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Building a culture of belonging in the workplace for women


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Women succeed in the workplace when they truly feel a culture of belonging and move beyond simply being included.

In celebration of Women's History Month in the U.S. and International Women’s Day worldwide, Alight Solutions is recognizing and learning about “belonging” from its outstanding female leaders.

Recently, three women from Alight’s executive leadership team participated in an Accenture-sponsored event, “Accelerating Equality for All: Let There Be Change,” which focused on recognizing the resilience of women everywhere. Chief Financial Officer Katie Rooney, President and Chief Commercial Officer Cathinka Wahlstrom, and General Counsel Paulette Dodson shared their insights.

This inspiring panel discussion focused on the topic of moving beyond inclusion to a sense of belonging.

“Belonging is not only about being invited to the table but knowing and feeling and believing you deserve to be there because you are respected and valued and your colleagues and clients want to hear your opinion,” said Wahlstrom.

That assertion is backed up by Alight’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion research. To feel like they truly belong, survey respondents across all communities said they want their employer, colleagues, and others to:

  1. See me
  2. Know me
  3. Support me
  4. Protect me
  5. Value me

All five attributes, Alight’s model references as Belonging Benefits, clearly tie into creating a sense of belonging, but women ranked the last attribute, “value me,” the highest. For employers, that means showing your people that you care about them and their contributions to the organization; understanding their goals and helping them reach those goals; and giving them the assurance they need in times of uncertainty.

“Listening is a key part of that, helping our teams really find their voice and giving them a sense of purpose and the ability to drive decisions,” said Rooney. “We have to support them because women want to have influence over decisions, but sometimes they need permission to bring their best ideas.”

Helping female employees feel comfortable speaking up builds their confidence and creates that coveted sense of belonging. It’s also important for women to see other women in senior roles and serving on boards. That shows them that women are not only respected at the organization but that their contributions are valued at all levels. 

Tailored cultural belonging to the employee – and beyond

Female respondents ranked “protect me” as the second most important attribute. This means keeping employees, their loved ones, and co-workers safe and healthy. Increasingly, employers are moving beyond physical health to encompass financial and emotional health in a holistic benefits strategy.

Employers can foster belonging by offering benefits tailored to each employee’s specific needs. For women, who still handle most caregiving duties, the key is a holistic benefit offering that not only takes care of the employee, but their families as well. Speaking in one of our focus groups, a single mom spoke of her concerns about her son being home alone while she works the night shift. These kinds of situations should spur employers to consider non-traditional benefits, like nighttime childcare for women (and men) working the overnight shift.

Female employees also place a high priority on benefits that will ensure their loved ones are taken care of if something happens to them. These include life insurance, disability insurance, assistance with building an emergency fund, and the funding of long-term needs. Employers should also consider expanding time-off choices for health care tasks and offering financial support to save for college

When companies take the initiative to offer benefits that are valued by female employees, our research shows, they could see a nearly 20-point increase in the likelihood of women to take and/or stay in a job.

When they move beyond "being included" to feeling a deep sense of belonging, women succeed in the workplace. This is not something that’s created in a vacuum but must be woven throughout the organization in every program and interaction. It means making room for them to succeed, serving as a role model and sponsor, encouraging them, and supporting them both inside and outside the workplace.

“Belonging is one of the most important human capital issues that organizations are talking about,” said Wahlstrom. “The good news is we're all in a position at every level every day to have an impact on belonging and making people feel respected.”

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