Cultivating Belonging

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the newest phrase in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) Movement, which is now being called D, E, I & B, with the B representing Belonging.  I love the idea that an organization should strive not only to create an environment of inclusion, but an atmosphere where all team members feel they truly belong.  I started thinking back about the first time I felt belonging outside of my family, and it reminded me of one of my favorite childhood memories.

Meet my 2nd Grade Hero

As a second grader in the mid-80’s, I was fortunate to be in Ms. Cathy Davis’s class. Ms. Davis was (and still is) a beautiful Caucasian woman, who at that time may have been in her mid-20’s.  Our school, which was predominantly Caucasian, but had a good sprinkling of other ethnicities, declared that we would have an International Festival to celebrate and educate students about various cultures.  Ms. Davis asked me whether I thought my mom would let her dress up in one of my mom’s traditional sarees for the festival.  I was excited as I raced home that day after school, eager to ask my mom.

My mom gladly obliged, coming to International Festival straight from an overnight work shift as a nurse, and helped Ms. Davis change into a stunning red sari.   I beamed with pride seeing my teacher wearing the crystal-studded fabric that draped elegantly over her as the other children admired and asked to touch the material! It made me feel like I belonged in her class and especially at our school.  That day, I experienced belonging in an amazing way.  While Indians were still a relatively new race in the American landscape, my teacher used the opportunity to showcase that we should be proud of all heritages and traditions.  My mom brought some traditional dishes to share with the class and everyone loved that too. It was a feeling that I’ll never forget, primarily of love, pride, and gratitude.

Belonging in the Workplace

This same feeling of belonging can exist in a workplace as well. Research shows that people stay at organizations when they feel like they belong. We can choose to make our work and home environments places where people feel like they belong through simple but consistent actions.  A few examples are below:

  • Welcome opinions different from your own. You don’t always have to agree, but you should listen and be empathetic to see situations from another perspective
  • Give people a vote on decisions that impact them when possible
  • Allocate and distribute work evenly, showing you trust your team’s capabilities
  • Set clear expectations of roles and responsibilities. Everyone on the team should understand the company’s strategic priorities, and the role they play in making that happen.
  • Empower people to make decisions within their domain.
  • Welcome new employees into your organization and set up introductions, lunches, and a few fun events to help others also get to know them.

By incorporating these strategies into your team and company, you’ll help create a culture where people feel respected, valued and trust that they belong.


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