Belonging. What does belonging truly mean in the professional realm?
In our blog, The Four Elements of Belonging, we explored belonging as a feeling of deep relatedness and acceptance; a feeling of “I would rather be here than anywhere else.” and be able to exhale and fully be myself with no judgment or insecurity. It is the comfort to show up with your “mask” off. But what does that look like when it comes to work?
Often when we are looking for a job, ideally, we would like to find somewhere we belong but our priority is to find a job to financially sustain us and if you are lucky, a job where you enjoy what you do. This is especially the case for those transitioning from school to work or from one career path to another – they just want an in. Well at least that was the case for me.
It was March 2021 — I was a fresh grad stuck at home as we were finishing yet another lockdown applying for jobs with no clear direction of what I wanted to do. All I knew was that I was quickly eating away at my savings, and I needed to get a job. At the same time, however,
I wanted to work with a company whose mission resonated with me on a deeper level and where I could be passionate about the work.
Applying for jobs was a gruelling experience for me. It took constant commitment despite seeing no real results. Editing resumes to fit each job. Writing a million personalized cover letters. Sending them all out. Radio silence. Repeat. It was exhausting physically, mentally and emotionally.
When I asked my dad to take a look at my resume, he suggested I make edits to the names of two organizations I worked with because their names made it obvious that I am Arab and Muslim.
Although this meant altering the organizations’ real names, he thought if I kept them as they were that they could hurt my chances at landing interviews and expose me to discrimination. He didn’t want them to gloss over me because of any short-minded assumptions they might make about me based on my religion or ethnicity. My dad’s warning came from a place of personal experience and fear. We both know the reality – that there are people who treat people like us with prejudice and inequity. Understanding that fear, I took his advice and decided to edit the organizations’ names on my resume.
However, after a day of reflecting on this change in my resume I couldn’t help but feel something was wrong. My chest felt tight, and stomach was churning. My gut was telling me this is not right. I’ve been telling myself that I did not want to take just any job, but one I felt energized by. But would I still feel energized if that job needed me to mask important aspects about myself? Did I really want to work somewhere that did not accept me?
Would I feel like I belonged if I feared discrimination on my ethnicity and religion? Did I want to work in an environment where I had to wear a mask to “fit” in? The answer to all those questions was simple. No.
So, I went back to my resume and reversed the edits and promised myself that I would find a job where I felt that I belonged. Where I did not need to appear with a mask on. Fast-forward to now. I am working in a company that not only accepts me as I am, but constantly encourages us to show up as our true selves and share our different experiences. I am able to come without a mask on, but instead as my authentic self.
This story is not only for anyone who has ever felt they had to sacrifice some part of themselves to feel like they belong; but also, for those in positions of power who have the authority to create an environment where their employees can come with their masks off.
Many companies choose to hire based on “cultural fit”. However, this often means that everyone looks and acts the same – diversity of thought is lacking. Hiring for diversity is actually a smart thing when it comes to innovation, and it brings new perspectives. But you may ask,
“Won’t being too diverse mean less belonging?”
The truth is, as Brené Brown says, fitting in is actually the OPPOSITE of belonging. She says:
“True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world — our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance”.
While it’s hard to find your tribe in the world of work, you certainly deserve to belong – and finding people who will honour and celebrate who you are and not what they want you to be is an incredible feeling. Moreover, belonging can lead to increased retention and efficiency in a world where job hopping and quiet quitting becomes more prominent. As we explored in our last blog on Quiet Quitting, employees who enjoy their work and feel like they belong, are more committed to the success of their organization and more willing to give extra effort.
I for one, am so glad I decided to be authentic in my job search process because in 2021 I became part of a compassionate team that values and appreciates me for my unique skills and experiences. By being courageously authentic and no longer hiding behind a mask, I finally found belonging at work.