By Dan Gephart, June 14, 2023

Several years ago, Verna Myers, VP of Inclusion Strategy at Netflix, explained the focus of her job by telling attendees at a Cleveland Bar event: “Diversity is being invited to the party, but inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Several years later, Myers’ quote still pops up regularly on LinkedIn and Facebook, and during D&I-related presentations.

We should give Myers at least partial credit for dispelling the confusion around what inclusion means. Inclusion is no longer such a seemingly abstract concept, and no longer diversity’s “and one.” It is one of the four pillars of President Biden’s Executive Order on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility (DEIA).

FELTG has done numerous DEIA training sessions for agencies since the President signed EO 14035 in June 2021, and we cover every letter in that acronym. Sometimes, per agency request, we’ll add another letter to make it DEIAB training. Where the heck did that “B” come from and what does it stand for?

FELTG Nation, meet “belonging.” You may already know it, as belonging is among the buzziest  of HR words these days. Belonging is tied closely with psychological safety, a concept we discussed earlier this year, and one that J. Bruce Stewart defined as the “ability of a person to feel safe in speaking up at work or in the community, especially if that person has a different perspective or viewpoint.” [Editor’s note: Join Bruce on Aug. 2 for The Race Ahead: Breaking the Cycle of Racial Bias by Rewiring the American Mind.]

Some of you may not value an employee’s comfort in speaking up. I can hear you now: “Implement something that’s going to make people feel more comfortable about complaining even more? No way!” To those skeptics, I’d say you’re doing that whole baby and the bath water thing. Yes, some employees in a psychologically safe workplace will feel the need to complain about everything. But, as we all know, those employees are very capable of complaining regardless of the psychological safety of the environment.

When employees feel they belong, they don’t fear punishment for mistakes and feel comfortable enough to take risks and share creative ideas. This is the kind of workplace environment that leads to improved engagement, heightened morale, and increased FEVS scores. Oh, and fewer EEO complaints. Would you rather have an employee tell you that something “felt like a microaggression” and allow you to appropriately address it? Or would you rather hear about it later from the Office of Federal Operations?

There are several ways you, as a supervisor, can create a sense of belonging. Ask for feedback about your management of a meeting. Encourage collaboration instead of competition and replace blame with curiosity.

FELTG Instructor Katherine Atkinson will address belonging as part of her Addressing Bias and Microaggressions to Advance Agency DEIA on June 29 from 1-3 pm ET and in Setting the Bar: Advancing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility for FY ’24 on Sept. 26 from 1-4:30 pm ET.

[Editor’s note: You can bring either of these classes to your agency virtually. Just contact us at [email protected]. For more on bias and microaggressions, check out Advanced EEO: Navigating Complex Issues July 12-13.]

If you’re looking for a pithy saying to encapsulate what belonging means, we can build onto Myers’ quote, as Indeed Executive LaFawn Davis did on the company’s website.

“Diversity is being invited to the party, but inclusion is being asked to dance,” Davis wrote. “I love that quote — and I’d like to adapt it by adding that belonging is knowing all the songs. Knowing all the songs goes beyond simply being invited to the party; you feel like you belong there. And you can’t help but dance; it’s your jam!”

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