The importance of belonging in the workplace

100% Human at Work
100% Human at Work
by Katrina Webb
24 May 2023

At the 100% Human at Work Gathering in Sydney, Paralympic Gold medallist, Katrina Webb OAM facilitated a powerful session featuring guest speakers Manisha Amin, CEO, Centre for Inclusive Design and Nick Rohrlach, CEO Velocity, Virgin Australia. The panel shared a range of transformational and practical belonging insights for individuals, teams and organisations.

Katrina shares her thoughts on belonging and some insights from the session...

I have mild Cerebral Palsy on my right side, but most people looking at me wouldn’t even know. Growing up I knew something was different and I had physiotherapy treatment for it. I tried to hide any indication that I was different for the first 18 years of my life. I was desperately trying to fit in, to belong. It was exhausting!

Katrina Webb
Katrina Webb

After competing in three Paralympic Games and having access to mental performance experts, I developed life changing skills that created self-acceptance and love. I learnt to use a strengths- based approach and turned what I thought was my limitation into my greatest gift. Now I love my difference. It makes me who I am. It has opened many doorways across the globe that I could only dream of. It has allowed me to be a Paralympic Gold Medallist and to truly find a place of belonging, not only within the Paralympic community, but within all other facets of my life.

I am now acutely aware of creating safe, comfortable environments for others, where they feel a deep sense of belonging. Belonging for me is also creating and holding a space where people feel at home.

When I founded the leadership organisation Newday, I worked with my team to craft five tenets of leadership – one of which was belonging and inclusion. Why? Because belonging is the lynchpin which holds organisations together and cannot be underestimated.

Belonging unpacked – what is it?

Belonging is a fundamental human need. We all crave feeling connected, accepted, valued, included and respected as humans. We all want to matter and feel social connection with those around us.

By creating a sense of belonging in the workplace, people can feel more safe, secure and confident. By doing so, they can be authentic, use their strengths and give their best. But creating belonging can be harder said than done.

100% Human at Work
100% Human at Work

So, how can leaders foster belonging in the workplace?

Leaders have a core role in creating a culture of belonging. As Manisha and Nick said during our panel discussion, the best way for leaders to navigate this is to:

  • Develop a culture of psychological safety

  • Promote and celebrate diversity

  • Ask people what they need to better understand the kind of support employees want and value

  • Mentor others to build a deeper personal relationship

  • Improve their cultural intelligence (or CQ) – this TEDx talk by Julia Middleton is very useful in understanding your own culture, how you master it and how important it is for leaders crossing borders

Importantly, employees need to feel that they belong to something that they value, and that they have the power to bring about change when it’s needed.

How can teams facilitate personal connections and group sharing?

Creating personal connections is one of the most important ways to build belonging – and it starts with each of us. Make a genuine effort to engage with your colleagues, to meet new people, and approach all interactions with kindness.

Our panel recommends that you:

  • Develop a strengths-based approach which is a way of working that focuses on abilities, knowledge and capacities rather than deficits, or things that are lacking

  • Think less about yourself, and more about others

  • Focus on your similarities, rather than your differences

  • Approach people with an open mind

  • Practice an attitude of acceptance

100% Human at Work
100% Human at Work

The power of questions

Group sharing/discussions is something most teams do every day. But are these interactions as inclusive or productive as they could be?

By asking powerful questions, you can drive belonging, trust and team engagement. Here are some great questions to broaden and deepen workplace discussions, from psychological safety expert Amy Edmondson:

  • Who has a different perspective?

  • What are we missing here?

  • What do others think?

  • What other options could we consider?

  • How would a competitor approach this?

  • What’s the concern that you have about that?

  • Can you give us an example?

  • What do you think might happen if we did X?

It was great to talk with Manisha and Nick, discuss workplace belonging, and to shine a spotlight on this critical cultural necessity. I encourage organisations to think about how they can address and improve belonging to drive greater human-centric and purpose-driven organisations.

If you’re interested in connecting with Katrina Webb or learning more about her programmes, visit her website. You can also join the 100% Human at Work network or tap into its insights here.