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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs aren’t working for a surprising reason. Research shows that despite the almost $8 billion invested in DEI programs each year, this training falls short of changing behaviors and has a negligible positive effect on organizations.

A newly published study offers a clue about what is missing: belonging.


Belonging is different from—and perhaps more important than—inclusion. When employees feel they don’t belong, they experience inauthenticity, sadness, and anger. Research suggests efforts to improve organizational DEI will inevitably fail if employees don’t come to the table, or leave from it, with a sense of belonging. Other research supports this conclusion, too, reporting that when organizations do foster a culture of belonging, every aspect of organization performance skyrockets (see graphic).

What’s more, those employees who harbored a genuine sense of belonging reaped even greater individual accomplishments: doubling the rate of raises and breaking through promotion ceilings far more easily. Belonging is not only the nucleus of true organizational diversity, equity, and inclusion; it is also a cornerstone of individual and organizational success and advancement for everyone. 

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The Society for Human Resources Management defines inclusion as “the achievement of a work environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute fully to the organization’s success.” Let’s face it: inclusion is an administrative policy enacted by organizational leaders, and it’s also only part of the answer to a complex organizational—and human—challenge.

Belonging is completely different. The desire to belong stems from our innate human need for self-esteem and acceptance as part of a supportive group. Even with the most inclusive set of organizational policies in place, employees may not feel like they truly belong. As a result, performance flounders, employees suffer negative health consequences, and turnover soars, especially among underrepresented groups. 

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Workplace belonging originates in the way people are treated—day in and day out—especially in meetings, where employees typically spend more than half their time. But few leaders and colleagues understand how to generate consistent feelings of belonging during these meetings. All too often, people unwittingly trigger the exact opposite sentiment—alienation and loneliness—especially for those from underrepresented groups. When team cohesion fragments, organizational performance suffers. This is where EPC Learning Labs comes in.

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FOSTERing Belonging™ is a unique program that helps participants, especially leaders, spark feelings of belonging for everyone. The content comprises two parts and is delivered in an unparalleled learning process (see graphic). The first draws on brain science to introduce a framework describing three modes of thinking. This framework provides surprising insights about when and how individuals experience “threat” responses. These responses trigger sets of biases, decisions, and behaviors that lead to alienation and loneliness.

Building on these modes of thinking, the second part of the program introduces FOSTER, a set of five strategic principles that, if followed, can generate genuine feelings

of belonging and inclusion in meetings. These principles gain traction with specific processes and facilitation techniques and methods designed to transform every meeting into a high-performance, culture-building opportunity. Mastery of this content ensures that all meeting participants feel welcomed, respected, supported, and valued. 


FOSTERing Belonging™ delivers a key ingredient missing in most DEI initiatives. It also transforms individual and team performance while helping to create the organizational culture that most leaders, managers, and employees are desperate to establish. Please connect with Mary Ellen Joyce or Jackson Nickerson at to learn more about how you can help your organization master FOSTERing Belonging™.

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