DO YOU BELONG HERE? DE&I efforts must also focus on “B” - Belonging


Powerful social movements have raised the awareness and the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion - DEI. A greater focus on DEI ensures that all people are treated fairly so that everyone can achieve their full potential.


The Chief Diversity Officer at the University of Michigan, Robert Sellers, characterizes DEI in a simple yet meaningful way: “Diversity is where everyone is invited to the party. Equity means that everyone gets to contribute to the playlist. Inclusion means that everyone has the opportunity to dance.” This is a simplified, yet meaningful, way to think about DEI.


But what happens when you don’t feel like you belong at the dance once you are there?


When we don’t feel as if we belong, we feel uncomfortable, like we are unimportant and don’t matter. Sadly, JMG Specialist, Dominque Clay has seen this feeling surface in many of the youth that come to her. “Most of the young adults that I encounter have felt the pain of feeling like an outcast. I do my best to show them that they do matter! By giving them this sense of belonging, they realize that there are people to turn to when things get rough and that they are, in fact, not alone.”


According to Cornell University, belonging is the feeling of security and support when there is a sense of acceptance, inclusion, and identity for a member of a certain group. In short, it’s when an individual can be their full, authentic self and feel accepted. Our team at Youth Solutions believes belonging is an important part of any DEI strategy. You can gather a diverse group of people but unless they feel as if they belong, the outcomes won’t change. Clay says “Belonging does make a difference. When you feel like you belong, you are going to have a better experience overall. By feeling like they belong, our youth are more motivated to reach their goals.”


At Youth Solutions, we couldn’t imagine a world without diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. Our premier program, Jobs for Michigan’s Graduates (JMG) promotes a sense of belonging every day. When our youth participate in JMG, they are encouraged to voice their opinions. Clay says “when youth feel like they are heard, they feel like they belong.”


The pandemic has reminded us that, at our core, we all crave connection. In fact, without a sense of belonging, we see an increase in issues such as depression, anxiety, and even health issues. JMG Specialist, Cheryl Miller, points out that humans are very social creatures. “We need our tribe in order to flourish. When we belong, we feel seen, important, and realize we can contribute and are able to make a difference.” It’s no surprise that when people feel connected to others and that they belong, the results can be powerful.


So how do you ensure that others feel as if they belong?


Clay finds that being open and sharing her experiences helps the young people she works with understand that she can relate to what they are feeling. “I use my personal experience as a way to express my understanding of what they are going through.“


Miller says that she “helps each (young adult) see their uniqueness and appreciate the differences between them. I do this by including each of them, as much as they are comfortable, (and even a smidge beyond that!), in every activity that we do as a group, pointing out strengths and hopefully expanding their understanding of each other and of themselves!”


This desire for belonging applies to the workplace as well. According to research from Mckinsey & Company, businesses spend nearly $8 billion each year on diversity and inclusion training. As an employer, don't limit your strategy to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Include a component of belonging in your strategy. Treat people fairly, include them, and don’t forget to make sure they feel as if they belong. In a recent Forbes article, they stated “when people feel as though they are accepted and part of something, they’re more willing to support one another and the goals of the organization.” Try to engage your employees, asking for ideas on how to make sure that everyone feels connected to your goals and to each other.


No matter what their circumstances, everyone needs to feel a sense of belonging in order to be fully engaged and achieve their potential. If you are interested in learning more about DEI+B, our Youth Solutions programs, or how you can become an employer partner, visit our website at www.ouryouthsolutions.org. How do you promote a sense of belonging?