Belonging takes center stage at SHRM’s 2022 Inclusion Conference

On Monday, October 24, 2022, the Center for Equity, Gender and Leadership (EGAL) and Anaplan co-presented at the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) Annual Inclusion Conference in San Diego, California. Jasmine Sanders, a research fellow at EGAL and PhD student at UC Berkeley, and Sherika Ekpo, Chief People Officer at Anaplan, served as the speakers for the conference. With over 300,000 members, SHRM is the largest HR professional association in the United States, and its annual Inclusion conference brings together nearly 2,000 business, DEI, and HR leaders to share best practices and sharpen leadership skills to create more equitable and inclusive workplaces.

Sherika Ekpo (left) and Jasmine Sanders (right)

Jasmine and Sherika’s session, “Belonging at Work: How to Turn Strategy into Results”, presented evidence-based strategies and tangible practices from EGAL and Anaplan’s research partnership exploring belonging in organizations. Session participants crowded along the perimeter of the room, surpassing the 400-person seating capacity, to hear the co-speakers share why belonging is a business imperative and provide hands-on examples of how to leverage the strategic plays from our open-source Belonging Playbook to enhance belonging and connectivity in their workplaces. Jasmine and Sherika kicked off their presentation engaging session attendees to share out what belonging means to them — what does it look like? How does it feel? Session attendees were eager to participate, shouting from all corners of the room: “being seen”, “feeling included”, “being valued/well compensated for my expertise”, “feeling safe”. The attendees’ sentiments aligned with findings from our research-grounded Belonging Framework — a first-of-its-kind framework that breaks down workplace belonging into five key elements and, most importantly, identifies five critical drivers to facilitate belonging in organizations. While the session was grounded in the empirical findings from our joint research on belonging in organizations, Jasmine and Sherika also connected with the audience by sharing personal anecdotes about their own belonging journeys and the ways they have enacted these strategies in their respective organizations.

Belonging Framework

During the Q&A portion at the end of the presentation several attendees expressed their excitement about the session content and the Belonging Playbook Toolkit with Rapid Diagnostics for HR & DEI leaders, Performance Review Questions for Managers, and a Measuring Belonging Assessment Tool. One session attendant asked a very poignant question regarding the “end goal of belonging”. He explained that he previously worked in workplaces where the culture was incredibly strong and deeply threaded in the fabric of the company, to the point that it became a part of employees’ identity. Similar to other identity markers, such as race, gender, or parenthood status, employees would also describe themselves as Company X employees. He questioned whether full integration — to the point of identity adoption — is the goal of belonging, or if there was space for employees to have company buy-in and belonging without full immersion?

This question, which is often on the minds of many employees, offered a great opportunity to point to some of the “Be Mindful” statements highlighted in the Belonging Playbook. Sanders explained that everyone is on a different belonging journey and the goal of belonging is not assimilation or forcing employees to “fit” into a specific category. Rather, belonging is about meeting employees where they are so that they feel integrated into the company in a way that is most comfortable for them. Most importantly, employees who don’t want to fully immerse themselves in a company to the point of identity adoption should not be penalized — everyone will have different belonging aspirations and that’s okay. Ultimately, an organization and its leaders should create an inclusive environment where employees from all walks of life feel they can belong in a way that is most authentic to them and honors who they are as an individual.

Ekpo closed the session with a timely reminder that while belonging is a critical cornerstone of a sustainable and inclusive workplace, it doesn’t happen overnight. It requires intentional and consistent engagement, which also means there will be mistakes, missteps and failures. The goal is not perfection, rather steady progress. As such, we must extend grace and support to our colleagues as we all traverse this journey towards a stronger sense of belonging.



Center for Equity, Gender & Leadership (EGAL)

At the heart of UC Berkeley's Business School, the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership educates equity-fluent leaders to ignite and accelerate change.