By Aryenish Birdie | July 19, 2018

“What was your path to founding Encompass?” It’s one of the most common questions I’m asked.

I’ve written about why Encompass was founded and how my racial awakening led to Encompass, but not much about the path itself.

As a light-skinned woman born from immigrant parents, I’ve struggled with identity and place my whole life. I never feel totally at home anywhere, so I’m always searching to belong. As I’ve worked to develop the core tenets of Encompass, I’ve realized that, like me, most advocates of color also need a sense of belonging to thrive in this movement.

Over the last six months my path has taken me in directions I couldn’t have anticipated. I’ve engaged in extensive conversations with Encompass advisors, experts on racial equity from the academic, business, and nonprofit communities, I worked intensely with a diversity, equity, and inclusion coach, and held four focus groups with animal advocates of color. All of these entry points made it clear that while yes, we need more representation at all levels in our movement, we also need organizations to understand our desire for community and we need to be intentional about building it ourselves.

Community building and belonging feed into movement building—a key concept if we want to see the best and biggest movement possible. Measuring these concepts has been difficult in the past but they are vital to the health of our cause.

To help fill this void, SurveyMonkey and Paradigm recently launched a survey template to help companies better measure belonging and inclusion. Becky Cantieri, Chief People Officer at SurveyMonkey, eloquently stated that “for diversity and inclusion efforts to succeed, we must look beyond demographics and focus on creating an inclusive environment where everyone can thrive.”

Based on their initial research (of ~10,000 respondents), they found that belonging uncertainty is one of the top three factors in whether people of color feel included in their workplaces.

Belonging uncertainty is “the state of wondering whether others will include, value, and respect you. When an employee feels like they don’t belong it can be incredibly taxing. A quarter of workers feel like they don’t belong at their company, and that jumps to nearly one in three for Black workers.”

This leads me back to my path. A sense of belonging in this country has been a real struggle for me. I’m constantly asked, “where are you from?” Or even worse, “What are you?” (despite being born and raised in the U.S.). These questions—and other people’s perceptions of my appearance—have made me feel like I’m an outsider most of my life.

Working to develop Encompass has been personally satisfying because it’s an organization I myself need, and it feels wonderful to build something not only for myself but more importantly, for other people of color.

My path over the last six months has shown me that the power of belonging must be central to our work as animal advocates, for without that we risk losing out on valuable talent which means we risk our success as a movement at-large.