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VOLUME 21 | ISSUE 5
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You Belong As Is
Ravi Thavanayagapathy—Business Process Coordinator, IBAO
My earthling “default settings”: Born in Nainativu, Jaffna, Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon); male physical shell type, non-binary and LGBTQ dispositions, Dravidian (Tamil), Hindu (non-Abrahamic faith), child refugee of the early 90s, millennial, Canadian.
A couple months ago, I saw a 2020 film called Funny Boy about the coming of age of Arjie Chelvaratnam, a gay Tamil boy who’s caught up in the turmoil of the Sri Lankan civil war. When it was over, it dawned on me that for the first time, I had seen a movie that portrayed my intersectionality and “default settings” all in a single movie.
It was in Grade 8 at Westwood Jr. High School when I received my Canadian citizenship. I really didn’t know what to make of this new-found label. Something was still missing. That missing piece was belonging.
While there has been a plethora of “not belonging” rejections, it seemed like my authentic self was my superpower. It allowed me to journey life in a meaningful way, and naturally I started to belong in spaces where unicorns can be exactly that—unicorns.
While there has been a plethora of “not belonging” rejections, it seemed like my authentic self was my superpower. It allowed me to journey life in a meaningful way, and naturally I started to belong in spaces where unicorns can be exactly that—unicorns.
For corporate organizations, I believe the best way to get beyond inclusion is to truly comprehend your culture. To understand these dynamics that hinder achieving “belonging status”, I’d encourage employers to consider the following:
  • Social Constructs—Are there frivolous or toxic social constructs in place that bring no tangible value? Should they be eliminated or replaced? Do any of those constructs positively contribute to productivity or company growth? Are they actually correlated?
  • Micro-Diversity—Do your inclusion practices go beyond man, woman, non-binary, race or physical disability? Do they include creating a yin-yang balance of personality types, cognitive differences, conventional and unconventional? Is your workplace diverse or is it a set of diverse zombies?
  • Meritocracy—Have you made decisions that went against genuine meritocracy? Do you evaluate your employees fairly without bringing favouritism into the picture? Do you require a rubric to support you in being more objective?
  • Self-Awareness—Are you turning on the “exclusion lens” when evaluating? Having vegan milk options in the company’s refrigerator matters. Some vegans love coffee too, just with vegan milk of course.
  • Culture Pulse Check—Are you measuring overall employee happiness? Is an average rating acceptable or will you need to intervene?
As a member of IBAO’s DEI Committee, I work with fellow members to address potential hindrances, challenges and blind spots in order to achieve belonging. So far, it’s been rewarding to brainstorm and deliberate on important DEI matters, like selecting our new HR consultancy firm.
Belonging is tied to emotion, fairness and respect. Are your extrovert employees laughing like hyenas at work and do your introverts have an outlet to join in on the fun as well?
In the words of Maya Angelou, “You only are free when you realize you belong no place—you belong every place—no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.”
VOLUME 21 | ISSUE 6
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