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Diversity efforts fall short unless employees feel that they belong

Pat Wadors writes, "Over the past decade, technology companies and their leaders have launched diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives, hoping to make employees of all backgrounds and experiences feel welcome in our industry.

We failed.

The data shows that, especially in the tech space, we have not moved the needle on the number of women, blacks, or Latinos in our ranks, despite efforts to do so. Why not? What are we missing?

I have examined this question from both sides, as a leader in charge of building an exceptional workforce and as a woman in a predominantly male industry. Both perspectives came together recently in a talk that I gave at the Professional Business Women’s Conference. I was asked to tee up a panel discussion with a seven-minute talk to describe how I “feel” about the topic. To do that, I had to really think about my own life experiences.

I realized that D&I grabs my intellect — it’s an organizational challenge that must be addressed — but not my heart. D&I initiatives are necessary to win the war for talent, to find and hire a diverse workforce, and to ensure fair practices, but they aren’t sufficient.

What I really wanted was those moments when I feel that I belong to a team, I matter, and I’m able to be my authentic self. I don’t want to be seen as a number, a gender, or an ethnic box. (For the record, I’ve never interviewed a candidate who said “I am your X candidate, I fit that box.”) I also don’t want to be seen only as the role I perform. I’m a woman, a mother, an artist, an HR professional, an athlete, dyslexic, and an introvert. I’m all of that and more — and I want to be able to bring my whole self to work. That is when I have the courage and motivation to speak up, to go beyond my comfort zone. That’s fun.

So during this process of self-reflection, I realized that what’s missing from the discussion is this notion of belonging. No matter their background, skin color, or gender, employees wanted what I wanted: to belong. I looked around to my peers and no one was having this kind of conversation. I wanted to start it, to see what happens. To see what I could learn. It felt right."

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