Belonging and Inclusion

When employees belong, they bring their best selves

The world is changing. By 2055, the U.S. will not have a single racial or ethnic majority, according to the Pew Research Center. That means our future stakeholders — employees, policyholders, agents, and mutuals — will come from a variety of walks of life, with different beliefs, languages, and cultural norms.

Companies are realizing, or will need to realize soon, that just embracing diversity is no longer enough. Instead, fostering a genuine sense of belonging for employees will be the key to thriving workplace environments.

Grinnell Mutual is taking steps to create that kind of atmosphere by building a culture of belonging with help from a recently formed Belonging and Inclusion Committee. The committee comprises a group of 19 employees from multiple departments charged with helping all employees feel like they have a place at the company not just because of their skillsets, but also because of who they are, and that they can bring their whole selves to work.

“One of the analogies we make is that inclusion is being invited to the party, but belonging is being asked to dance with your friends,” said Assistant Vice President of Talent Development Karen Richards, who chairs the committee.

Brielle Beck, Talent Development coordinator and one of the committee’s leaders, says that belonging is a deeper feeling than inclusion. “We all feel included when we come to work because we have a job here, but if we truly feel that we belong, we will be our true selves.”


Research suggests that when employees feel they need to conform to the dominant culture, the quality of their work and overall satisfaction suffers. A 2013 survey from professional services network Deloitte found that 61 percent of employees “cover” their identities in some way. They may not be hiding who they are, but may minimize certain aspects of themselves or their lives. Moms may never talk about their children, a gay person may never bring their spouse to the holiday party, or a white man may not bring up his struggles with mental health.

According to Richards, when employees feel they can be their authentic selves, they can also bring their best selves, focus better on work, feel more secure, and ultimately feel like they belong.

This feeling of belonging ultimately is reflected in the bottom line, too. A 2017 survey by the Boston Consulting Group of more than 1,700 companies worldwide revealed that companies that have more diverse management teams have 19 percent higher revenue. In 2018, McKinsey & Company discovered that racially diverse companies were 21 percent more likely to have financial returns above national industry medians.

President and CEO Jeff Menary said that launching this initiative is a natural progression of Grinnell Mutual’s existing culture. “Grinnell Mutual has a rich history and tradition of respecting each employee as an individual. We not only trust and respect our colleagues, we also value the relationships we develop as co-workers. All of our successes are based on the collective efforts of our employees.”


The Belonging Committee kicked off the initiative in August during the company’s third-quarter Town Hall. They invited co-owners of Teehee’s Comedy Club (in Des Moines, Iowa), Sid Juwarker and Josh Chamberlain, to help open the minds of employees with their “inclusion through improv” show. Employees also sampled foods from around the world — from poke bowls to Indian cuisine. And the band Brazilian2Wins played live music on the patio after work.

The committee also introduced networking groups, which encourages employees from across the company to form clubs based on common interests. So far, over 50 networking groups have been formed, covering interests from biking to baking to board games. Beck hopes that offering a way to connect through common interests will help employees from different departments build deeper relationships with each other.


In October, the Belonging Committee hosted a Diwali celebration for all employees. Diwali, the Hindu “Festival of Lights,” is one of the most popular holidays around the world, with over 800 million people observing it each year.

Nandhini Venkataswamy, test engineer, has been bringing Diwali to her job for almost 19 years, even before she worked at Grinnell Mutual. She sees Diwali as an opportunity for employees to get a glimpse of Indian culture, try new foods and traditions, and share in the joy of it.

For her, the best part of Diwali is sharing the holiday with friends and family, regardless of their religion. “I’m happy that a company like Grinnell Mutual is taking the initiative to encourage and support this kind of festival.”

Organizers brought in delicious food, both homemade and restaurant-made, filling attendees’ plates with spicy tikka masala and chicken biryani, savory samosas, and sweet gulab jamuns — known as “Indian donuts.”

Employees also had the option to wear traditional Indian wear, such as sarees and kurthas and volunteers decorated people’s hands with intricate mehandi designs using henna.

“I feel so thankful and blessed to work for an organization that recognizes and adopts cultural diversity so well. It’s a pleasure to work for Grinnell Mutual and what it stands for,” said Madhavi Gunturu, a scrum master who helped organize the event.

As the initiative grows, the Belonging Committee plans to host Lunch and Learns, unconscious bias trainings, and to support different groups alongside national celebrations such as Black History Month and Pride Month.

Richards hopes that as time goes on, the initiative becomes just another taken-for-granted aspect of Grinnell Mutual’s culture. “I hope it just becomes the way we do business.”


We believe that belonging starts at home. Check out how we're involved in our employees' communities, and how you can contact us for more information.

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