In a world where diversity is growing, inclusion is becoming a hot topic and equity is still new, we are still battling over what are the most effective forms of inclusive language. Recently, we have noticed that companies have attached themselves to using the word “belonging” as a core value and even a replacement for inclusion. I’m here today to tell you to stop this shit. Belonging has more underlying meaning than you think.
If you decide to Google the definition of belonging, here’s what you get: an affinity for a place or situation.
If you go a step further and look at “belongingness” you get this: is the human emotional need to be an accepted member of a group.
If you really want to make it interesting Google synonyms for belonging. Here’s what pops up:
1. be owned by
be the property of
be the possession of
be in the ownership of
be held by
be at the disposal of
be in the hands of
The challenge with the context of it all is that for populations who feel excluded by the normalicies of your workplace culture, it perpetuates practices of assimilation. To feel accepted by a group is laced with conformity and blazes a trail of fitting into standards that have been built for the purpose of maintaining majoritarian values, practices, and beliefs. Things like workplace dress codes, lingual profiling, and sameness are all components of belonging.
We don’t want and shouldn’t have to belong to our workplace. On the other side of this polarity, does the workplace belong to us? This is an interesting question you have to answer, especially if your company doesn’t share equity (as in stock) with your employees.
Recently, I was in a conversation with an executive of a mid sized technology company and we had a difficult conversation about the term belonging. His justification was, and I quote “People should understand that if you are being paid to do a job, you do belong to your company.”
My response: So you mean if you are paying me for a service, you own me? Starting to ring a bell?
My response to his statement is reminiscent of how we as marginalized populations, especially those of us with intersectional marginalization feel when we hear the term belonging. I understand that you want everyone to feel welcomed, respected, appreciated, seen, heard, valued etc. in the workplace. The challenge that many workplaces have is that you say this but your policies and other actions show different.
Remember the Sesame Street Song, One of these things does not belong” and the premise of that song was to point out the odd ball, the thing that did not fit into or look like the other objects? For years Black People, Women, LGBTQ+, Immigrants, People with Disabilities etc have been made to feel this way, as if we don’t belong. We are now in a space where we don’t want to fucking belong, we want to stand out and be appreciated for the positive differences diversity brings to your workplace.
Instead of using belonging some alternatives that actually promote inclusive practices are as follows:
*In my Erykah Badu voice* and on and on and on and on…. The point is find another damn word that expresses how you want to create an inclusive space and get rid of belonging, now!