Hiring a diverse workforce is only the first step to building a meaningful DE&I strategy that will ultimately empower people to thrive as their authentic selves in the workplace. By building a culture of belonging where everyone feels accepted as they are, leaders can create a more supportive and productive work environment.

In a webinar presented at the HR of Tomorrow Conference Europe, Natasha Shifrin, HiBob’s global director of outbound sales, explains that incorporating DE&I into your organization goes beyond simply adding a culture page on the company website or a list of values in a job description.

“This is something that we live, we eat, we breathe,” Natasha says.

HR leaders have an opportunity to meaningfully shape this culture of belonging, which is critical at every stage of the employee lifecycle—from writing the job description to creating recruitment funnels to building cultural safety committees that help to embed these practices into every employee interaction.

“It has to be an integral part of your culture and not a ‘nice to have’ or a box to tick,” Natasha says. “Training is so important, but it’s not enough. You really have to commit as an organization to creating an environment where everyone feels welcome, and you have to practice it on a daily basis.”

Understanding diversity, inclusion, and belonging

Diversity and inclusion discussions are becoming more common in workplaces these days, but focusing on belonging takes the conversation to the next level. Here’s how each of these subtly different ideas fits into the bigger picture:

  • Diversity refers to the characteristics that make each of your people unique.
  • Inclusion refers to the behaviors and cultural norms that make people feel welcome in the workplace.
  • Belonging refers to an individual’s actual sense of acceptance.

“It’s not enough just to hire a diverse group of people or to make them feel welcome,” Natasha says. “If the individual themselves doesn’t feel that they belong, then your D&I has failed.”

On the flip side, by welcoming differences and building a supportive workplace, employers can actually foster employee engagement. This leads to more risk-taking and innovation that inevitably benefits the company.

“There are a lot of studies that show that people perform better and are more engaged when they focus on being their authentic selves rather than trying to be all things to all people,” Natasha says.

Set the stage in hiring and recruitment practices

An applicant will encounter company culture very early on in the hiring process—maybe even when they first read a job posting. Here are some ways that growing companies can encourage a culture of belonging, beginning with the very first interaction.

Identify gender bias in job descriptions

Natasha has worked much of her career in the tech sector and is no stranger to seeing words like “ninja,” “guru,” and “rockstar” used to describe a prospective salesperson. Aggressive and gender-charged language, such as seeking someone who will “crush their numbers,” can be alienating.

Check what pronouns you’re using in job descriptions. Try using “you” instead of “he” or “she.”

“The language you use in your job descriptions is reflective of your culture of inclusivity and belonging,” Natasha says, “and that’s going to set the stage and the tone throughout the whole employee lifecycle.”

Train hiring managers to recognize unconscious biases

At some point, we all make decisions and choices based on the information we’ve gathered through our own experiences. These biases can make it difficult for hiring managers to be open to candidates who may be different from past hires in terms of professional experience, education, or even their approach to the position.

“I’ve seen it happen in my career where a hiring manager will make a few good hires and then start to model every other new joiner after those employees,” Natasha says in the presentation. “That can lead to building quite a homogeneous team.”

But it’s diversity of thought, she says, that drives innovation and productivity, and HR professionals are well-positioned to coach hiring managers through these processes.

For example, Natasha often sees college athletes targeted for sales positions, but people with sports experience aren’t the only ones who are competitive or fearless.

“Think creatively,” she says. “Rather than thinking about the experience that aligns with the role, think about the characteristics that you’re looking for and how to extract that during the interview.”

Use remote hiring to your advantage to diversify recruitment funnels

The proliferation of remote work has created an amazing opportunity for companies to hire from a broader range of backgrounds, experiences, and geographic locations—including people who might not otherwise be able to work in a traditional office setting due to disability, chronic illness, or lack of access to reliable transportation.

“It allows you to spread out across your territory to find the best people for the role, and it opens up the talent pool,” Natasha says.

But broadening recruiting funnels must be accompanied by onboarding practices that make new hires feel welcome and included. This means providing the resources for line managers to invest more time in employees with less experience or diverse circumstances.

Put employee-led DE&I initiatives front and center

Part of creating a culture of belonging is making a space where people can lead the conversation on organizational expectations, standards, and education. 

Natasha points to HiBob’s Cultural Safety Committee, which is a group of employees from across all offices and departments that works with the HR team to lead initiatives around inclusion and belonging.

One success story from this group was a series of educational workshops on nonbinary inclusion created by two employees and then shared with each department of the organization at all locations. 

“Not only did it give these two employees a platform to talk about something really deeply personal to them,” Natasha shared, “but it also showed all Bobbers that this is a super important topic that really connects deeply to our values as a company.”

Invite everyone to participate

When building a committee like this, it’s important to open it to anyone at the company who wants to join to encourage diversity of thought and increase the impact.

These committees give people some say in what happens within the organization. They also provide a place to recognize them for their hard work and the impact they’re making on the company culture. 

“Resources like this provide ways for your employees to engage with the organization beyond the virtual happy hours and volunteering days,” Natasha says.

Tips for building a committee to lead DE&I initiatives

For teams that aren’t sure where to start, here are a few initiatives that a group like this one could focus on:

  • Create or update a DE&I code of conduct, develop cultural programming and education, or suggest management training that can further the culture of belonging.
  • Build recognition programs where managers and other team members take the time to recognize people’s accomplishments both privately and publicly, which makes employees feel valued.
  • Use technology such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Bob to deepen people’s connection. This is particularly important with remote teams that don’t have the opportunity to connect and learn about one another through casual workplace encounters.
  • Use surveys to keep a finger on the pulse of the organization and to identify ways to improve communication, feedback, and collaboration.

Natasha emphasizes that the success of an organization’s DE&I values is ultimately in the hands of leadership.

“You have the lead with it,” she says. “You have to make it known that this is something we take seriously. It’s not just a 45-minute pre-recorded video that you’re watching to answer questions—you truly have to live it and lead by example.”

This article is based on the presentation “Moving Beyond Diversity to Cultures of Inclusivity and Belonging.” Watch the full presentation to ensure you’re on the right track to creating a more inclusive organization.

Shelby Blitz

From Shelby Blitz

Shelby is the Director of Content at HiBob. She's passionate about the written word and storytelling. In a past life, she was a music journalist. When she's not writing and editing you can find her baking sweet treats in the kitchen.