People can do their best work when people belong. Yet, in the work of DEIB, diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, belonging is the hardest one to build into any culture. The reason is because belonging happens internally to every individual where their perception drives their reality. All the other components of DEIB can be externally measured--are we diverse enough? do we have a fair pay policy? Are we making sure that everyone is included and we're not leaving people behind? But belonging, that's an internally driven compass where people can only tell us if they feel like they belong.
Belonging is so hard because it cannot happen in the absence of being seen. People can't be seen if they don't feel safe enough to bring out their authentic selves. That's why having an acute awareness of this dynamic from the leadership is the first step to creating that safety.
When an employee doesn't feel like they belong, a certain non-zero portion of their cognitive overhead is occupied with managing and regulating their emotional response against infractions, micro-aggressions and inequities. Regardless of whether it's real or perceived, they are processing, assessing, analyzing, deflecting or figuring out their response to the situation.
That's why, pronoia (the opposite of paranoia) is so important. It's the idea that instead of constantly believing and worrying the potential infractions against you, it's the constant belief and awareness that people are supportive of you and taking care of you. It starts with small things – like getting to know the people we work with and making an effort to understand their experiences. It also requires that we be proactive in supporting one another and creating an environment in which everyone feels valued and respected.
Creating and maintaining this kind of culture isn't easy but it's achievable if it's something that we all believe is necessary in creating the optimal place of work and community.
Ultimately, DEIB is not a checkbox or a seasonal initiative. It's something that needs to be woven into the fabric of our lives and our companies, from the very beginning.