We’re celebrating our fourth annual Global Week of Belonging, a time to further educate, engage and involve colleagues in our Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) efforts. This year’s theme, “Connecting Cultures to Navigate Change,” highlights the importance of understanding and embracing diverse perspectives to foster an inclusive environment, where everyone feels that they belong. For this special edition of Inside Edelman, we profiled colleagues from our global offices who are embodying Edelman’s commitment to DEIB and are advocates for building acceptance and understanding within the firm and beyond.

What does belonging mean to you within the context of cultural diversity, and why do you think it’s important in the workplace?

Belonging is the cornerstone of creating a truly inclusive environment within any organization. It's about ensuring that every individual, regardless of their background, feels valued, respected, and integral to the team. Imagine a table where everyone has a seat, where their voices are heard, and their perspectives are welcomed. That's the kind of atmosphere we need to establish—one where diversity isn't just acknowledged but celebrated.

When we embrace diverse viewpoints, we ignite a spark of creativity that drives innovation and problem-solving. It's not just about checking boxes for diversity; it's about harnessing the power of our differences to drive meaningful change and propel us forward. By fostering a culture of belonging, we create a workplace where people are not only motivated to stay but also inspired to give their best.

Moreover, belonging is not just a feel-good concept; it's integral to our diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) strategy. When everyone feels like they belong, they're more likely to contribute meaningfully, collaborate effectively, and ultimately, drive business success. The Edelman Trust Barometer underscores the importance of employers as trusted sources of information, highlighting the critical role that organizational culture plays in building trust and loyalty among employees.

Ultimately, creating a culture of belonging is about more than just policies and programs; it's about fostering an environment where everyone can bring their authentic selves to work. It's about cultivating a sense of camaraderie and shared purpose that 'sparks joy' not only in our work but also in our relationships with colleagues. When we prioritize belonging, we create a workplace where everyone can thrive, and that's the kind of culture we strive to cultivate.

Can you share any personal experiences where your cultural background intersected with others?

Malaysia stands out as a melting pot of cultures, where a multitude of ethnicities coexist harmoniously, contributing to a vibrant and diverse societal fabric. The fusion of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Portuguese, Sikh, Iban, Kadazan, and numerous indigenous ethnicities creates a tapestry of traditions, languages, and customs that is truly unique. As a Eurasian with both European and Asian heritage, I've had the privilege of experiencing the richness of this cultural mosaic firsthand and it has brought on a sense of understanding and acceptance, and I feel that it is the same with my children. Mixed marriage is an everyday thing, cultural experiences shared are consistent and constant, it has become ‘our way’ to be blind of colour, culture, race and religion. Temples, mosques and churches, stand side by side, and sometimes share a parking lot.

However, amidst this celebration of diversity, there are undeniable challenges that persist. Religious and cultural disparities can sometimes lead to tensions and hinder the acceptance and understanding of marginalized groups, such as the LGBTQIA+ community. Despite Malaysia's diverse landscape, there remains a journey ahead to ensure that every individual feels valued, respected, and embraced for who they are.

How do you think the intersection of different cultures influences one's sense of belonging?

I am fortunate to work for a company that champions DEIB. However, I recognize that many of my friends and peers are not as fortunate. For those who feel marginalized or excluded, entrepreneurship or careers in creative industries often serve as avenues for acceptance and self-expression. These fields offer spaces where individuals can celebrate their identities and talents without fear of judgment or discrimination.

Yet, it's crucial to acknowledge that opportunities for acceptance and expression in these fields are not equally accessible to all. Structural barriers and systemic inequalities present significant obstacles, particularly for marginalized communities.

Ultimately, fostering a culture of acceptance and belonging requires collective effort and commitment. It's about creating environments where diversity is not just celebrated but actively embraced and where every individual is empowered to live authentically and pursue their dreams, regardless of background or identity. Only then can we truly realize the full potential of Malaysia's multicultural heritage and create a society where everyone feels valued and included.

After all, we are all part of the same human family, bound by our shared experiences and our humanity.

From your perspective, what are the most significant barriers to achieving a sense of connectivity and belonging in the workplace and how can we address them?

This is a great question. Last year, I was part of the team that trained our Edelman teams in Malaysia and Indonesia on Unconscious Bias. Besides fostering a sense of belonging, I was motivated to share with our colleagues certain ingrained attitudes or stereotypes that we hold onto about certain groups of people. These biases are often unintentional and can influence our decisions and behaviors without us even knowing it. They are sometimes based on factors such as race, gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or other characteristics. Unconscious bias can impact various aspects of our lives, and this may even affect our hiring decisions, performance evaluations, as well as our interactions with others. That is why, in my humble opinion, HR and People Partner departments in any organization must lead the charge in adopting and implementing diversity training to address unconscious bias and promote inclusive behaviors within the workplace. This includes creating inclusive policies and encouraging open dialogue, which will allow employees to voice concerns and collaborate on solutions.

More importantly, belonging needs to be a genuine intention, not just a fad or hype.

How do you personally try to foster a sense of belonging within your team or your organization?

Well, the Malaysia office is a big office (I think there are 80 of us), and I feel like we are doing something right. We are led by example and Zin Mazuin, our CEO, sets a positive tone with her big, big heart. She encourages open communication and team members feel comfortable sharing ideas and feedback. We take the time to do activities together which strengthens bonds outside of our work tasks. We also recognize and appreciate each other’s contributions regularly to enhance feelings of value.

I came out a few years ago, and after I did, I worked with our CEO and regional HR, and we implemented inclusive policies and practices that promote and support diversity and equity. I feel that we have also created a space that caters to wellness and well-being, and not just health benefits.

We need to continuously gather feedback to foster belonging within the team because these efforts create a workplace culture where every member feels valued, respected, and connected, which leads to higher morale, productivity, and of course, retention. It also makes perfect business sense. I would also recommend offering various DEIB trainings such as Unconscious Bias in all organizations and we should make the services just as readily available to clients as Media and Spokesperson training in all markets.

Another suggestion is we continue to evaluate the feedback from our Voice of People surveys that can be integrated into our work.

Ezra Gideon is the Director of Edelman's Malaysia office.