Can you imagine belonging at work…on a global scale?

Perhaps when attempting to answer this question you find yourself being dismissive and cynical, silently saying to yourself, that’s impossible. You may feel justified in your response for good reasons. You might have personally experienced one, some, or all of these common pitfalls that stymie your workplace from advancing its diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goals. These fumbles may include:

  • Lacking a long-term plan that clarifies required actions to build a belonging culture.
  • Failure to cascade DEI strategies across the organization and the workforce.
  • Unaccountable leaders unequipped to model inclusive behaviors.
  • An absence of diverse representation in leadership positions.

Fortunately, the goal of my newest book, Imagine Belonging, is to help inclusive leaders like you answer this big question: how you can begin to imagine belonging at work…on a global scale. The book gives you the permission and the courage to commit to building more belonging at work. It invites you to activate your imagination. It can help you transform your workplace culture into one that is not only more diverse, equitable, and inclusive, but one that has more safety, trust, and belonging for those least likely to feel it on the job.

Before you can imagine belonging on a global scale, it’s important to first define what belonging means. Belonging is something you intuitively know. You, like me, long for it, and you know when it is present, because you can feel it on a cellular level. Tragically, many of us often feel its absence on the job, and endure the sting of exclusion in social groups. Belonging is an affinity for a place or situation. When it comes to the workplace, I helped contribute to this Coqual research, which articulates four core belonging elements. They include:

  1. ​​You feel seen for your knowledge, expertise and experiences.
  2. You feel connected at work, you have positive, authentic social interactions w/colleagues.
  3. You feel supported at work, getting what you need so that you can do your best work.
  4. You feel aligned with your organization’s purpose, mission and values feeling a sense of pride.

Reflect on your own sense of belonging at work. How often do you experience these four elements? Are you able to show up as authentically as you want on the job, or do you feel the pressure to conform, to fit in, and to go along to get along in order to get ahead? Giving into the pressure to conform often coerces you to fit into a culture that diminishes your ability to show up as authentically as you want. It’s truly the greatest barrier to fully experiencing connection and the power of belonging at work.

If you too have had to stuff yourself into a box in order to fit it – you know this pain all too well. Despite the workplace rewards that come when you assimilate and act like everyone else, you are left with everyone else liking you…except for you. Often this pain leads to feeling invisible, disconnected, disregarded, and ashamed for not being able to fully shine bright and share your genius with your colleagues.

Imagine Belonging calls you to begin visualizing something better for yourself. It challenges you to intentionally name the kind of workplace culture you desire. Left with a blank canvas and a paintbrush, you may find yourself struggling to first clarify your long-term vision for your workplace culture. To overcome this challenge, you are encouraged to name, and then confront the aspects of the status quo, or the dominant culture, that limits your sense of belonging at work. Things like white supremacy culture, patriarchy, nativism, ableism to name only a few aspects of dominant culture.

As Lillian A. Tsai says, “To imagine belonging is to take the spark of discontent with your organization’s current culture and fan these flames into powerful personal and social transformation in the workplace.” To begin this kind of transformation, the book helps you identify all of the possibilities to deviate from the status quo. Taking this action gifts you with the added confidence required to build Belonging Culture Systems. These systems include principles rooted in racial, gender, spatial, disability, and economic justice.

In order to bridge the canyon between today’s status quo and intentionally embed these Belonging Culture Systems into your workplace, you must make the commitment to transform it. To make this kind of commitment, you are called to answer this key question: how can I go all in with building more belonging at work?

Dr. Heidi Reeder’s book, Commit to Win: How to Harness the Four Elements of Commitment to Reach Your Goals can help you answer this big question. She suggests making a high-level commitment. The kind of commitment that requires you to put something of value on the line. When you put something of value on the line, you’re less likely to abandon your commitment. This could include your social power, expertise, time, or relationships.

This kind of real commitment helps establish a leadership legacy you can be proud of. It will open the door for more of your colleagues to bring more of their real selves to work, which will promote the kind of team cohesion that promotes creativity, risk taking, and process improvements that you likely want more of in your workplace. These are the kinds of things that far too many organizations – perhaps yours too – unfortunately lack. When you keep your commitment narrow in focus, you will also have a high level of follow-through, because you are clear on the long-term vision you desire.

This all begins when you dare to Imagine Belonging, and this will take root when your organization embraces this transformation equation: clarity + confidence + commitment = transformation.

As you work to clarify your long-term workplace culture vision, it’s important to note that you aren’t simply changing the current culture. I make this distinction, because to change something implies that you can always change it back. I think you will agree with me that you don’t simply want to change your current culture and run the risk that a different set of leaders can simply reverse your implementation efforts. Rather, to truly transform your culture, you must first grieve what it once was (warts and all) to make the space required to grow into what you, and your workplace, are destined to become.

Research shows that leaders who usher in this kind of transformation to their leadership style, the way they build teams, and how they structure their work, are twice as likely to experience better products and services leading to business success and sometimes even industry breakthroughs. This happens because their organization’s values, DEI goals, and management processes are aligned with their long-term workplace culture vision.

Are you ready to transform your workplace culture? Do you want to build more belonging for yourself and your colleagues? Yes? Then please get your copy of Imagine Belonging today, and get the inclusive leadership guide you’ve been waiting for to build a more equitable organization!  And, join me April 20, 2022 at 10am Pacific for my Imagine Belonging workshop where I’ll help you begin the belonging journey.

For more information and further reading on Inclusion and Belonging, visit our online library.

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About the Author

Rhodes Perry
Rhodes Perry, MPA (he/him) is a best-selling author, sought after keynoter, podcast host, and an award-winning social entrepreneur. Nationally recognized as a diversity, equity, and inclusion thought leader, he has 20 years of leadership experience having worked at the White House, the Department of Justice, and PFLAG National. Media outlets like Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and the Associated Press have featured his powerful work. He serves as the CEO of Rhodes Perry Consulting, a global leadership and management consulting firm helping executives build enduring cultures of belonging. He earned a BA from the University of Notre Dame, and a MPA from New York University. He also serves on the National LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce’s Transgender Inclusion Task Force.
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