When I entered the workforce, I didn't realize some of my struggles were because of exclusion. All I knew was work was a place to be professional and execute the skills required of the job; not make friends. I didn't have to fit in or feel welcome. Just show up on time, give it 110% and I would be rewarded. I really believed this is how corporate America worked.
After years of going home exhausted, feeling like I had just performed in the cast of Rent as the lead, ensemble and crew; it all started to click. It wasn't work wearing me down. It was the environment. I was not my authentic self and I didn't feel I was allowed to be. Microaggressions of age and gender were thrown around in casual conversation, making it clear that young female opinions were not needed. With tenure, age and possibly genetic mutation my voice might be heard later in my career.
I often ask myself if that feeling of exclusion was something I made up in my mind. If I told myself to keep my head down as a way to avoid being bold and courageous. If the work stories told by my grandmother, aunts and uncles of unfair performance reviews and terminations had impacted my thinking. I am sure it was a little of both.
All I know is when I was welcomed by a team that celebrated my voice, being bold and taking risks came easy. We argued, we cried and we won awards... a lot of them. Our team was inspiring and infectious. I still struggled with the daily fears of how to wear my hair and what clothes to put on. However, I knew I could talk about those struggles when I arrived. My peers would encourage me to rock anything that felt natural to me or anything that made my morning routine easier.
My team felt like family. My work KIN became people I now call mentors and friends. That experience is what drives me to continue to do this work. I have felt inclusion and know what it can do to one's spirit. The rewards I expected to be given as a 20 something, came pouring in when I started showing up authentically as myself. My ability to strategize and think outside of the box, while still following the rules, allowed me to achieve great success.
Why didn't I stay in that job forever? Our amazing team was constantly evolving. Some were outgrowing the work and others were finding new passions. We encouraged each other to grow and take risks. We were competitive, but never too competitive to help someone else succeed. I decided I needed to get out of my comfort zone to really inspire change. As I continue to have conversations about inclusion, I am confident it is what we need as the foundation for diversity and equity to be achieved.
As I look back at that experience, I realize that the inclusive environment was created by leadership at the top. The open lines of communication and willingness to be flexible with the corporate structure made space for new perspective. I would recommend anyone looking to improve inclusion start with improving communication. If you don't have a Brene Brown level of vulnerability and a Susan Scott level of fierce conversations, there is still work to do!