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Creating a Community of Belonging

For Schools

, By Jenny Barker

A PresenceLearning with a Purpose Discussion with Shanelle Reese

Recently we had a conversation with Shanelle Reese, Chief People Officer at PresenceLearning, for the second installment of her quarterly insights for our “PresenceLearning with a Purpose” series. We discussed her focus on creating a sense of belonging for employees, and why it matters—both for building a company that nurtures its people and that helps them in “doing well by doing good” in the world beyond. She shared her wisdom and vision on a number of topics, including three best practices that every company should deploy today.


You talk about Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, & Belonging. Why does the “B” matter in particular?

Companies are becoming experts at sourcing and bringing diversity into their companies. Not many companies, however, are ensuring that their infrastructure supports creating space for diversity in a meaningful way. We all know that diversity in thought drives innovation. But if you aren’t creating a safe space for diverse employees and providing a work culture that allows individuals to bring their whole and authentic selves to work, it is highly unlikely that you will retain diversity. In order to hold ourselves accountable, as people leaders, we also have to ensure we are paying attention to the diversity stats after hiring, to see how our talent is doing once they become employees. What are the promotion rates for our diverse employees? What are the retention rates for our diverse employees? What are our engagement scores among our diverse employees? We have to continue the commitment past hiring and ensure the employee experience creates a sense of belonging that allows retention of our diverse talent. 

How do Employee Resource Groups support belonging?

They keep us honest. We hear directly from the underrepresented groups what we can be doing to create space for all groups. This is why we have committed ourselves to giving power to voice. We want to create a safe space for these groups to tell us what we are doing well and what we can be doing better. More importantly, we understand that this is an iterative process and conversations will be ongoing.

What are your three best practices that other organizations should deploy today to cultivate a “community of belonging”?

Ensure your leadership team and people managers are aware of unconscious biases (we all have them!) and that you are providing required training and resources to help individuals check their biases before they negatively impact their decision-making. Here are the three best practices:

  1. Set the tone from day one with employees. Talk about unconscious biases and diversity and what it means, why it matters, and why it is important at your company during orientation. Don’t wait!
  2. Leverage your ERG groups to help ensure your programming supports and creates space for all groups and be prepared for continuous conversations that help create understanding.  
  3. Make sure your values support and encourage your employees to lean into a community of belonging.  

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Q&A with Shanelle Reese

Shanelle Reese has a wide spectrum of experience building and transforming HR practices in start-ups, nonprofits, and corporations. Prior to PresenceLearning, she led HR Operations at Amerit Fleet Solutions before transitioning to an HR Project Manager role at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital of Oakland. Shanelle is passionate about advocating for children with special needs, having advocated for her son who currently has an active IEP. Shanelle holds a B.A. in Sociology and an M.S. in Human Resource Management.


“PresenceLearning with a Purpose” intends to capture the many employee stories that give voice to our mission. If you’re interested in learning more about the work of PresenceLearning, please schedule a free consultation today. Discover how thousands of school districts are diversifying their delivery of services as part of an innovative approach to special education.

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