Identity is who we are. It is the way we think about ourselves. It is the way we are viewed by the world and the characteristics that define us. To say the least, identity is fundamental and it matters. But despite the value of our identity many people spend little time investigating or understanding their own. I believe the exploration of your identity requires curiosity, courage and humility. Why does this matter? Because clarity of identity or lack thereof has a direct impact on how we work and live our lives.
In my work, I have discovered a unique link between achieving equity and understanding one’s own identity. Identity influences who we choose to do life with, our friends, our partners. It can control our leadership style, who we hire and who we fire. Our identities create environments, even systems. That is to say, the cultures we create in our homes and in our offices are manifestations of our values and beliefs. And are ultimately an extension of who we are. If we are not conscious of the impact of those environments, real devastating effects can result to those who do not share your
If identity is the focus, then equity is the goal. Equity considers the degree to which everyone has the same opportunities to reach the same outcomes. Equity aims to even out the playing field accordingly.
Equity requires examination and sharing of power and resources with a view to expanding diverse participation and leadership. Understanding the historic oppression and the disproportionality between white people and people of colour will bring in sharp relief the truly disadvantaged and the truly privileged. And essentially, this understanding will illuminate a role you can play to create greater equity in your organization. This is not easy. It will demand redistribution of power and resources.
The ultimate desired outcome is belonging. At the heart of belonging is the work of equity. Equity creates the environment for people to sense they belong. There is freedom in belonging. Freedom to contribute and create, to make mistakes, to be vulnerable and to grow. Everyone yearns to belong in their communities and workplaces.
Belonging requires brave spaces that are created with great intentionality. This begins with you. First, understand your identity and the influence it has on your leadership style and organizational culture. Then, explore the impact your identity has on others both historically and today. This process requires humility, empathy and authenticity. It will cause discomfort. It will disrupt your processes and systems. That’s good! This is how change begins.
I leave you with the words of the Chinese philosopher Loazi:
“If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself. If you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself. Truly, the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation.”
All change begins with you.
I’m Nneka Allen of The Empathy Agency. My passion is creating spaces where everyone belongs. If you share my passion send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Remember, we are responsible for the environments we create. Let them be equitable.