I write to you today from a stormy Montreal, and this reflects how I and likely many of you have often felt these days, continuing to navigate a new “normal.”
I know my value add is to bring nuanced reflections to the table, and today I share with you deeper reflections on belonging, an often-talked about concept in DEIB these days.
How can we foster cultures of belonging for women in all their diversity in the workplace?
I reflect on this question, and I start with a personal share.
I, as so many, have navigated a history of trauma. Being trauma-informed, another often-talked about concept these days, is also part of building belonging. Part of what belonging and healing means for me is to integrate different parts of myself, and my various identities.
My experience of late with some social media and well-intentioned conversations around DEIB is that it may often reinforce a “siloing”, and sometimes a simplification of the understanding of identity – for example, highlighting only gender, race, sexual orientation, gender identity or different abilities. I also tend to do this, in that my work highlights gender and gender-based violence. While we each have different starting points, lived experiences and “lenses” with regards to DEIB advocacy, I am also mindful of the tendency to oversimplify identities, because we are all so many identities at once and context matters in terms of how oppression is experienced.
The increased highlighting of DEIB can also surface painful experiences that employees have had to minimize or were not able to name, including discrimination and microaggressions. It can also bring up feelings of not being seen when some do not see their full self represented in social media (often American-dominated) conversations around DEIB.
Speaking only for myself, I give you an example of this complexity. As a HSP/SPS neurodivergent woman (which has been my superpower!), who is both third generation Jewish, and white/white-passing Canadian, raised in Quebec, as an English-speaking minority, I experience many things simultaneously.
I have been socialized as a woman, with all the structural barriers this has entailed, I have survived sexual violence and relational trauma, while also acknowledging I have unjust structural advantages due to my whiteness, including access to more opportunities to be heard. All the while, as a progressive Jew having been raised as a minority in Quebec, I often feel caught between global debates in both right wing and progressive spaces around antisemitism and Israel-Palestine, and feel sometimes spoken for, and misrepresented, or unsafe sharing this complex aspect of my identity. Add to that the linguistic complexity of living in a province that has recently legislated and restricted how I can and cannot use my mother tongue when speaking to health care providers, and you have complexity!
So, briefly…DEIB is complex, nuanced and layered, and we all contain multitudes!
Many of us face stereotypes and bias in our personal and professional lives that put us in “boxes”. For example, studies show that there is a significant emotional tax on folks of colour in workplaces, forced to guard for acts of discrimination and bias. See Emotional Tax: Catalyst Research Series on the emotional tax levied on Asian, Black, Latinx, and multiracial employees. This can lead to physical and mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.
Many of us in our own communities, or workplaces may also be encouraged, or compelled, for safety reasons, to identify with one part of ourselves over another; and this can be a recipe for not truly belonging.
I heard from a brilliant, inspiring speaker at my Synagogue recently, Rivka Campell who shared her complex experiences as a black Jewish woman; refusing to be reduced to just one aspect of her identity, these were all parts of her experience.
Rivka’s story inspired me.
This year, as a result of this inspiration, I started a campaign, showcasing Rivka, and a series of women changemakers entitled “Don’t make me choose between different parts of myself” during International Women’s Day, and Women’s History Month.
This campaign advocated for women to reclaim their narrative and proudly share the different parts of themselves.
Through this campaign we highlighted women changemakers in all their wholeness from around the world, including Australia, Canada, Sri Lanka, and Nigeria. These folks shared pictures of themselves in moments that capture them as their authentic self, along with a write up that shows the various parts of themselves, reclaiming their narrative, free of bias and discrimination.
A link to the video of all these women can be seen here.
Today, and everyday, if you are reading this, I encourage you to keep writing your own “don’t make me choose” story.
We need reminders that we never have to choose between the various parts of ourselves.
This is how we can truly build belonging for women, and everyone, in all their diversity.
I will leave you with a quote from Brené Brown on belonging:
True belonging is…the practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.
Until we meet, take care of yourselves, and each other.
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