The joy of belonging
There is something special about being in a space in which one of your primary identities puts you in the majority. Growing up in Jamaica, I took being part of the racial majority for granted. There was an ease of movement and acceptance. No one ever looked at me as if I didn’t belong—not until I moved to Maryland when I was 15 years old. That was the beginning of my being the only one, or one of a few, in the room.
Recently, I was invited to facilitate a couple of sessions at WilmerHale’s Diversity Summit, a two-day event for WilmerHale lawyers who identify as people of color and/or LGBTQ+. I started my career at Hale & Dorr, a predecessor of WilmerHale. It was the second time I’ve participated. And both times, I felt emotional the moment I entered the room.
I was flooded with a sense of pride at how far the firm has come since 1990. If we had held a Diversity Summit back then, when I joined after graduation from law school, we would have needed one table. There were 29 tables with 10 people around each one in the ballroom this year.
The excitement in the room was palpable. Warmth and joy grew as attorneys from different offices met each other for the first time or reconnected. There is a unique power from being with your people, whoever your people might be. Black folks don’t find ourselves in large numbers in professional spaces very often. When we do, the energy is electric. If you are from a traditionally underrepresented group, you know what I mean. I was buzzing with energy for several days after the Summit.
My law school started to hold Black alumni reunions about 15 years ago. My college now does it as well. Every time I attend, it is amazing to see so many Black people on the campus. There is nothing like the joy of getting together with Black women especially! I leave feeling rejuvenated.
The opportunity to connect with people who share a primary identity is powerful. We share stories, generate creative ideas, and feel more engaged in the work.
Beyond the professional benefits, of course, are the human ones. We all need spaces that are rejuvenating and joyful. But because we humans are so good at adapting to our circumstances, we often don’t notice that we are being emotionally drained in our workplaces. Or, perhaps we accept that circumstance and seek connection and rejuvenation outside of work.
Ideally, everyone would feel a sense of belonging in our workplaces—able to show up with our full selves, without fear of being marginalized on the basis of any of our identities. Until organizations can reach that state of equity and inclusion that enables the sense of belonging for everyone, providing periodic opportunities for people in underrepresented groups to come together is a good strategy.