Inclusion is about belonging

Yolande Coombes Psychologist, Coach & Facilitator

“Not belonging is a terrible feeling. It feels awkward, and it hurts as if you were wearing someone else ’s shoes.” Phoebe Stone

Have you ever feared that when you enter a crowded room, everyone is secretly judging you? It’s a feeling of being naked and publicly on display. In reality, we are all so focused on what others might think that none of us has much time to think of others, but it doesn’t stop the anxiety. When we break down that fear, it’s really about whether we belong; or, more accurately, whether we feel we belong.

Belonging is a fundamental need. Go back a few thousand years; if the group cast us out, it became a life-or-death situation.

Time has moved forward, but our brains still operate for the savannah. Survival depends on belonging to the collective, and the fear feels real.

Inclusion is about belonging. When the party host tells you they’re so glad you showed up, you begin to relax. Or when someone else conspiratorially whispers, ‘I get so nervous at these types of events’ – you feel a bond. Imagine showing up at a party where no one really welcomed you or where you couldn’t easily see people you identified with or the practices familiar to you. You’re standing nervously against the wall, yet you’re expected to participate and contribute fully and maybe even lead the macarena! That’s what a lack of diversity in the workplace can feel like – stripped naked and judged for it. Set up to fail.

When you look at your workforce and realise it’s not diverse, perhaps you need to ask the following questions:

  • Have we deliberately invited different individuals to our party?
  • Have we been hospitable in a way that allows those people to show up as their whole selves? Have we catered for them?
  • Do we embrace their whole selves and encourage their participation and voice?
  • Can our new guests see how they might fit into our party and help make it better?

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