On Belonging

April 27, 2021 by Niara Perry for ImpactEDI™

The other day, someone asked me to read “The Problem with Inclusion: Time to Shift to Belonging,” an article written by Dwight Vidale – Director of Institutional Equity and Belonging at Collegiate School in New York. They wanted me to share my thoughts on placing a heavier focus on the “belonging” in ‘diversity, equity, inclusion, justice, and belonging,’ all nouns that are being used to describe organizational inclusion efforts.

Of course this isn’t the first time I’ve seen the topic discussed. The argument being that inclusion or equality of opportunity alone cannot offer marginalized communities the same ease when navigating a space that’s inherently granted to the majority; that they must be paired with a sense of belonging for any hope at a level playing field. I wholeheartedly believe in the importance of belonging. I feel, and believe, that there’s more to this work than just allowing bodies of color and culture to be in the room. That being said, I see belonging as the end goal, as opposed to an active part of the process.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion all aim to encourage a myriad of backgrounds, perspectives, and ideas that will thrive within an ecosystem. Yet what I find, forgotten time and time again, is that “inclusion” needs to start at square one. Inclusion doesn’t just mean inviting that coworker (who happens to be different from the majority) to a golf day or offering them the promotion they’ve deserved for years. While these are [albeit] well-intentioned, performative gestures intended to make leaders and organizations look and feel good about their commitment to diversity. They’re not aimed at actually creating inclusion, and room for others in what is deemed as “your world,” the one created with Eurocentric ideals and a history of abusive erasure of stories. Inclusion first and foremost references and requires that there be the presence of diversity and variance in the conversations around planning, strategizing, and implementing change.     

For many marginalized employees, after decades of being told and shown that any semblance of belonging must be earned through the self-contortionistic act of assimilation, seeking or asking for a workspace in which to authentically belong can often feel pointless. However, when diverse voices are sincerely invited to help create and mold the space, inherently, the resulting environment is one in which they feel safe to show up authentically, they feel heard when they share ideas and/or needs that aren’t being met, and they feel both seen and valued for doing both. In other words, the space itself, becomes a space in which they feel a true sense of belonging. 

At the end of the day, the biggest concern is that employees are seen, heard, respected, and valued. You cannot truly say that someone is included if all of these aspects are not simultaneously present. The specific label is semantics. Inauthentic efforts at “inclusion,” over the decades, have watered the word down. This has inevitably caused the true breadth of responsibility that inclusion encapsulates to fade into a near bottomless chasm of broken trust and lowered expectations.  If placing the spotlight on the goal of this work rather than the steps to get there jogs our memories, so be it. The layers of navigating a world still so unsure of how to face its violent past will never fit into the confines of a single word, and this unavoidably results in chosen labels that hold more weight than was originally intended for any one word. So while some may choose different vocabulary from others to describe these efforts, what’s most important is that the efforts continue, with true commitment, unceasing, and in full force.

Images – Courtesy of Shutterstock

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ImpactEDI™ is a social benefit organization. We work with organizations, institutions, corporations, and individuals, helping them strengthen their commitment to attaining equity through diversity, inclusion, and creating safe spaces of belonging. To learn more about our offerings click here or email us at info@impactedi.com.

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Niara Perry (she, they) is a Philadelphia native. Niara knew from a young age that she wanted to leave a positive impact on the world with whatever career she chose. It wasn’t until much later that she found out about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion as a career path, and she knew instantly that this was the impact she was looking to make. Since joining the field, she has become the Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Founder Shield – a risk-management insurance broker of high growth companies. Niara also co-hosts her own podcast –Persisting in Color, and is set to self-publish her first book of poetry in Summer ’21 titled Mourning a Stranger. The common thread through all these projects? An effort to connect people by building empathy, understanding, and community. During her downtime, Niara loves taking her cat for outside adventures and seeing what seeds have sprouted.. You can connect with Niara here.

ImpactEDI™ would like to thank Niara for her contribution to our blog. We would also like to thank Founder Shield for partnering with us as we do this important work.

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