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Law Practice Today

May 2024

The Importance of Belonging

Joan Rose Marie Bullock


  • Embracing one’s diversity can lead to authenticity, which is critical for personal and professional well-being.
  • Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility initiatives are important, but they must be combined with individuals’ efforts to contribute to a welcoming environment.
  • Organizations that recognize and welcome differences thrive.
The Importance of Belonging Trade

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As children, we wanted to fit in. As adults, we want to stand out. In all cases, we want to belong. No one wants to be on the outside looking in, “the odd man out,” the “third” or “fifth wheel,” or shunned for not being part of the “in” group. The same is true for “diverse” individuals. They do not want to be “diverse” individuals. In belonging, they want to be seen as individuals, having all the opportunities and challenges that come with being a human being.

Diversity is not the ignoring of individual differences, but, rather, diversity is the acknowledgment of those differences with the result of inclusion. Diversity is about difference and how that difference shapes, enlightens, and enriches our life experiences. With this view of diversity, everyone can be seen as diverse, because everyone is different. This enlightened view of diversity is constructive, highlighting each person’s unique set of differences, shaping their identity, who they are, and how they perceive the world. Inclusion relates to how welcoming and open we are in allowing our differences to impact our individual and collective life experiences in beneficial and meaningful ways.

Unfortunately, diversity has not been understood from this positive perspective. Instead, diversity is often viewed negatively and is associated only with characteristics that detract and diverge from what has been determined to be normative. From this vantage, diversity promotes exclusion, creating a category of othering that highlights difference from the normative group. The negative effects of this othering serve to counteract equity, inclusion, and belonging efforts.

Being Told “Not Seeing Color”

Endeavoring to be inclusive, some attempt to dismiss the difference, concerned that acknowledgment of the difference itself is offensive. For example, someone attempting to be inclusive might tell a person of color that they “don’t see color.” Yet, to the person of color, the expression of such a sentiment that relates to a large part of the person of color’s identity and life experiences signals that color is perceived by the other as an offense. 

Those who are perceived as divergent frequently pattern themselves after the normative group to increase the probability of having opportunity and of being able to participate in the benefits ascribed to the normative. This may lead to people feeling that they are not able to express themselves authentically. Indeed, authenticity is positively related to well-being in the workplace.

According to one study, there is good evidence that authenticity is directly associated with greater well-being across a range of contexts. Besides enhancing well-being directly, there is a trend for authenticity to reduce strain and increase well-being at work. Authenticity is associated with higher performance and lower turnover. Authenticity may also serve as a buffer or protective factor. For example, feeling authentic in relationships worked as a protective factor for women navigating the challenges of motherhood, and provided a buffer to the impact of distress associated with LGB or immigrant identity within a sociocultural environment where it is still stigmatized. Evidence also indicates a buffering effect of authenticity for interpersonal conflict effects on well-being.

A balance must be found in an organization operating according to its rules and value system and employees being able to conduct themselves consistent with their self-conception.

How Do You See Yourself?

Your concept of yourself is influenced by environment, cultural norms, and how others perceive you. Self-conception is not self-image, self-esteem, or self-awareness, but rather is defined as

an overarching idea we have about who we are—physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually, and in terms of any other aspects that make up who we are. . . . We form and regulate our self-concept as we grow, based on the knowledge we have about ourselves. It is multidimensional and can be broken down into these individual aspects.

Research has shown a positive relationship between self-concept clarity and well-being. The more clarity that you have regarding who you are and what you want and believe yourself able to accomplish, the more likely your self-actualization efforts will positively affect your well-being. As a construct, the following points can be made regarding self-conception:

  • On the broadest level, self-concept is the overall idea we have about who we are and includes cognitive and affective judgments about ourselves.
  • Self-concept is multi-dimensional, incorporating our views of ourselves in terms of several different aspects (e.g., social, religious, spiritual, physical, emotional).
  • It is learned, not inherent.
  • It is influenced by biological and environmental factors, but social interaction plays a big role as well.
  • Self-concept develops through childhood and early adulthood when it is more easily changed or updated.
  • It can be changed in later years, but it is more of an uphill battle since older people have established ideas about who they are.
  • Self-concept does not always align with reality. When it does, our self-concept is “congruent.” When it doesn’t, our self-concept is “incongruent.”

Well-being and, thus, wellness depend on your conception of yourself and your organization’s environment. While others’ perception of you can impact you professionally as well as personally, your view of yourself has the greater and most long-lasting effect on your trajectory. Further, being clear as to how you see yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, can lead to insight on how you can contribute to, enhance, and advance the organization’s diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) efforts.

DEIA Initiatives: Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility 

DEIA initiatives have more impact when diversity is viewed broadly, with disadvantages and challenges of certain characteristics assessed honestly based on what is needed to benefit the individual, the organization, and society. This expansive approach views diversity from the vantage of inclusion, envisioning everyone contributing to the whole in a manner that adds value to the professional environment, allowing everyone to thrive.

DEIA initiatives impact wellness positively but are insufficient alone in allowing individuals to attain it. Attorney wellness begins with each one of us. We are each responsible for contributing to an environment that is attentive to and welcoming of others. No one person or group is responsible for DEIA initiatives. DEIA initiatives should be the result of a shared understanding among an organization’s stakeholders and executed with collaborative effort and reciprocal trust in the direction and goals of the organization.

VIVID: Value, Identity, Visibility, Integrity, and Determination

As DEIA initiatives provide the framework through which an organization can foster and develop an open and welcoming environment, VIVID provides structure for individuals to reflectively consider how to make use of their unique set of differences to create positive outcomes for themselves and the organization. Standing for value, identity, visibility, integrity, and determination, VIVID guides individuals on a reflective course for achieving clarity in their personal and professional life.


Do you know the value of your difference? Your personal and professional development starts with your knowledge of self. This knowledge comes with understanding your unique set of differences and what you need to present your best professional self. Knowing who you are at the core, including your strengths and weaknesses, enables you to start an informed conversation with those in the workplace about your professional development and its alignment with the advancement of firm goals and objectives. Additionally, your acknowledgment and appreciation of your diversity increases your ability to discern, acknowledge, and appreciate the diversity of others.


How do you see yourself—hrough the lens of diversity or as an individual possessing a unique set of differences? You are more than any set of diverse characteristics. Identify your unique set of differences as well as that of others from the vantage of inclusion and not as exclusion. Inclusion further provides the basis for discussions regarding the unique challenges associated with specific diversity characteristics and facilitates the identification by which challenges can be addressed and overcome.


Are you called upon for assignments or do you feel invisible when people are chosen for opportunities that advance professional growth and development? Comprehending your unique value potential to your firm is the first step in understanding what you need for your professional development. Take the additional step of promoting yourself, especially to decision makers who can provide you with opportunities to demonstrate your value to the firm. This promotion of yourself is best presented from a “this is how I can help you” approach rather than from a “please let me in” approach. People respond more readily to those who want to give more than to those who want to get. 


Integrity is the quality or state of being complete or undivided, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Wellness is promoted when there is wholeness, an agreement in individuals’ perception of themselves and how they present to others.

Those who are perceived as different often pattern certain behaviors and aspects about themselves to that of the dominant group. This curtailing of the true self can result in depression or fearfulness. It can demotivate, hindering initiative, creativity, and innovation because the focus is on amenability. Similarity and sameness become the desired outcomes, rather than promoting an environment that draws out and develops the best talents of the individual. 

People want to be valued not just for what they do. More importantly, they want to be valued for who they are. Individuals must be true to their self-identity and not take on characteristics inconsistent with their identity and core values for the purpose of being perceived as more acceptable to those in the workplace.


Determination is used here in two contexts: self-determination and resolve to set and follow one’s vision for leading a fulfilled life.

VIVID is a mindset shift that puts the focus on the freedom and responsibility of individuals to determine a vision for themselves of the lives they want to lead and what steps they must take to accomplish that vision. This vision considers differences and sets forth how those differences can best be used to produce optimal prospects for the individual and the organization.

Fostering inclusion, finding advantages in our differences, as well as implementing DEIA in the organization and VIVID in our everyday lives will no doubt increase the sense of belonging and, as a result, will increase well-being in the workplace and in our personal lives.