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Growing the industry: Belonging

Victoria MacLennan. 17 August 2022, 10:51 pm

As you have read elsewhere the Prime Minister recently said that our industry (by 2040) will create 137,000 new additional jobs for women, 93,000 new additional jobs for Māori and 48,000 new additional jobs for Pacific Peoples. Awesome news! But.... for women, Māori, Pacific People, anyone from a diverse background to make it in the digital technology space one of the first things we need to do is reorient our workplaces so they are welcoming (manaakitanga) so that everyone can belong.

Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and Belonging are the scaffolding we need to put in place to enable growth of the digital technology industry. 
I think about this in these fairly basic terms - everyone deserves an opportunity to realise their potential:

  • Diversity - a workforce full of people who are different (both visibly and invisibly)
  • Inclusion -  ensuring everyone is involved, connected and has a voice
  • Equity - ensuring everyone has equal access, resources and opportunities
  • Belonging - ensuring everyone is safe, appreciated, respected, and feels part of the bigger picture.

What does it mean to belong? 

Creating a sense of belonging requires mutually reinforcing attributes, these three from Deloitte’s article on “What is belonging in the workplace” provide a great starting point:

  1. Comfort: Individuals feel comfortable at work, including being treated fairly and respected by their colleagues and leaders.

“I am valued for who I am, my background and beliefs. I can bring my authentic self to work”

  2. Connection: Individuals feel that they have meaningful relationships with coworkers and teams and are connected to the organization’s goals.

“I am a part of something larger than myself. I provide support and am supported by my workplace community.”

  3. Contribution: Individuals feel that they contribute to meaningful outcomes—understanding how their strengths help to achieve common goals.

“I (we) add value by bringing unique skills and strengths to meaningfully contribute to shared purpose and goals.”

I would add a 4th in our multicultural Aotearoa NZ context. 

4. Cultural Competency or Cultural Safety: Individuals feel their culture is respected by their colleagues and leaders - practices, policies and behaviours reflect understanding and respect of all cultures with a particular focus on Te Ao Māori.  

Why focus on belonging now? 

In our new post-Covid world, the great resignation, the move en masse overseas by our young people, the ability in a tight labour market for employees to be picky about who they choose to work for - means now is the time for businesses to make a change.

Very American in context, but I do love this statement in a recent McKinsey blog post:
“The Great Attrition is an opportunity for leaders and companies to rethink how they are connecting with employees, especially in hybrid or virtual settings. However, this requires commitment and passion to create a new, better workplace environment. Be deliberate about cultivating deeper team relationships and creating an inclusive, purposeful experience for people, regardless of where they are working.”

What does this all mean in practice for employers? 

Quoting McKinsey again, in their Great Attrition survey earlier in 2022 they identified the most important factors for employees as:

  • Work life balance
  • Valued by their organisation
  • Valued by their manager
  • Having caring and trusting teammates
  • Flexible work schedule
  • Potential for advancement
  • Feel engaged by their work 

To create an environment of belonging businesses need to reorient their cultures which is no easy task, entrenched behaviours are hard to shift, moving from a closed culture to an open one takes a really concerted effort, hunting out sacred cows, stamping out bad behaviour - zero tolerance for casual racism, casual bullying. 

This is only a subset to provide how to get started:

  • embrace open communication and transparency,
  • genuinely empower staff,
  • stop micromanaging and offer true flexibility,
  • prioritising mechanisms for teams to connect and engage in meaningful ways
  • fostering respectful engagements in all interactions. 

I also can’t stress enough the need to live and breathe these changes. Māori culture provides us with three fabulous concepts we can all adopt in our own workplace cultures:

Manaakitanga - kindness, caring and uplifting each other, showing respect, generosity and hospitality. 
Whakawhanaungatanga - forming and maintaining meaningful relationships 
Whanaunatanga - relationships enhanced by sharing experiences to help provide people with a shared sense of belonging. 

Finally - Let me have a tiny rant

I am sick of hearing tech bros and worse still the directors of tech bro firms, spouting off about how their businesses would employ a wahine Māori in a heartbeat, according them the problem is there just aren’t any to employ. Yes pipeline is an issue but…. Personally I couldn’t think of anything worse than introducing a fabulously capable wahine Māori into their tech bro culture, to be honest introducing any wahine, anyone who is trans or gender diverse, anyone who doesn’t fit the cookie cutter they tend to employ, will struggle to thrive.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many amazing, supportive, inclusive employers in the digital technology space, challenge is there are many too who are not and have been successful so often dominate the conversation. 

Rant over.

There is loads of other reading out there on this topic, Inclusive Aotearoa is a great place to go next. To be fair I am only just getting started on Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and Belonging as the foundations for effecting change in the digital technology industry so will be writing on these topics again.

Pō mārie (good night), Vic 

You can read previous blogs in this series on Growing The Industry below:
* Expanding our definition of Diversity
* Retaining Staff
* Mentoring
* Language


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