The Growing Role of “Belonging” in a “Good Fit” Job
By Julie Norwell
When Kayvon Bahramzadeh joined a private, growing European market research firm, his role was to help to build out the global sales and corporate development strategy. Then his boss, the only other person in the strategy group, quit. Kayvon carried on solo. But soon after, Kayvon’s new boss asked him to also assume financial planning and analysis work for a North American subsidiary. The job of a co-worker in Germany taking parental leave was later layered on top of his responsibilities. Stretched thin, Kayvon decided that it was time to move on.
“I was doing three completely different jobs in different time zones and I got little support and no additional compensation,” said Kayvon. “I was floating around the organization; I felt like an external consultant, not an integrated part of the team and the operation. It wasn’t a good cultural fit.”
A good cultural fit is an increasingly coveted aspect of an executive job. It transcends mere job competencies and skill sets and delves into how well your personal and professional aspirations align with the company’s ethos and culture. A good cultural fit means that your beliefs, behaviors, and personality – in addition to your work – are in harmony with the existing organization’s activities. It is crucial to feeling comfortable, motivated, and engaged in the workplace. Without cultural fit, job satisfaction is elusive.
For Kayvon, the position evolved into an isolating experience. And his story highlights another important feature of a job: a sense of belonging. A sense of belonging comes from knowing that you are not just fulfilling tasks but are a valued employee; that your employer recognizes your contributions, and that you are an integral part of the team. Without a sense of belonging, even the most talented and dedicated individuals will feel compelled to head for the door.
“Belonging” Is the Rising Standard
The concept of “belonging” is a recent extension of the well-established Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) organizational framework. DEI emerged in the wake of the Civil Rights Act as an effort to foster greater participation by groups that are historically underrepresented in American institutions.
Popular support for DEI has ballooned in recent years. The Economist estimates that the number of newly hired people with “diversity” or “inclusion” in their titles more than quadrupled between 2010 and 2021. And management consulting firm McKinsey estimates that the global market for DEI will double to $15.4 billion by 2026 from $7.5 billion in 2020.
Nowadays, the argument for DEI isn’t so much about leveling the playing field. It’s about good business. McKinsey, who began covering the issue in 2015, states in its latest “Diversity Matters” report that “companies with diverse leadership teams continue to be associated with higher financial returns.”
Interestingly, there are signs that the pendulum now may be swinging the other way. In 2023 the U.S. Supreme Court ended affirmative action in college admissions after 45 years. DEI schemes at corporations and political institutions are coming under increasing legal scrutiny. And some academics contest whether DEI initiatives do, indeed, help the bottom line – or are even effective at increasing diversity.
Despite the challenging political winds, though, DEI is far from going away. Why? Because corporate America continues to believe in the value of DEI efforts. More importantly, workers want it. According to management consultant EY, DEI initiatives play a pivotal role in recruiting and attracting top talent. In a recent survey, 63% of respondents said they would “choose a company that prioritizes DEI over one that doesn’t.” (Among Gen Z and millennials, that figure rose to 73% and 68%, respectively.)
DEI is not diminishing, but it is evolving. And its new focus is “belonging.”
How Do You Measure Belonging?
It’s possible to quantify “diversity” at an organization. But “belonging”? How do you measure something as intangible and subjective as the sense of belonging? What does it even mean? And what is the difference between “belonging” and “inclusion”?
In the context of the workplace, the concepts of inclusion and belonging are similar, yet distinct. Inclusion refers to practices and policies that encourage individuals and groups to be not only present, but also actively involved. It’s an action-oriented concept focused on removing barriers to participation and decision-making.
Belonging, on the other hand, is more subjective. It is an emotional state where individuals feel personally accepted, respected, and supported in a work setting. Belonging goes beyond feeling included. It’s about feeling comfortable in being yourself, an integral part of a group, and valued for your unique contribution.
Author and speaker Liz Fosslien offers this analogy as a description: “Diversity is having a seat at the table, inclusion is having a voice, and belonging is having that voice be heard.”
In short, inclusion relates to the steps an organization takes to promote the representation and involvement of diverse individuals. And belonging is the emotional outcome that arises when these practices are successful.
Measuring an emotion is a tricky business, of course. Most organizations who try use employee surveys to gauge worker sentiment. An obvious alternative, though, is to look at an employer’s turnover because people without a sense of belonging are apt to quit their jobs. They’re also less likely to join a company. A 2023 collaborative report by Indeed and Glassdoor found that nearly two-thirds of U.S. workers would consider turning down a job offer or leaving a company if they thought that their manager (or potential manager) did not support DEI initiatives. Among Black respondents, this figure was 80%.
The takeaway message is clear: People want to work where they feel they belong.
Do Your Homework
What’s interesting about “belonging” is that it transcends race, gender, sexuality, and other demographic markers usually associated with DEI. It encompasses much broader aspects of personal identity and workplace dynamics and is adaptable to employees of any company.
When looking for a job that is a good fit, therefore, do your homework to find one where you will feel like you belong. If you value working from home, for example, belonging is about remote work options. If you are a parent, it’s about flexible work policies. Or if you are health-conscious, it’s about wellness programs. And if you’re environmentally conscious, it’s about sustainability practices in the workplace.
If you’re Kayvon, it’s about recognition for working triple time and knowing that your best efforts are advancing the goals of the organization. With career management help from The Barrett Group, Kayvon ultimately succeeded in finding his dream job. A former professional athlete, he wanted to find employment in a results-focused culture that rewarded hard work and accountability. And that is precisely what happened. Kayvon landed in the strategic business unit of a startup management consulting firm whose core values aligned perfectly with his own. He sees his new company as a “great fit” and “exactly what I was looking for.”
Following Kayvon’s example, it’s clear that spending time to understand your own values and seeking a workplace that reflects them is key to finding a job where you don’t just fit in, but truly belong and thrive.
Read next: “Six Approaches to Professional Renewal“