As we’ve got under the skin of ‘Belonging’ over the last three years, we’ve had to keep challenging ourselves around conventional wisdom. You see there are two ways to take Belonging. The first way is to extend ‘inclusion’ – ‘you not only feel you are included, but you feel you belong’.  The second way, is to really understand what it takes and means to actually belong.

Finding a missing puzzle piece

A while back, I found myself in Kinokuniya, the amazing bookshop in The Galleries, on Sydney’s George Street. It’s a short walk from our mwah. office and we wander up there sometimes for a spot of inspiration. So, here I am. Standing between ‘the business books’, the ‘psychology books’ and I’m scouring through to find the missing piece of a puzzle I’m obsessed by. Something is missing between ‘the psychology of inclusion’ and the ‘business systems’ and other multiple ideas on culture. I found myself thinking, “Sure we’re talking about business culture, and sure we’re talking about an individual emotion, but Belonging is much bigger than that  – Its collective – but not organisational psychology’s usual ‘adding us all up to a collective’ – it’s more how we all fit into something bigger than us. There’s a missing piece”.

There I was, deeply engaged in conversation with one of the Kinokuniya team (and if you ever want a good conversation, I recommend dropping by – The K team is amazingly interesting and totally engaged in their world of books). We ended up 15 minutes in, and wandering all over the shop (literally and metaphorically).

And we stumbled on the Anthropology section. It began a long and winding road for me into the world of Community. Of course, I’d touched on Community before – most of us with a passion for organisational culture do.  I also listened intently when my friend, Shelley Reys and I co-lectured on the juxtaposition between leadership in western business and leadership in Aboriginal community. But this day was different. I wasn’t after a broad idea. I was after a very specific missing piece. Something to sit next to purpose, relationships, and agency. I dived in.

The Bookshop Triangle

It’s always struck me that it was poetic that in the Kinokuniya bookshop, Business, Org Psychology and Anthropology sections made a perfect triangle that day. They still do. I still go up and stand in the middle of the triangle. I believe, our answers for the future aren’t in the corners or depths of one way of thinking. The answer, or answers, will be where they intersect. Where schools of thought, ideas and our understanding of people, meet.

Now, let me quickly pop back to ‘belonging’ as an extension of inclusion.

I love diversity and creating a culture of inclusion is critically important – to individuals and also to the organisation. Create a culture of inclusion, and people will confidently give you their best effort. But somewhere inside Diversity and Inclusion, I’ve always felt it’s stayed a little too maternal/paternal.  It’s always felt ‘nice’ but not enough. Like diverse people are permitted to turn up, get counted, participate in programs and networks, and get sponsored to get roles that otherwise belong to the majority (whoever they may be).

Bring your whole self to work

From that thinking came “bringing your whole self to work’.

Don’t get me wrong, I get the history behind ‘you can bring your whole self to work’. People who previously had to hide or pretend parts of identity didn’t exist, came to work without declaring some parts of themselves in order to ‘fit in’ with the ‘majority’ who didn’t have those un-declarable pieces. The LGBTI community, not declaring who they shared their lives with; people with caring responsibilities not declaring they’d been up all night with a special needs child; people with disability only declaring their disability when it visible and obvious. ‘Bringing your whole self to work’ was permission to declare the un-declarable pieces. To own them.

Maybe I hang with a funny crowd, but I’m not sure I know anybody who has nothing to declare. We’ve all got interesting, quirky, different and unexpected abilities, disabilities and ways of coming at the world. On someone’s scale, we’re in the minority. So, it seemed quite patronising to say “you can bring your whole self to work’, as if by not declaring, I was somehow leaving part of me at home for the day.  You get me in your team, you get all of me, even the pieces I don’t chat to you about.

It’s important you turn up

So, Belonging for me was bigger than permission from some invisible unnamed majority (whoever they may be) that I’m allowed to turn up as me.

And I found one of the pieces in the middle of that triangle, and it was ‘accountability’. In ‘Community’, everyone has a role – an important role – and is accountable to the rest of the community. Not just ‘allowed to turn up’ but more so ‘it’s important that you turn up, because everyone is relying on you and what you’ve turned up to do’.

And that was one of THE biggest missing pieces I had in truly understanding Belonging. Acccountability and role FOR others.

If I have a disability, I don’t just want a program that lets me in. I want to rock up with a role to play, that’s needed and welcomed and important.

If I’m not from privilege, I don’t want a special sponsor to talk about ‘people like me’. I want to rock up and play as important a role as people from privilege.

If I’m not white, I don’t just want to be counted as an ‘hyphened- Australian’ (to quote my friend, Ming Long) in the talent pipeline. I want to turn up and have the same opportunities and careers as the non-hyphens.

I could go on and on, but the point is made.

Beyond permission to turn up

Belonging is beyond ‘permission to turn up’.

Belonging is when it’s important we all show up. To play the roles we need to play. To add the perspectives and thinking that only we can think. To do the work that is ours to do. To meet high expectations. To deliver well. To be accountable to the community as an equal member.

And that is when Belonging kicks in.

Not when you accommodate me, or sponsor me, or give me permission.

But when I turn up, absolutely knowing you’re relying on me to turn up. As me. Contributing my best.

Belonging is about being equally as important, and accountable, in and to your community as everyone else.