Belonging – The Goal of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
- Is DEI alone sufficient to create a unified team?
- How can neuroscience help you create a sense of belonging?
One of the hottest topics in leadership and human resource 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.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts sometimes start out with good intentions, but end up being counterproductive. DEI initiatives can lead to resentment and dissatisfaction among employees because various groups are pitted against each other.
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 a wide range of 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, however, does not mean that all team members feel that they truly belong to the group.
The Ins and Outs of Belonging
A multitude of scientific studies has shown that people belonging to a specific group are more likely to be supportive of in-group members than of 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, as predicted by the researchers, showed significantly larger reward intentions for self and fellow fans than for 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 strong identity as a member of the company’s team or organization is an important factor in creating a sense of belonging. As the soccer fan study indicates, a sense of belonging to the group will result in more effort being exerted to benefit that group.
Team Building Enhances Individual Belonging
In any diverse group environment, creating a strong individual identification with the group is an essential part of creating a team that works effectively toward common goals. Simply implementing a DEI policy cannot create a sense of belonging on its own. 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 not just the shared goals.
One study found that people who shared 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 name. 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 in every aspect of establishing diversity, equality, and inclusion programs in workforce or membership groups. An understanding of how the human brain functions in group dynamics is essential to help leaders make informed decisions. Dr. Terry Wu is an experienced neuroscientist who has been following research in those areas for decades. Through speaking and consulting, he is eager to help corporate and organization leaders improve group cohesion and productivity through Neuroscience insights.