Where are you from? I have always dreaded this seemingly simple question.
The answer, for me, is complex, layered and often feels incomplete. You see, I was born in Senegal (where I have never actually lived), from Senegalese-Cape Verdean parents who met in Aix-en-Provence. Canada is where I have spent the most time of my life. Prior to arriving in Montreal as a university student in 2002, I had never lived in a place for more than 5 years, growing up between the US and several countries within the African continent. I was raised in a very mixed household with different religions, people and viewpoints. So where am I from? Where do I belong? It's complicated.
With change being a constant in my life, I decided that being highly adaptable was one of my core strengths. But in the past two years, I have started to question if my adaptability isn’t just me being a master at Covering. In a room full of people who look and sound alike, I am usually the Other, some layers visible, some invisible.
Blending in had become a survival mechanism to 'belong’.
But what does belonging really mean? My Psych background reminds me of Maslow's hierarchy of needs where belonging is identified as a crucial step toward self-actualization. Belonging is feeling valued, seen and welcomed for who you are and that, in turn, allows for growth. It is essential to thriving. A culture of belonging is built through sharing of narratives and lived experiences in an environment where we feel psychological safety. This allows for differences, builds empathy and, ultimately, belonging, as our stories are heard and valued.
This is the culture dentsu Canada aspires to.
This is also the work that we do at dentsu. We share stories. We contribute to building the narrative the world sees and values. It is our privilege and our ambition to tell stories where people feel a sense of belonging. But we need to tell many stories:
"Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity". (Chimanda Ngozi Adichie, The danger of a Single Story).
This is why we are committed to embedding diversity, equity, and inclusion across our business: our systems and processes, our behaviours and daily decisions, our client work, our partners and supply chain. The intersections of my lived experience make me different, make me Other-ed but they are also a privilege. My strength is in sharing that experience and connecting with people, being curious and valuing their different reality, embracing their story.
I guess this is where I Belong - at this very intersection.