belonging – a leadership challenge for us all (Women in Leadership Sharing Event)

Lego men

Getting together a group of leaders from high performance sport and global business to talk about ‘belonging’ was always going to make for an interesting Thursday.  And yesterday’s Women In Leadership Sharing Event did not disappoint.

We invited all those who had participated in our virtual ‘Women In Leadership’ roundtables over the last year to a Sharing Event – an opportunity to meet ‘face to face’ – at Leading Edge Towers (our offices in Leamington Spa).  Those who were able to attend represented organisations including The FA, MARS, Jaguar Land Rover, England Rugby, TUI Airlines and UK Sport, and we set our theme for the discussion as

How do we create shared ownership of D&I and ‘belonging’?

(The theme of belonging is one we’ve been exploring as the Leading Edge team over the last few months.  We describe ‘belonging’ as ‘recognising and valuing the difference and individual contribution a person can bring, while concurrently enabling them to reach their full potential in the team environment’.)

We invited the leaders to story-tell their experiences of belonging (and not belonging) which led us to explore the concept that belonging is a much more global and individually held sentiment – one that transcends the protected characteristics and the sense of only being pertinent to any ‘minority’.  As Audrey Cooper, Head of Women’s Coach Development for The FA commented ‘Belonging is emotive – where the approaches to D&I often end up feeling transactional.’

We shared some data from a survey* we’ve recently commissioned of UK managers and leaders in which we asked  ‘What are the top barriers that hinder ‘belonging’ manifesting in your organisation?’.  The most frequent answers (not in order) were:

  • Lack of understanding of the benefits of ‘D&I’
  • Lack of understanding of advantage of ‘belonging’
  • Lack of confidence from the leadership team on how to create belonging
  • Lack of diversity of the leadership team

Challenged by Sarah Kelleher (an accredited Lego Serious Play facilitator), we each created a lego-metaphor for the barriers we perceive in our own organisations, which often had remarkable similarities (i.e. the perspective of those responsible for belonging being different from the perspective of the ‘others’ they are trying to create it for being referenced a number of times in different lego builds!)

As we walked and talked over lunch, what became clearer was the need for belonging to exist on almost a microculture level – ‘not in a way that creates internal ghettos’, said Kirsty Lawrence, HR Director, TUI Airline, but she made the point ‘while we need to be connected to organisation culture and purpose, it can feel too big and too far away to try and ‘belong’ at this level.  My team is where I want to get my regular dose of belonging.’

Paul Gardner, Vice President Commercial – Pet Nutrition Europe at MARS, pointed out that the business of doing business often can result in breaking the bonds of belonging ‘We break up the eco teams every time we embark on a change project – as leaders we have to aware of the impact this will have on individual’s sense of belonging.’

While we continued to share insights and common challenges throughout the day, conversation turned to the need for leaders to own the belonging agenda – that it goes beyond nailing the very present and imperative D&I agenda – and the responsibility can’t be devolved to the minority groups or HR to solve on behalf of everyone  else.  Jo Pilkington, IT Product Manager – Design and Quality from Jaguar Land Rover challenged us to consider the risk that ‘DI& can break us down into siloes – where belonging brings us back together. ‘

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