An Inclusion + Belonging Story

On April the 26th, 1994, I sat in my workplace lunchroom reading the newspaper. Two of my co-workers were arguing loudly and at length about who would ultimately win the Stanley Cup. Not being much of a hockey fan, I chimed up in my snarky, 20-something-year-old way and said, “Wow. With all this talk of hockey, you’d never know today is the first day of free elections in South Africa.” This news was all over the front page of the paper. 

There was a brief lull in the conversation, and the argument resumed.   

After leaving the lunchroom, I noticed my South-African co-worker sitting in her office. I sat down on the chair in front of her desk, and said, “today must be a pretty big day for you.” Her face lit up.

She mentioned being in line at the Consulate at 5 am. As she waited with her fellow countrymen, they shared their stories: Why did you leave? How old were you when you left? How have you found it since you arrived? Do you miss it? Where were you from? Do you still have family there?  

As a black woman born in South Africa, she never dreamed she would have the chance to vote for a government of her choice in her home country. We talked for a while before returning to work, and she thanked me for checking in. 

That was a Tuesday. On Friday, as we were leaving for the weekend, she thanked me again. I was the only person who had acknowledged the significance of that day.

Many years later, on June 14, 2016, a very good friend of mine returned to his office after lunch. Soon after, a co-worker sat down on the chair in front of his desk and asked how he was doing. This was two days after the Pulse Night Club Massacre in Florida. As an out gay man he had been affected in ways he was struggling to understand. They talked for a while before returning to work, and he thanked her for checking in.

That was a Tuesday. On Friday, as they were leaving for the weekend, he thanked her again. She was the only person who had acknowledged the significance of that day. 

We talk a lot about diversity, but not as much about inclusion or belonging. All our efforts to hire a diverse workforce will mean nothing if we don’t get to know each other, if we don’t show interest, or listen to each others stories. We come from many places and have our own unique life experiences. An event that has no bearing on your life might resonate deeply with the person you work beside.

Consider this as you look around at the different faces within your organization. Everybody has a story. Do you know theirs? 

About the Author

As Principal with McDermott + Bull Canada, Alex Verdecchia brings 16 years of experience in executive search. He has a strong track record of success partnering with client organizations to deliver best-in-class talent in a diverse set of industries and functional areas. At McDermott + Bull, Alex’s practice is focused on post-secondary education, NPOs, healthcare, professional colleges and associations, and municipalities.