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Think your employees feel equally comfortable at work? Think again

December 15, 2021 - 8 min read


Across industries, companies are ramping up their diversity and inclusion efforts. While there is still a long way to go, some of these initiatives have already begun bearing fruit. For the first time in over twenty years, all S&P 500 company boards have at least one woman on them. The number of black directors at those companies is also on the rise. And DE&I roles are popping up all over the country

But while companies are doing a better job of increasing the diversity of their workforce, many of these changes appear to be only skin deep.

Without deep diversity that is drawn out and made use of in the day-to-day work and decisions of the organization, companies won’t realize the significant benefits of diversity. Nor will the employees from under-represented groups or those with perspectives and experiences outside the norm experience a high level of job satisfaction or career growth that would lead them to recommend their employer to others.  

There is a big difference between building an employee-base comprised of different categories of people, and building an inclusive environment where those people feel safe, welcomed, and valued for what they bring to the table.

Inclusive workplaces don’t happen by accident. Thoughtfulness, intention, and support for personal growth are all necessary ingredients to build a climate in which people from all backgrounds can truly flourish.

While individuals from underrepresented groups may need support to build resilience, develop a sense of belonging, and bring their best selves to the work, their managers also need support in leading inclusively and creating a sense of belonging for their teams. Other team members also benefit from support to grow and become full participants in a culture that is more open and inclusive for all. 

We were curious to see if members of different identity groups had the same feelings about the climate of their work environment or if their perceptions varied. By understanding if and where these gaps exist, companies can better pinpoint specific places their DE&I initiatives are failing so they can create a healthier and more inclusive work environment for all. 


What the data say:

We took a look at BetterUp member onboarding survey data to see how different groups felt about their workplaces. The data suggests some telling differences in perceptions of workplace climate between members of majority identity groups and those in traditionally underrepresented racial and ethnic groups (URGs).

Controlling for management position (i.e. making sure URGs and nonURGs were equally represented across management roles), we found:

1. Members of URGs consistently rate interactions with their coworkers as less collaborative, supportive, and familiar than those in majority groups.

Perception of coworkers URG vs non URG 1@2x

This is in line with the findings of our Inclusive Leadership report and provides new detail on the types of daily behaviors that contribute to a sense of belonging at work. That data revealed that URGs are 1.6X more likely to have low belonging than their majority peers. Individuals that feel a low sense of belonging are more likely to quit their jobs and have lower productivity. Whereas high rates of belonging lead to a 56% increase in job performance and a 50% reduction in the risk of employee turnover. Belonging is also linked to an increase in promotions and raises and even brings down sick days by 75%.

2. Members of URGs consistently rate interactions with their managers as less supportive and less focused on personal growth than do those in majority groups.

Perception of managers URG vs non URG

Managers have an outsized influence — either positive or negative — over key dimensions of the employee experience. When the relationship between a manager and a direct report is negative or feels biased, the effects of that one relationship can ripple across an entire team.

Our Inclusive Leadership report revealed that teams that have inclusive managers report 3.4X higher job satisfaction, 2.7X higher commitment, and 1.9X higher engagement than average.

3. Members of URGs consistently rate team dynamics as more conflict-laden than those in majority groups.

Perception of conflict URG vs non URG@2x

Not all forms of team conflict are inherently negative. Productive conflict has been proven to increase productivity, innovation, and healthy communication. But this healthy kind of conflict can only exist in environments of high psychological safety. 

Far more common is destructive conflict — the negative interactions that damage trust, confidence, and commitment and cause work disruptions, decreased productivity, project failures, higher turnover and increased terminations. One report found that 26% of employees admit conflict at work is a common occurrence — with 1 in 5 saying that their teams reject others for “being different.”

What this means:

There is clearly a pervasive disconnect between the experiences that people in URGs have in the workplace compared to those in majority groups. This may help explain the differences we see in personal factors like well-being, belonging, and satisfaction with life as well as professional factors like promotion, engagement, and turnover.

These differences in how interpersonal dynamics are experienced and perceived may not be intentional. They may not even be perceptible to a third-party observer. Yet, the data tell a different story — one that organizations and leaders need to pay attention to. The fact remains that URG members are having vastly different experiences in the workplace. 

The good news is that being aware of how differently the workplace is being experienced gives leaders the opportunity to proactively address this discrepancy: through developing inclusive leadership skills, providing additional support to URGs, and doing more to support the broader workforce in understanding their role in creating a culture of belonging for everyone.

If organizations truly are committed to embracing diversity, they must do more than simply change their hiring practices to bring more people into the process. They must also invest in building an inclusive culture fostered by strong leaders that embody those values. Only then will they be able to achieve a sustainable work environment where people of all sorts feel safe, comfortable, and empowered to reach their full potential. 


Published December 15, 2021

Erin Eatough, PhD

Sr. Insights Manager

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