“I believe in you. I see you.” Ruchika Tulshyan, award-winning inclusion strategist and best-selling author of Inclusion on Purpose: An Intersectional Approach to Creating a Culture of Belonging at Work, spoke these words during a rich dialogue with Melody Barnes (chair of Aspen Forum for Community Solutions and Opportunity Youth Forum) at the 2023 Collective Impact Action Summit. The fireside chat was insightful and left me with reflections of my own experience on belonging and the innovative ways to center DEI strategies going forward.

Ruchika defines belonging as when those often overlooked can make decisions, lead, and “feel like they can really bring their whole authentic selves.” Belonging is being able to hear in a trusted space, “I believe in you. I see you. You’re going to do great.” These validating and affirming words are especially important for young people from marginalized backgrounds. Ruchika talks about belonging from the individual and collective lens at the same time. She shares that belonging is about working through traumas and challenges (the individual) while cultivating a community (the collective) that amplifies and validates the individual. A culture of belonging and building community is collective self-healing.

For Ruchika, to belong also means to know what it is like not to belong. She shared with Melody and the audience her lived experience of growing up in a culture with strong views on women’s place in society as an Indian person of color from Singapore. She mentioned starting her career as a business journalist and met with many objections on the types of inclusive stories to highlight and witnessed similar and different injustices of others. Living and observing various forms of oppression ignited Ruchika to fully transition into the work of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.

I, too, know what it means not to belong and to create spaces where I can belong as a Black woman with deep southern roots from Georgia. I attended a predominately-white institution in Massachusetts and worked in several corporate spaces as the minority, mostif not allof the time. I recall moments in meetings of being interrupted and having an idea I shared be turned down or ignored, later to be celebrated by someone else. I will also acknowledge that despite the various “-isms” I have faced, I still felt a sense of belonging because I heard from trusted folks in my life the affirmations of “I believe in you, I see you, and keep going,” which has tremendously impacted my growth.

Being heard, seen, validated, and understood just for who you are speaks volumes. As Ruchika mentions during the chat, it can be the difference between getting the needed and continued support for growth versus not.

Read the full article about creating inclusion and belonging by Ajai Scott at FSG.