When talking about our individual roles in building belonging at work, Jennifer Brown eloquently states in her best-selling book, Inclusion: Diversity, The New Workplace & The Will to Change that, "We all have a voice in the conversation, and the goal is not to compare relative oppression but, rather, to talk about our common commitment to inclusion for all."
When it comes to championing our workplace’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) commitments, our voice is our diversity story. Getting clear on our story and sharing it with others will inspire our colleagues to realize their own connection to this work, and when they share their own stories, it helps all of us build healthier workplace cultures.
Sharing My Story
In the preface of my best-selling book, Belonging At Work, I wrote about my experiences working at the White House as a transgender man. During that time, I covered important aspects about my gender history because of the fear that I might be fired simply because of who I am. At the time the White House did not offer gender identity workplace protections, leaving transgender folks like me vulnerable to harassment and discrimination.
I vowed to use this particular workplace experience as motivation to transform the culture of work. Since then, I’ve been on a mission to cultivate belonging at work with the goal of helping more people feel confident that they can show up authentically at work, share their genius with their colleagues, and have a sense of purpose knowing that their contributions matter. Since sharing a piece of my own story, I am so grateful that it has inspired so many others to join the #BelongingMovement, taking the bold step of sharing their own stories.
Share Your Story
So how can you share your story with others to build instant connection and inspire your colleagues to believe that they too can feel a sense of belonging, purpose and meaning at work? The following approaches offer a simple foundation to begin excavating, refining and gaining the necessary confidence to share your story with the world.
Your Origin Story. Identify your origin story by answering the following question: How did you begin learning about your organization’s diversity, equity, and inclusion workplace commitments, and what was the impact? For example, you can state, “I began my learning about our organization’s DEI commitments by showing up and listening - first and foremost – at a monthly disability employee resource group meeting. It really opened my eyes to some of our company’s systemic accessibility barriers.”
Why It Matters. Be prepared to respond to staff who ask, “Why does this matter?” You can say something like, “Okay, let’s take the opportunity to review the DEI business case one more time…” and then share data related to increased productivity, innovation, team morale, and profit. You can state something like, “hiring a person with a visible or invisible disability is a great addition to our team - a person with a disability will have a valuable perspective in identifying services and product gaps that fail to meet the specific needs of people with disabilities. If we can bridge these gaps, our company wins the loyalty of people with disabilities – a group that has an annual purchasing power of $490 billion.”
Share with Confidence. In order to gain confidence with sharing our diversity stories, we must practice, practice, practice. One suggestion I encourage folks to consider is to first practice with a family member or close friend outside of work. Once you feel that you have refined your story, consider identifying a fellow DEI champion at work, and sharing your story. Ask them for their honest feedback so that you can make further improvements. When sharing your own diversity story, offer humility, active listening, peer accountability, and support your story with supporting research.
Now that you have refined your diversity story, you are encouraged to share it with a trusted friend for colleague. If you're feeling shy or stumped, think about a time at work when you or another trusted colleague was struggling with feeling a sense of belonging on the job. Draw upon this experience to get started with excavating your diversity story. Would you feel comfortable taking a risk and sharing this story with a colleague you just met? Why or why not? What would it take to get you to a point where you can share your story with confidence?
If you found this post helpful, and would like to learn more about how to serve as a #BelongingChampion, be sure to register for the free Belonging At Work Virtual Summit taking place October 7 - 11. You’ll have the opportunity to learn from over two dozen DEI thought leaders skilled in diversity storytelling including Joel Brown, Jess Pettitt, Kylar Broadus, and Effenus Henderson. Save your seat today!