Taking Ownership of our Words, Priorities, and Actions, to Create a Culture of Belonging


Words by Laurie Cooke, President and CEO, Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA)


This past year has shed light on some of our world’s biggest challenges. From data showing how pandemics disproportionately impact under-served communities and women came a renewed focus on equity. From the clear damage of misinformation came a call to combat this global problem. And from forced isolation came a deeper understanding of what it means to belong. World events have forced us to take ownership of our words, our priorities, and our actions.


One of the most impactful conversations for me this year is one we’ve had in the HBA around what we mean by words like inclusivity, diversity, and belonging. As Nikki Jones, Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and People Ops, HBA explains it: “Diversity is when you’re invited to the dance. Inclusivity is when you’re asked to dance. Belonging is when they’re playing your music at the dance.”


While diversity and inclusion are important, they are merely starting points, ones that far too many of us have been content with stopping at for far too long. To be full and equal partners, we must each be able to bring our authentic selves to our work; we must be able to see ourselves in the people and structures around us.


Creating a culture of belonging makes us all better. When we can be authentic, creativity and collaboration flourish. When we can share opinions and vulnerabilities honestly, we leave less space for bias and misinformation to take root. When we can trust that we are treated and paid fairly, we can better focus on serving our customers.


In the HBA, we’ve spent the past few years pushing ourselves to take a bold stance on achieving belonging in the form of gender parity. We’ve worked to answer the call to challenge our assumptions and ensure we’re working on behalf of women of all races, ethnicities, identities, and abilities.


We started by defining our primary goal of achieving gender parity and how we mean to achieve it. This clarity and accountability helped everyone in our organisation unite behind a common purpose.


We then invited our industry partners to do the same. Through our Gender Parity Collaborative, our partners share data and engage in honest reflections on their companies’ representation and culture. They hold each other accountable, not just for the number of women in leadership, but how women, and especially women of colour, are represented and supported throughout the hiring pipeline. We started partnerships with leading research organisations, such as McKinsey & Company, to define and track progress on gender equity issues.


Finally, we worked to strengthen our culture of ‘radical hospitality’. Through programmes such as HBA Berlin’s recent session on unconscious bias, we create spaces for our members to learn and grow, and through member surveys and forums, we create a continuous feedback loop to quickly identify issues, reflect, and take action. Yet we know that our work is never finished because the only way to achieve a lasting culture of belonging is to continue to listen, learn, and evolve.