Breaking barriers to find a sense of belonging

We all need it to feel connected and a sense of purpose in what we do. Never to fear or conceal who we are but to embrace, and promote that. However for some people and in some organisations that isn’t easy and places a huge barrier and impedes the sense of connection and purpose.

I’m a gay, brown, working-class woman. I’m proud of my identity, I’ll be honest though, I have been guilty of concealing who I was and worrying about what people thought about me. However I now know it’s shaped me into the person I am today – though it's still a work in progress some days. Embracing and optimising those intersectionalities in the workplace and at home can be a challenge. I’ve worked at ITV and now at the amazing Virgin. Great companies that really work hard to make everybody welcome, comfortable and their original and honest self. However, in society and some companies, there are deeply unconscious, societal and generational behaviours that have yet to adapt. Sadly for the individual that means it can make it hard to feel like you belong in the workplace. It becomes another potential worry or anxiety that can stop them applying themselves to their work in a free manner. Which is healthier for them and better for the company?

So the challenge is set – how to change the narrative in our heads, workplace and life so we can thrive?

It’s a challenge the women’s network Bloom UK decided to take on. Bloom is a professional network of marketing and comms women, which empowers women to future-proof their careers, and inspire positive change in the industry. When I’m not working as Campaign Manager at Virgin, my side hustle is volunteering as head of marketing (and incoming president) at Bloom. At the annual ‘BloomFest conference we wanted to give a platform to the real voices of women, in a forum to challenge these barriers, so more women can succeed.

Bloomfest 2018

The business case is there, because when women succeed, and your workforce becomes more inclusive, it’s proven to improve productivity and profitability. For many Bloom UK members, at our level in the industry, we’re not senior enough yet to make those changes – whether that’s setting the company culture, or creating company-wide processes to, say, reduce the gender pay gap. What we can do is push change through from the bottom, at a grassroots level.

The conference was a huge success consisting of inspiring panel discussions, intimate fireside chats and action-oriented training workshops supporting this year’s theme – Fighting Our Fictions – Challenging myths within the industry. To ensure the day drove results, each session had clear actions you could take away and implement.

Bloomfest 2018

Sessions covered a number of topics including class, an unspoken taboo particularly prevalent in the UK, intersectionality with gender, sexuality, race and invisible disabilities all affecting how we show up and are treated in the workplace, and parenthood, and the challenges this has on career progression. The most powerful moment of the day though was the #BoothofTruth, which shone a stark light on all the day’s topics. Attendees could anonymously post their experiences of discrimination and sexual harassment, which were then discussed in a live panel at the end of the day. Hearing the naked truths from the industry, right there in the room stops you in your tracks, and sends shivers down your spine. Women still have a way to go, until they are respected for the value they bring to the business.

Bloomfest 2018

A day of learning is a now a year of action ahead and the good news is we can all do our bit - both women and men. You can start with these - they’re my top three #Everyday Actions from BloomFest to start a belonging culture:

  1. For the women: be proud and wear your scars. You’re no less of a person if you’ve experienced struggles. The confidence and strength in owning your story will see you thrive and normalise it for others.
  2. For the men: make space for those that are underrepresented by proactively giving them a step up. It will make the company a better place for all if the company is balanced and potentially more profitable too.
  3. For everyone: stop the potential for prejudice at the recruitment stage with blind CVs. Demand HR remove names, gender and age. Get a balanced interview panel and ensure they don’t search for candidates on Google, LinkedIn or Facebook.

Those simple actions can make a real difference and ladder up to big change. Change that supports more than women, that pushes for equality for all in the workplace. We’re all human, multi-layered and intersectional. We need to shine a light on the struggles we all go through because of those narratives of the past or the narratives we tell ourselves. It’s time for a new narrative, for the individual, the workplace and society. We are all in different places but together we will write the next chapter, one where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. One where we all belong.

You can read more #Everyday Actions from Bloom UK and BloomFest in their slideshare here, find out more at bloomuk.org or follow them on Instagram @BloomUK_org.

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