Colourful Socks and the Quest for True Belonging

November 4, 2021 in Insights by Ben Borne

Over the course of the past year, I’ve had the great pleasure of speaking on panels and working with small communication teams to facilitate discussions about diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) in the workplace. I’ve spent lots of time mulling over what the implications are of these discussions are, and what DE&I would mean for communication teams and ultimately the senior leadership of any organization. While I haven’t landed anywhere definitive yet, I’ve come to a point where I’m realizing that this conversation is ultimately challenging leaders to ask, “do our people belong in this workplace? Do our people belong in this work culture?”

My favourite author Brene Brown writes that the opposite of fitting in is belonging. She defines true belonging as, “the spiritual 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 along in the wilderness.

True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”

Brene Brown

What sounds better? Maybe read that one again.

This discussion pushes communicators and leaders to ask whether the work culture asks people to change who they are to fit in, or does it allow people to be who they are, flourish as they are and, ultimately, feel a sense of belonging to their culture.

As a queer, Indigenous man who has worked with various organizations, I can say with certainty that I’ve tried fitting in, and it sucked. I remember at one job I felt the need to fit in and so I wore very conservative outfits. But I still managed to express myself through some very colourful socks. The colourful socks were my way of expressing myself and in one way, a symbol of my true self trying to shine through. Over the years I’ve found that the real joy in work has come from being who I am and working for people who nurture a sense of belonging – not requiring me to change who I am. My best work comes when I feel safe in my work environment, and I am not hustling for my worthiness vis a vis fitting in.

I often get this question of “where do we begin this conversation?” It’s a good but challenging question because the topic feels daunting (rightfully so!). The best place to start is to take inventory of your own lens – where do you operate from? What cultures, attitudes and beliefs do you bring to the table? Do you bring your whole self to the table in the workplace – why or why not? From there ­­I suggest we have a conversation. And if you’re ready, we would be happy to offer facilitated learning discussions on this topic with you and your team because we believe the more informed your team is, the better the outcomes for all people in your organization.