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What Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Mean for Non-Parents

The "B" in "DEIB" is a game-changer.

Key points

  • Some people who don't have children can feel like they don't belong in many commonplace environments, like at work and holiday gatherings.
  • Ways to give non-parents a stronger sense of belonging include balancing family-centric events with ones that celebrate adult accomplishments.
Tim Mossholder/Unsplash
Source: Tim Mossholder/Unsplash

I sighed when I first saw a “B” added to the acronym for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. I’d just become more fluent with DEI, and suddenly a new letter appears. When I learned that the B stands for Belonging, I was floored. In a very good way.

Instead of expanding a list of aspirations, belonging signified for me a tectonic shift in perspective and rocked my way of thinking. Suddenly, the power of being considered part of a group or endeavor shifted to those most impacted—the people with an interest in truly belonging.

While diversity, equity, and inclusion may be measured and labeled by others, belonging is purely subjective. Belonging belongs to the one having an experience. Belonging is not foisted upon us by someone else.

Belonging is a special experience. I think we all have at least an inkling of what it feels like. I’d describe it as a deep exhale and settling into a space where I feel valued and at ease. When we find it, belonging is a place we can be ourselves.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines belonging as “a feeling of being happy or comfortable as part of a particular group and having a good relationship with the other members of the group because they welcome you and accept you.”

Kevin Phillips/Pixabay
Source: Kevin Phillips/Pixabay

I used to work in corporate human resources. Not so long ago, I prodded my male superiors to abandon certain out-of-office junkets. Golf, for instance. I knew this was a bone of contention with several women up-and-comers because they told me so. They had no interest in learning the game but knew that business was often conducted on the links.

They felt excluded. They didn’t think it was fair. At the time, this financial services company had no female occupants of the C-Suite.

I could have used the B for Belonging to make my case more convincingly.

Basic elements of diversity and pay equity can be assessed using statistics. Inclusion, which seems to some a yes/no prospect, is more squishy. Who’s to say someone is or isn’t included?

Throw belonging into the mix, and the picture becomes much more clear. We feel a sense of belonging when we feel part of a group or endeavor. No one can tell us we belong or how unaccepted, ignored, or disregarded we feel.

Non-parents and issues of belonging

When you don’t have kids, there are numerous environments—at work, at church, in many family and friendship circles—where DEIB simply doesn’t exist. Parents almost always comprise the most numerous attendees at most gatherings.

Kampus Production/Pexels
Source: Kampus Production/Pexels

Impending motherhood is regularly celebrated at work with baby showers. On both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, parents are asked to stand up at church to be acknowledged for their important roles. Conversations at family and friend gatherings often focus on the kids, their accomplishments, challenges, and plans.

The easy exchange of stories, photos, and information that depict family life excludes those who have none. The reason why we don’t have any does not even matter. Our culture assumes everyone has kids now or will have them in the future.

To be clear, I enjoy hearing about children and their antics. I honestly do. And I like being invited to all sorts of family-centric events, even when I decline or leave early. I find talking with non-parents endlessly fascinating because we craft our lives so differently. Yet it’s almost impossible to steer a conversation to topics other than family.

Askar Abayev/Pexels
Source: Askar Abayev/Pexels

Building a stronger sense of belonging for non-parents

What behaviors could help build a stronger sense of belonging for non-parents? Notice when a conversation about kids has gone on for a long time. Simply change to a more inclusive topic periodically.

Balance family-centric celebrations with those that mark adult accomplishments and milestones. Aim to focus on interests other than kids at least 20 to 25 percent of the time at planned events. That’s about the proportion of adults who don’t have children.

Ask friends and coworkers who don’t have kids what’s important to them these days, how they spend their time, and what issues or events are of interest.

Only by acknowledging the presence and value of people who don’t have children will we all enjoy more diverse, equitable, and inclusive experiences that create the conditions for true belonging.