Moving America Forward

To Build It Back Better, Invest in Belonging

October 16, 2020
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To Build It Back Better, Invest in Belonging

For #BuildItBackBetter, NationSwell asked some of our nation’s most celebrated purpose-driven leaders how they’d build a society that is more equitable and resilient than the one we had before COVID-19. We have compiled and lightly edited their answers.

This article is part of the #BuildItBackBetter track “The Relational Era: Building a Culture of Connection, Bridging and Belonging” — presented in partnership with Einhorn Collaborative.

Over the past few decades, the landscape of American civic life has transformed. Participation in key civic institutions such as religious groups and volunteer organizations has plummeted, and our public square has been replaced with online echo chambers.  

But there is still one place in American life where adults of all backgrounds come together to pursue a shared goal: the workplace. Here many of us spend each day working alongside people of different ages, races, ethnicities, gender identities, national origins, and religions.

In many ways, the goal of American companies reflects the motto of the Great American Experiment, “e pluribus unum” (“out of many, one”). They’re tasked with the herculean challenge of forging community and a sense of shared identity among a vastly diverse group of individuals, and each company must find a way to harness the individual strengths of the group to accomplish its collective goals. 

Unfortunately, as American society has been torn apart by polarization and division, workplaces have been finding that they are not immune to these trends.

Over the past few years, employees have become increasingly divided over ideological differences. According to a recent poll, nearly one-third of working Americans are worried that they will miss out on career opportunities or lose their jobs if their political opinions were discovered. This concern is roughly consistent across political orientation, race, gender, and socioeconomic status.

When your workplace has a multiplicity of values and worldviews nested within a culture of outrage and intolerance, you have a tinderbox on your hands. Companies must be proactive in creating cultures that foster openness, intellectual humility, and mutual respect across differences. 

Doing so isn’t just good for our country. It’s also good for your bottom line. Research shows that fostering a sense of belonging within the workplace has a direct impact on improving work performance, motivation, and engagement. 

According to a study conducted by BetterUp, employees who feel a strong sense of belonging show a 56% increase in performance, a 75% decrease in sick days, a 50% reduction in turnover risk compared to peers with a low sense of belonging.

The data is clear: Investing in building a culture of belonging and inclusion pays. 

While there is no quick fix to culture change, there are steps you can take in the right direction. For example, OpenMind offers practical, scalable, and evidence-based tools to foster openness to diverse perspectives and equip people with skills for constructive dialogue. 

OpenMind’s online learning program helps employees understand values and perspectives that differ from their own. It addresses conflicts that tend to arise in diverse workplaces and provides employees with practical skills to navigate differences more effectively.

While our other institutions struggle, workplaces can model what it means to create a space where Americans from all walks of life feel respected, included and heard. Those who move in this direction will surely reap the benefits.

Caroline Mehl is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of OpenMind. You can learn more about her work here.

 

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