binds your team members together.
Neuroscience Research Offers Insights into Belonging
The end goal of DEI should include enhancing individual feelings of belonging within a team, business, or organization. An understanding of group dynamics is essential to making informed leadership decisions.
Dr. Terry Wu is an experienced Neuroscientist who has studied human behavior for nearly four decades. Through speaking and consulting, he helps corporate and organization leaders improve group cohesion and productivity. Few speakers make Neuroscience as fun and entertaining as he does. He has built a reputation for translating science into relatable and actionable insights for leaders to implement.