BY THE WSBA EQUITY & JUSTICE TEAM
Imagine a workplace where every employee feels accepted and their unique backgrounds, voices, and perspectives are valued. Getting to such a place requires not only representation from underrepresented communities (diversity), not only inclusion but cross-cultural competency and a willingness to challenge the deep-rooted beliefs and assumptions we may have about others. It requires a sense of belonging.
Belonging is one way to address structural inequities and create a space where all feel accepted, by looking at who is inside and outside of the Circle of Human Concern.11 https://belonging.berkeley.edu/circle-human-concern-video-curriculum. The Circle of Human Concern, adapted by Dr. john powell,shows how belonging is created in our society. People with social capital, those who are part of dominant culture, create who belongs. People who fall outside of dominant culture are othered, or excluded from the circle. Othering is a generalized set of practices that marginalize a group, making people feel smaller because of their identities. Our identities are interwoven and intersectional, but othering takes people from nuanced and complex to just one identity—often race, sexuality, age, disability, or gender identity. People are then excluded based on that.
A 2021 study from the ABA shows that, nationwide, diversity has not increased significantly in the legal profession in over a decade.22 www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/news/2021/0721/polp.pdf. As legal professionals, we can foster a sense of belonging for law students (future colleagues), and our current colleagues who have been underrepresented. We can do this by imagining new structures and organizational practices that honor nuanced and intersectional identities. For example, establish an organizational practice to consider travel options and how far it is from Point A to Point B for people with mobility aids before scheduling holiday parties. We can collaborate with diverse stakeholders and community partners to advance belonging in the legal profession. Having both diversity of body and diversity of thought can allow us to engage with and learn from the leadership of people with lived experiences of working against exclusion.