Wednesday I found myself at the LinkedIn offices for an event promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace. It was titled, “We’ve Learned What Works!”
My first thought was, “really?!”
I was curious. What might this billion-dollar company have to share? And, truth be told, I was eager to see LinkedIn’s new San Francisco offices and support a dear friend who was presenting.
I headed into the city dressed comfortably in jeans and a t-shirt. I could have dressed more formally, but it never occurred to me. SF is the birthplace of the hallowed hoodie after all and, in my experience, conversations that focus on diversity draw diversely dressed people. I forgot though that this gathering was about corporate systems. Many of the attendees were dressed for such a conversation in business suits, skirts and heels.
Having confidence in my qualifications to be in the room, I was happy in boots.
The event focused on benchmarks determined by The Diversity Collegium, a think tank of 95 diversity practitioners from many disciplines and backgrounds. These 266 benchmarks are divided into four groups: Foundation, Bridging, Internal and External. The presentation was somewhat rushed given time constraints, but I took away two things.
- This group, which has been convening since 1991, likely does know what works to foster inclusion
- Just because we know what works doesn’t mean it’s possible
Because it was a lot to digest, I was relieved to hear that the report is free and downloadable for anyone.
I’ve long felt though that diversity and inclusion is only a piece of the puzzle. A diverse and inclusive space contributes to a feeling of comfort, but it doesn’t mean I see these people as “my people.” It doesn’t mean that I experience our interconnectedness or want to hang out with them in my free time. In order to feel this kind of heart connection, I must feel that I “belong.”
Anyone trying to foster diversity and inclusion, I believe, is really trying to create a feeling of “belonging.”
My sentiments were mirrored in the comments of Sandy Hoffman, Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging at LinkedIn.
Hoffman presented research showing what happens when people believe that they “belong.”
At Stanford, when upperclassman told incoming students that they “belonged there,” grades improved, students took on more challenges and overall reported more confidence. Similarly, at UCLA, students experienced an increase in cognitive functioning, greater problem-solving abilities and more happiness.
What helps people feel that they belong? Hoffman shared three factors:
Social Bonds – Bringing people together
Shared Vision – A common purpose, values and goals
Belonging Moments – Sharing personal stories
While this is encouraging in the context of a social setting, I believe that belonging actually starts with the individual. We must reclaim the places within us that have been cut off and quieted in order to “get along” in our white, patriarchal world.
As a Black girl I’ve learned:
Facts are more valued than feelings
I must not talk too loud
I must not be “too much”
It’s best to be “unbiased” and dispassionate when making a point
Analytical intelligence is intelligence
The “body” has no place in a conversation
Anyone who doesn’t conform to the “ideals” learns they can only be themselves “on their own time.” If most of our waking hours are spent at a job where I must contain who I am, what “myself” is becomes buried and lost.
We’ll never feel a true sense of belonging until we belong to ourselves.
How do we awaken and reconnect with our fullness?
I believe the path is joy.
It was incredibly heartening to hear that my work and the ideas I’ve hatched in the laboratory known as my kitchen are not far from what the bigwigs with the research dollars are coming to understand.
I’m currently designing a program for people ready to “free themselves to be themselves” to experience a true sense of belonging.
Maybe that’s you?
Stay tuned for more,