The past year has taught us that no place can thrive without diverse faces and voices represented, nor without true equity and inclusion. And diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) cannot be maintained without a foundation of belonging.

At some point, we have all felt that uncomfortable feeling of not fitting in or not feeling seen. Either during the awkward moments in school when you couldn’t find the right lunch table, or the anxious wait to find out if you’d get picked for a team or pass an audition. That feeling sometimes meets us again during our careers. You can spend time wondering and concerned about “fitting in,” especially in the case when you’re the only one, or one of few, from your background.

This has been true in my story. When I started in the Edelman DC office many years ago, I was one of two Black women working on the client-facing side. As one of my first professional experiences post-graduate school, it was scary and lonely, and I often questioned if I could grow when I didn’t see myself represented—internally or in client meetings.

Those uncomfortable feelings and challenging situations have driven me to this work—to actively create a place where everyone—even a young Black woman from rural Southern Maryland, who attended a Historically Black College & University—can feel that they are part of the larger Edelman community and this industry. To know that they are seen AND their voice is heard and respected, and to create a space where each of us can be our own authentic selves each day and in every way. Whether it is how you wear your hair, your accent, your faith, where you live or who you love—you belong here.

As the world’s thought leaders on trust, it should be no surprise that belonging first starts with trust. Trusting that we have something to offer and being open to sharing it, as well as trusting others and actively engaging to learn from one another. This is how we grow and evolve together.

In my journey, over time, I realized that while I may have felt uncomfortable in certain places or that I may have made others uncomfortable, I needed to embrace that there is incredible power in my identity, my differences and uniqueness and that my job is to be authentically and genuinely me.

We are more than enough—just as we are.

If I could tell my younger self one thing it would be that you’ve been right where you belong, all along. You will help create trails and transform culture for those like you and others. You will meet people and work on assignments you never imagined. You will not be the only one who feels like they don’t belong, but don’t let that stop you from shining your light.

As our world changes, we must use our vantage point to ensure we evolve our teams, our work and our clients toward a world built on trust, courage and belonging. This is why Edelman’s first-ever global Week of Belonging matters for all of our colleagues, our clients, our communities and our collective future. As a part of Edelman today, you are shaping what our values are tomorrow. As we strive to be Trust Makers, I encourage all of us to use this influence well.

I’ve picked up a few best practices on my journey. Here are some thoughts on how we all can work to create a place of belonging:

  • Belonging begins with you, so believe you are where you are for a reason. Nothing eats into belonging like the sneaky, daunting sense of impostor syndrome that makes you question if you fit in, and if you have what it takes. Let me help you answer that question: if you woke up this morning and you are here, then you have what it takes.
  • Bring what you have. Every Edelman employee around the world was hired not only for their skill set, but because they have the potential to make our company collectively greater just by being their authentic selves. We want your quirks, your hobbies, your taste in music and your perspective on what moves culture -- all of it enriches your colleagues and adds layers to the expertise we offer our clients around the world.
  • Let others in. I have met some incredible people around the Edelman offices in my years here. Many have become good friends and close confidantes who I can turn to when I need encouragement and guidance, and many of these relationships started when I pushed past my fear and nervousness and leaned in to share more. We can’t build community, if we don’t communicate with each other. It might be different or awkward, but it is not about perfection – it is about building connections.
  • Enter into other people’s stories, and make space for others to be themselves. Just as I learned to open myself to new connections around the office, I learned to keep my eyes open for fellow colleagues who were seeking the same. Sometimes, the most powerful thing you can do for someone else is give them space to share about what makes them come alive. Be curious about your team members, and even your clients. Like you, they are in the middle of complex, beautiful and sometimes challenging journeys!
  • Be a culture-creator. Be intentional to check in with each of your colleagues on what helps them feel seen, valued and heard so everyone can show up as their full and best selves at work. Regardless of your level, recognize that you carry influence that can change people’s experiences and trajectories.
  • Change what you cannot accept. Creating a culture of belonging means being an ally or accomplice for all groups to feel welcomed, and actively working to dismantle systemic inequalities and injustices that have impacted underrepresented communities for far too long. Use your voice and your relative privileges to ensure that our systems, processes, decisions, and values keep belonging at the center.

Trisch Smith is our global chief diversity and inclusion officer.