big mistakes when building a culture of belonging with latonya wilkins

#61: The big mistakes when building a culture of belonging with LaTonya Wilkins

Ever feel like you don’t belong at work? Like you are “out of the box”?

Companies can start building a culture of belonging to accept everyone’s uniqueness. 

LaTonya Wilkins – coach, author, and expert in the culture of belonging will explain the big mistakes organizations make and what can they do instead.

Who is LaTonya?

LaTonya Wilkins is an executive and team coach, mainly helping organizations create cultures of belonging. She is also the author of her upcoming book “Leading below the surface”. She coaches a lot of people who she calls ‘only ones’. This refers to being the only one with a specific characteristic like being gay, black, or female for example. LaTonya helps them belong to the organization using a variety of methods that will be described later in the podcast.

How to achieve belonging in a company…

LaTonya prefers to use the word ‘belonging’ instead of ‘including’, as that is often connected with DEI – meaning Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion – which in itself isn’t a bad thing of course. However, LaTonya doesn’t agree with the whole DEI concept, as it is often seen as a KPI, which leads to too few superficial approaches. If you really want to include everyone in your organization, you need to dig deeper and tackle the differences through adapting and co-creating the company culture, instead of simply organizing a couple of unconscious bias training to be able to tick the DEI box.

… as an organization?

Including people in an organization, means that compromises are going to be made. Diversity is valued in companies because you get new and interesting approaches from different kinds of people. However, in many companies, having different kinds of people can create friction as well. So how do you make people belong, without sacrificing your values or making them change their way of thinking? Like LaTonya said very well, through co-creation!

I just talked about co-creating a company culture, but what does that actually mean? Co-creating company standards or values is achieved by speaking a common language. Once you have found a way to communicate your ideas and values to each other, you can start to build a common culture. Finding that same language to speak isn’t always easy, but it starts like most learning processes: by observing. Furthermore, if you really want to let everyone’s uniqueness thrive in your company, you should create a safe environment where everyone can be themselves. 

… as an individual?

If you have a hard time belonging to your organization, I have a couple of tricks that might help you. When organizations hire diverse team members to get new or different insights or ideas, there is still an adaption period for them. These people probably were used to working in the same way with the same kind of people for a long time. That means that new approaches can cause friction or disagreement, but that is normal! The important thing is that you have to stay true to your core values and make decisions according to them, because that is often why you are valued in the first place, even if it can cause a lot of friction. But finding a way to mend your core values with the organization’s, is the way to co-create!

That friction has the possibility to escalate sometimes and that is of course something that no organization wants. But there is one thing you can do as an individual to mediate that friction. Be empathic! I have said this a lot before, but often when people react a certain way, you have to see the core reason behind that reaction. If person X has been doing a certain task the same way for a long time and is very good at it, it can be hard for them to accept that that way isn’t the best anymore. If person X becomes mad at you because they don’t think your method is any good, try to see that maybe, they are afraid of not feeling valued anymore, and answer to that need by showing them that they are valued. This is only one possibility of showing empathy, but you can use it in dozens of other situations!

How to respond to being singled out

Being singled out in a meeting can be tough. Especially when you already have a feeling that you don’t belong. If that happens, it is imperative that you stay calm, even if you are mad as f***. First, take care of yourself and distance yourself from the situation. Only when you feel calmer again, you can address the person(s) who singled you out. But it might be easier to talk with the team instead of the individual(s). Then simply explain how it made you feel, and express your need.

Creating a culture of belonging isn’t your responsibility alone, it’s your team’s as well!


I hope you have learned a couple of tips to help your company create a belonging culture, where everyone’s uniqueness is accepted and encouraged. I really enjoyed my conversation with LaTonya and learned a lot as well! 

Oh! Just a quick thing. We are organizing a FREE two-part webinar series on how COVID is impacting the people and leaders (part one) and how it has been impacting teams (part two). If you want to participate, you can click the link below!

See you on the next podcast!

qileader authentic leadership

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