The idea of Belonging has been a thread through so many moments over the past few weeks. First, at our recent IDA Board Retreat, we had a robust discussion around our shared challenges for our places and one of those was “Rebuilding with Equity.” As we continued the discussion, we centered around the idea of building places for people, and someone said that we should be the Central People Districts rather than Central Business Districts. Then at a recent local Chamber Economic Summit, the keynote speaker informed the audience that DEI is no longer enough. Still, rather we need to consider DEIAB … Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Accessibility and Belonging. In our office, we have been looking to hire a new team member, and conversations have circled around equitable hiring practices. In addition, more seasoned staff members were awakened through the process to their own feelings of belonging within the group. Finally, at our most recent art festival, a top award was given to an African weaver from New York and receiving the award was incredibly emotional for her. As she wiped tears and tried to collect herself, she kept uttering, “I work so hard.”
I am in the process of reading Inclusion on Purpose by Ruchika Tulshyan. It is a beautiful book about how we can change the dynamics of our workplaces to create a greater sense of Belonging. The book looks at our systems and breaks down where there are baked-in biases and provides some tactical answers to the HOW of building inclusion. But all the tactics in the world may not ultimately result in belonging.
How do we build places where people feel they belong? How do we build work environments where people feel they belong? How do we curate programs that invite our diverse communities to engage?
These are ongoing questions we are all struggling with, and I, by no means, believe that I have the answers. However, I believe we will not get there without deeply intentional revisions to our processes and an understanding that this is ultimately about the felt experience.
The woman at our art festival, I can only imagine, was tired. Tired from driving across the country to do these art festivals. Tired of working so many hours with her hands to create these baskets that will be wildly appreciated by some and passed over by others. But I believe that the recognition that we bestowed on her, in that moment, made her feel that she belonged. She belonged as an artist, woman, maker, and hopefully as a black woman who makes African art.
The book talks about how one of the worst things that we can do is to “hire for a culture fit” and I have to admit that I have fallen victim to this line of thinking in the past. I would have been looking for someone I thought would get along well with the team so that business could continue with the fewest bumps. Ms. Tulshyan points out the dangers of this approach and how easily we end up with an office that looks like us and acts like us.
I also believe that we will not be able to create Central People Districts in our places if we haven’t embraced Belonging and inclusion in our offices. So I am challenging myself to greater intentionality around each step in this work. Intentionality around our people and how we treat them. Intentionality around our external programming. Intentionality in our advocacy and our place building. By no means have I answered any question here, but hopefully I’ve sparked a conversation that we can all have as we move forward doing this incredible work.