“You either walk inside your story and own it or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.” Brene Brown
Okay Brene, (deep breathe) here’s my story…
As a first generation Canadian, I grew up straddling the line between my South Asian heritage and my Canadian identity. Like many visible, minority Canadian youth, I spent most of my younger days wanting desperately to fit in. I was aware, from a very young age, that my brown skin made me different from the majority of the kids I grew up with. They belonged, and I was forever trying to find a way in. As a young person I took pains to diminish my ethnicity in hopes that I might be able to find belonging. It was not until I had my own children that I began a quest to belong to myself.
The incredible Maya Angelou said “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…”
It was 2012, I was on my second maternity leave, and somewhere in my Google search I discovered this quote entirely by accident. As I reflected on Ms. Angelou’s words, it dawned on me that what I had been seeking all my life was to belong to myself. By this point in my life, I was not only struggling to belong as a South Asian, but as a woman, and now as a woman who had dared to interrupt her career to have children. 2012 marked the start of my journey into studying inclusion, belonging, diversity and equity! It began with Ms. Angelou, was supported by Brene and took me to Royal Roads University in 2018.
As a mother of two busy little humans, starting a Masters program was quite the feat. I had been looking at the Royal Roads program for 5 years, and had effectively talked myself out of enrolling each time. In 2018 my eldest casually walked in on me as I was drooling over the program and nonchalantly asked me what I was so scared of. ‘Why don’t you just sign up already Mom?’. So I did.
I completed the Master of Arts Leadership program in April 2020. Royal Roads offered me the opportunity to develop new lenses with which to see and understand my experiences of inclusion. My research taught me about the complexity of intersectionality. My research into the experiences of belonging for South Asian employees revealed the complexity of race and ethnicity. And finally, my research offered me another critical lens- systems thinking.
Today, I have come out of this amazing personal journey with a mission. My goal is to work with leaders to help answer three simple questions:
What are the experiences of inclusion, belonging and equity for the people in your organizations?
What are you doing well to cultivate inclusion, belonging and equity?
What are the opportunities for you to cultivate greater inclusion, belonging and equity?
Organizational diversity and equity programs are wonderful initiatives, but without first understanding the experiences of your employees, how effective will your programs be? I offer you the opportunity to understand the lived experiences of the people in your organization and ask them to help build diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives that work.
Verna Myers put it plainly: ‘Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.”. Let's work together to throw a party where everyone is dancing!