How a sense of belonging impacts diversity and inclusion within an organisation

  • In terms of Diversity and Inclusivity how does ‘Belonging’ fit into the mix? Sync NI sat down with Chloe Gillard, newly appointed Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Manager at Version 1 to find out more.

    During our conversation it became clear that Chloe’s journey was far from conventional. By her own admission it was by pure chance that she found herself as Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging or simply the ‘DIBS’ manager at one of the UK’s most prestigious technology companies and following the acquisition of Neueda in 2021, one of Northern Ireland’s largest technology employers.

    Chloe’s story began on a school hockey pitch in Banbridge which launched her on a decade long adventure to ultimately arrive at her destination today. On leaving school Chloe studied Sport Science at Northumbria University becoming the Captain and Club President of the Hockey team.

    On completion of her degree she went on to obtain two  hockey scholarships and achieved two Master’s degrees in Instructional Leadership and Sports Science admin from Robert Morris University in Pennsylvania and Central Michigan University in the US respectively.

    It was while studying for her Master’s degrees that Chloe began to formally learn about and appreciate the true meaning of ‘Cultural Intelligence’ Globalisation, Diversity and Inclusiveness. Upon graduating Chloe went on to experience first-hand the actual impact of DIBS in the real world working. She worked as a Sports Administrator at The University at Buffalo in New York state with a student population composed of vastly different and diverse backgrounds.

    Chloe is keen to point out that it was under the tutelage and mentorship of a senior woman administrator, Kathy Twist, that inspired her to develop her career in diversity and inclusion, after winning awards for the pioneering work Kathy achieved with College athletics at the university. Whilst always following her love for Hockey, sport and travel Chloe eventually returned to Northern Ireland bringing home all her valuable experience to help deliver best practice for Diversity and Inclusion, and most importantly ‘Belonging’ to Version 1.

    After a variety of D&I roles working for global companies across investment banking, engineering and a national social housing organisation, Chloe has now embarked upon this new challenge working directly for Lorna McAdoo, Head of ESG at Version1,  to help shape, redefine and deliver an ambitious DIB’s strategy for the group.

    The obvious first question to ask Chloe was ‘Where do you start when it comes to implementing DI&B?’ For the next hour Chloe spoke with energy and conviction and it quickly became apparent that all of her leanings and experiences over the last decade will soon have a hugely positive impact for everyone at Version1.

    Chloe explained that for DIBs to create systemic change within an organisation it must be “fully embedded top down and bottom up.” Part of this strategy includes a Version 1 shadow board of under 30’s to develop young talent to better understand the executive decisions traditionally taken in a corporate boardroom. The shadow board is particularly forward thinking in terms of empowerment of voices for both internal and external customers. Chloe added: “If we can apply a D&I lens on top of everything it becomes everybody’s responsibility and weaves it into the very fabric of the organisation and that really is the key thing.”

    To this end the DIB’s strategy will not reside within HR (which is often the case for many organisations), but will form a much more strategic role across a new organisational structure created within the business that also incorporates Corporate Governance, Environment and social value under the umbrella of Environmental Social Governance (ESG). As Chloe explains ESG comes down to the basic principle of “doing the right things for the right reasons” and this requires buy-in at board level and across senior leadership otherwise what happens between middle and bottom is irrelevant. The journey starts with listening and hearing from people about how they feel, as well as creating a culture of trust to ensure individuals can express themselves freely and safely. This in turn allows the organisation to address their issues effectively.

    Chloe goes on to explain that employees can often feel their voices go unheard, or perhaps their careers are not being developed amongst other issues. This can lead to a sense of disempowerment.. It is therefore essential to create a culture that engenders a sense of belonging and identifying DIBs champions to advocate for everyone to ensure every voice is heard. It’s about being honest and understanding that everyone is unique and no two people share the same diversity of lived experiences. It also requires people to be authentic and Chloe goes on to emphasise this point, stating: “It’s important to be yourself and not do a disservice by taking someone else’s spot in this world.”

    Chloe points out this is a two way street and an organisation equally must also be open, honest and transparent about the good, bad and ugly of what has been done in terms of DEI in the past.  She tells us: “By hearing from and empowering everyone to challenge the narrative and cultural norms within the organisation a good DIB strategy will ultimately draw out the necessary information to paint a clear picture of how people feel about their place within the business, career progression and ultimately their sense of belonging. It’s important that everyone learns to become more self-aware, particularly in terms of self-biases when having internal conversations before starting this journey.”

    Much of the upside to a successful DIB’s strategy is felt across the board delivering increased productivity, improved and quicker innovation by helping organisations and employees understand and relate to diverse client needs.

    When asked about overcoming resistance to embracing a more progressive DIBs strategy Chloe remained optimistic and explained: “We shouldn’t be afraid to challenge bad habits. When you encounter those who stand in the way of positive change and their actions run counter to good DEI practice, remember not to remain silent as inaction is still action. Instead speak up and you will discover there may be more people who feel your same pain, and you’ll find allies and your support system. Ultimately many drops make a wave.”

    Finally, Chloe compares the journey to being on a train with many carriages. When you fully belong, it means that you are not confined to one carriage but rather DIB gives you greater freedom to move between carriages and sit where you feel most comfortable. The key to achieving this is to ensure learning and implementing good practice becomes less formal and more immersive resulting in equity rather than equality to achieve a true sense of belonging.



    About the author

    Aoife is a Sync NI writer with a previous background working in print, online and broadcast media. She has a keen interest in all things tech related. To connect with Aoife feel free to send her an email or connect on LinkedIn.

    Got a news-related tip you’d like to see covered on Sync NI? Email the editorial team for our consideration.

    Sign up now for a FREE weekly newsletter showcasing the latest news, jobs and events in NI’s tech sector.

Share this story