We Belong

How to Create a Welcoming Workplace

Are You Welcoming in Your Workplace?

How to Make Everyone Feel Like They Belong Here, Too

Belonging refers to the feeling of being connected to someone or something. In the workplace, it’s being part of a team where colleagues value your contributions and support your growth. It’s the feeling of camaraderie and a shared purpose. Let’s explore how advocating for belonging is essential to helping people feel understood and appreciated so that they can contribute to the group’s mission.

Wired to Belong

Belonging is a fundamental human need that can significantly impact our well-being and happiness. Humans are, by nature, social beings, and in our earliest days, our lives depended on being members of a communal group. Being ousted or banished had dire circumstances. Our DNA is wired to desire unapologetic acceptance and to be embraced by our clan.

Welcoming vs. Accepting

The “B” in DEIB stands for Belonging. It was added to the existing language around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) to emphasize how people feel in the workplace. While Diversity (embracing various social identities), Equity (ensuring equal access), and Inclusion (amplifying all voices) are crucial, they alone do not maximize opportunities and outcomes for everyone.

Belonging complements Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion by emphasizing that individuals should feel uniquely seen, heard, and valued. Unlike merely fitting in, which involves adjusting to be accepted, belonging allows us to be authentic. Acceptance says, “You are allowed in,” while belonging says, “You are welcome as you are, and we are glad you are here.”

When we feel excluded, it can have significant emotional and psychological effects, which can result in lower organizational commitment and engagement.


BetterUp, a coaching platform, conducted research showing that workplace belonging leads to:

  • 56% increase in job performance
  • 50% reduction in turnover risk
  • 75% decrease in employee sick days.


Ten Barriers to Belonging

Breaking down barriers to belonging is essential for creating an inclusive workplace where everyone feels valued and respected. McKinsey identified common obstacles marginalized groups face and strategies to dismantle them; let’s explore them.

  1. Stereotyping and Unconscious Bias

Barrier: Stereotypes and biases can lead to exclusion. Assumptions based on race, gender, or other characteristics affect decision-making.

Dismantling Strategy: Raise awareness about unconscious bias. Implement blind recruitment processes, diversity training, and inclusive language guidelines.

  1. Leadership Skill Gaps

Barrier: Lack of inclusive leadership skills perpetuates exclusion.

Dismantling Strategy: Train leaders in empathy, active listening, and cultural competence. Encourage diverse leadership representation.

  1. Tick-Box Approach to Diversity

Barrier: Focusing solely on meeting diversity quotas without addressing Inclusion.

Dismantling Strategy: Shift from a compliance mindset to a genuine commitment to Inclusion. Measure both diversity and inclusion efforts.

  1. Prioritization Dilution

Barrier: When inclusion efforts take a back seat to other priorities.

Dismantling Strategy: Embed Inclusion into organizational goals. Allocate resources and time for inclusion initiatives.

  1. Lack of Meritocracy at Senior Levels

Barrier: Marginalized individuals face barriers to advancement due to systemic biases.

Dismantling Strategy: Create transparent promotion criteria. Mentor and sponsor underrepresented talent. Address pay gaps.

  1. Psychological Safety

Barrier: Fear of speaking up or being penalized for dissenting opinions.

Dismantling Strategy: Foster an environment where diverse perspectives are valued. Encourage open dialogue and active listening.

  1. Microaggressions and Exclusionary Behavior

Barrier: Subtle acts of discrimination or exclusion harm marginalized individuals.

Dismantling Strategy: Educate employees about microaggressions. Encourage bystander intervention and hold individuals accountable.

  1. Lack of Representation in Decision-Making

Barrier: Marginalized groups need a seat at the table to influence decisions.

Dismantling Strategy: Ensure diverse representation in committees, project teams, and leadership roles. Amplify marginalized voices.

  1. Inequitable Access to Opportunities

Barrier: Unequal access to mentorship, stretch assignments, and career development.

Dismantling Strategy: Implement structured mentorship programs. Provide equal growth opportunities for all employees.

  1. Cultural Competence Gap

Barrier: Lack of understanding of different cultural norms and practices.

Dismantling Strategy: Offer cultural competency training. Celebrate diverse cultural events and heritage.

Removing Barriers to Belonging

There may be many obstacles and challenges to creating a culture that fosters a sense of belonging and the empathetic connections needed to develop genuine relationships and inclusivity across an organization. While there is much opportunity for improvement, the familiar golden rule—”Do unto others as you would have them do unto you—” can summarize how to demonstrate belonging.

It can be as simple as putting yourself in another’s shoes.

About Equiliem

Equiliem (www.equiliem.com) believes in empowering success. It’s our job to cultivate relationships that connect people and employers in a way that is inclusive, intelligent, and allows both to thrive. 

Across the U.S., leading companies in healthcare, government, light industrial manufacturing, professional services, and energy rely on us for their workforce solutions. Our recruiting and HR services include contract and direct hire staffing, Payrolling/EOR, Independent Contractor Compliance, and Managed Services.

Since 1995, we’ve helped shape our industry. Today, we continue to research, ask questions, and continuously enhance the candidate journey and client experience.