Diversity, inclusion and belonging


Maya Toussaint 

Maya Toussaint is an experienced HR professional and diversity and inclusion champion. She shares with Microsoft the difference between diversity, inclusion and belonging, and the importance for companies to understand each. The business case for diversity and inclusion is sound, but more importantly, it is the right thing to do.

Diversity & Inclusion in the workplace. We hear about it everywhere, yet only 3% of Fortune 500 companies share their full diversity data. Are we focusing on the right things to move the needle?

I often feel like I hear these two words used interchangeably, and they absolutely do not mean the same thing.

Diversity is quite simply, representation. Recognizing our (many) unique dimensions like race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, (to name just a few) and seeing them represented where we work.


Inclusion takes it one step further. Feeling welcome, respected, being treated fairly, having access to the same development and career opportunities and not only having a seat, but a voice, at the table.

“Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” – Verna Myers

We are well past the point of needing to prove that a diverse workplace is better for business. There is a lot of data that shows that diverse teams are more productive, efficient and creative. A BCG study from 2018 found that companies with more diverse management teams have 19% higher innovation revenue.

If you still need to prove the value of diversity to your stakeholders, then your company will be left behind.

The last few companies I have worked for have all had a Diversity & Inclusion focus built in to their hiring roadmap. It’s the norm. “We need to hire more women” or “we need to hire more visibly-diverse candidates.” I always worry though, that a something is missing. As a black woman – you’ve hired me, but why should I stay?

I first became familiar with the belonging part of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (DIBs) when I worked at LinkedIn. I heard it from Pat Wadors who was our SVP Global Talent at the time. She described belonging as feeling safe enough to be your authentic self.


Belonging, is the reason why I will stay with an organization. It’s the reason I thrive in the relationships that I choose. It’s a feeling of being able to be my true self. Bringing all of what makes me Maya, to work. The moment I feel like I have to wear a mask, or cover a part of who I am, it’s time to leave. Anyone who has met me knows I have a big personality and an even bigger laugh. I was once told I shouldn’t laugh at work. I quit the following week. I clearly didn’t belong there.

I currently work for a company where I’m told my laugh was missed if I was out sick with a cold. I’m constantly tapped on the shoulder for my ideas, my point of view and for my expertise. I feel not only included but that what I bring to the table, as my true self in all its quirky ways, helps the company and makes me feel good about bringing that added value.

Research found in the 2018 Culture Amp report on Diversity, Inclusion and Intersectionality found a strong correlation between belonging and commitment at the workplace, which directly translates to motivation, employee retention and pride (referrals).

But how do you make sure employees feel like they belong?

Companies and leaders that hold themselves accountable by having open conversations and sharing the data collected during the D&I journey will – by effect – leave a safe space for belonging. Chief Diversity Officer, Lindsay-Rae McIntyre, from Microsoft wrote in a blog that their 2019 Diversity and Inclusion Report included data on an Inclusion index and equal pay data. Engaging with different groups, personalizing introductions and finding out how people are feeling while also ensuring fairness in pay, are a few examples of ways to encourage belonging.

At work

  • Do we feel safe enough to take intelligent risks?
  • Are we celebrating each other’s differences?
  • Are we genuinely listening to how people feel?
  • Are we recognized for our accomplishments?

Managers who can lead with vulnerability will allow their employees to feel like they can do that themselves. It’s an ever-evolving process and the point is that we all keep working at communicating.

I feel pretty confident that no matter where you are, you belong there. But do you feel it?

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