DEI & Leadership Blog

Taking Strides to Cultivate Spaces of Belonging

Over the last few years, Together for Youth has made strides in cultivating a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment, or DEI as it’s often referred to. During these efforts, we realized the importance of creating a sense of belonging for our employees as well and having added a ‘B’ so that we can have a new focus on ‘DEIB.’

We first wanted to incorporate the feeling of belonging into our culture by including it in our trainings. As part of Together for Youth’s onboarding, our Director of DEI, Markeia Robinson meets with our new team members to help everyone understand key concepts of DEI such as ‘fitting in vs. belonging’.

In order to define what belonging means for our culture, we wanted to differentiate ‘fitting in’ versus ‘belonging’. Fitting in can often mean conforming to practices that you might not feel comfortable with and not speaking up because you don’t feel like you have a seat at the table. Adversely, belonging provides a feeling of comfort, the ability to speak up, and understanding that you have a voice.

Many of us, as children, have had the experience of a parent saying, “just try to fit in”. Although they meant no harm by that expression, what they (and many of us) don’t realize is the real messaging that was being sent, which was – try to blend and just do what everyone else is doing.

See, ‘fitting in’ is conformity – and conformity is the death of ‘belonging.’

When asked about cultivating spaces of belonging here at Together for Youth, Markeia explained that she believes in the importance of building authentic relations. Things like this take time and a level of trust has to be built in order to do so.

Three men in a library laugh and collaborate over a laptop, surrounded by books and a sunlit, casual setting.

She encourages leaders and employees alike to be willing (and patient) when it comes to building authentic relationships. And in doing so, employees will feel a sense of belonging. Markeia puts herself in the mindset of our new employees and asks questions like, “Do I have a place to sit? Can I be a part of that conversation? Am I really welcome?” She uses these questions to open the floor for conversation within the organization.

According to a white paper titled Beyond Employee Well-Being: Creating a Sense of Belonging in the Workplace, published by The Harvard Business Review, “There is a renewed emphasis on employee well-being in the workplace, bringing with it a holistic approach that strives to recognize the different life experiences each person brings to work and to create an environment where all employees feel like they belong.” We couldn’t agree more.

Together for Youth wants all 600+ employees to feel like they have a seat at the table. We want to create spaces of belonging by giving you a voice.

Here are four actionable steps you can take TODAY to build a culture of belonging on your team:
1. Ask for their feedback.

As leaders, we can often feel under pressure to get things done which in turn could prevent us from taking the time to gather other opinions, ideas, and solutions to problems. Be intention and take the time to ask. You can say something like, “I have a few ideas but really value your opinion and would love to hear your ideas?”.

2. Visuals matter.

Think about what is displayed behind you when on a Teams/Zoom call. Take time to intentionally create a background that inspires a sense of belonging. This could include quotes/messages, types of books, pictures, etc. – be creative and be intentional. Also think about your work site or office space. Does it create a sense of belonging for those who visit? If not, intentionally take the small steps to update your space. Believe us, your staff will notice. ????

3. Change up roles during team meetings.

Roles can include things like facilitator, timekeeper, note taker, etc. Allowing everyone to have an opportunity to experience the different roles not only builds professional development but also sends the message that everyone is valued.

4. Recognize, Appreciate, and Celebrate!

Carve out time during every supervision and team meeting to verbally recognize others. Show your team that you see them and they great work they are doing! Also allow space to celebrate – what does this mean? – it means honor birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, etc. You can say things like, “does anyone have any special celebrations this month?” – this allows for people to feel comfortable sharing their holiday or other special occasion with the team. It also shows people that we see them as a whole person and not just an employee. Creating authentic moments builds a bath to belonging.

Do you have other ideas for how to build a sense of belonging in the workplace? We would love to hear from you and hopefully share your ideas with others! Please contact Lauren Cifra at

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