‘Belonging’ Is More Than A Buzzword

Create A Workplace Where People Belong Through Listening, Vulnerability And Collective Action
Shareen Luze, Head of Culture and Field Experience, RBC Wealth Management - U.S.
Shareen Luze, Head of Culture and Field Experience, RBC Wealth Management – U.S.

Diversity. Equity. Inclusion. Belonging. These words have taken on increased importance within the financial industry in recent years. At the same time, it seems the distinct meanings of these words have become muddled. Often, they are used interchangeably, or lumped together into an acronym – DEI&B.

Recognizing the differences between these words and how they work together is just as important as acknowledging and celebrating the differences among people.

Belonging, in particular, has been trending for the past few years, and it’s more than a buzzword. Belonging is a feeling that comes when employees feel secure and valued for who they are, the unique contributions they bring and the potential they possess. Belonging is the intersection of diversity, equity and inclusion. It’s essential to creating a vibrant, empowering culture and a workplace where everyone feels seen and supported.

If you’re like me, it was a Psychology 101 class that introduced you to the concept of belonging. Love and belonging comprise the third level in Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which outlines the five basic needs that humans must fulfill to achieve self-actualization. Whether or not you fully buy into Maslow’s theories, it’s hard to argue against belonging as a fundamental human need.

When I think about spaces where I feel like I truly belong, I think about how I’m able to feel my best and be my best. I’m smart, funny, thoughtful, creative and doggone it, people like me!

How fantastic would it be if everyone could feel that way at work? Just imagine the innovations we’d uncover and the positive energy that would radiate through a workforce. While I know there is no easy solution to ensure belonging, I firmly believe it’s something worth striving for – as an industry, as a firm and as a leader.

Taking Collective Action To Make A Bigger Impact

The topic of belonging is especially salient for the financial services industry during Black History Month. Historically, Black Americans have been excluded from financial opportunities, and they continue to be underrepresented as professionals in the industry and as clients.

Wealth management firms across the board are looking to bring in a more diverse workforce to better reflect the communities we serve. Additionally, an aging financial advisor population presents a looming potential talent shortage. With an industry-wide need to attract diverse Next Gen talent, we can work together to maximize our impact.

The collaborative approach of the Financial Alliance for Racial Equity (FARE) brings together financial services firms, industry organizations and historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to help students see why they belong in finance. As a member of the board of directors at FARE, I’m honored to be part of a coalition creating pathways to finance for Black students and young professionals through career fairs, scholarships, internships and mentoring programs.

Increasing representation across the industry can lead to more financial inclusion for the broader Black community, which can help close persistent wealth gaps.

Listening To Employees

Employers are recognizing that belonging leads to innovation, better employee retention and long-term business success. Yet, there is still a gap in understanding just how critical it is for employees to feel they belong.

As recently as 2021, a McKinsey study showed business leaders believed the top reasons employees quit were compensation, work-life balance, and poor physical and emotional health. Yet, when employees were asked why they quit, the top reasons they cited were that they didn’t feel valued by their organizations (54%) or their managers (52%), or because they didn’t feel a sense of belonging at work (51%). Additionally, respondents who identified as non-white or multiracial were more likely than their white peers to say they quit because they didn’t feel they belonged at their companies.

This underestimation of the importance of belonging can hamper business growth. That’s why cultivating a company culture of belonging can’t be just an HR initiative. It needs to be a strategic focus. Long-term success requires ongoing commitment from all levels of leadership.

Employers demonstrate that commitment through inclusive benefits, affinity groups, support and storytelling during recognition months like Black History Month, and by honoring unique employee contributions through reward and recognition programs.

There is still a gap in understanding just how critical it is for employees to feel they belong.

Another way my firm has developed deeper connections with employees and gleaned a better understanding of their needs is through listening sessions, specifically for women and BIPOC (black, indigenous and people of color). Creating a safe space for colleagues from these underrepresented groups to share their perspectives and concerns directly with executives has helped us identify areas where we can improve the employee experience and strengthen belonging.

A key takeaway from recent listening sessions was that managers are instrumental in fostering a culture of belonging, and those managers need targeted resources to best support their teams.

Leading With Vulnerability

Managers play a crucial role in shaping the employee experience. By prioritizing an inclusive leadership style, managers can cultivate a team culture that embraces differences and encourages collaboration. As uncomfortable as it may be, coming from a place of vulnerability can make all the difference.

I used to look at women leaders and marvel at how they had everything under control. I put them on a “perfection pedestal” and tried to keep my own imperfections under wraps. It wasn’t until one of my team members tearfully told me she felt overwhelmed and inadequate that I realized I needed to drop the façade of perfection and share my authentic experiences instead.

Coming from a place of vulnerability can make all the difference.

It can be scary to show your vulnerabilities, especially in a leadership position. But in my experience, it has only strengthened my relationships and feelings of belonging with my team and my own leaders.

When managers allow themselves to be vulnerable and intentionally create safe spaces for others to do the same, it starts a chain reaction that drives belonging, authenticity and more engagement, ultimately leading to better outcomes for colleagues, clients and the business.

Belonging can be a gamechanger for people and businesses, and there is no better time than now to take belonging from concept to reality.

Shareen Luze is Head of Culture and Field Experience at RBC Wealth Management – U.S., an RIA and a division of RBC Capital Markets.

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