Recently, I traveled to Baltimore to deliver my first in-person keynote since fall 2019. As part of the talk, which was for a hoteliers and inn keepers, I conducted custom research to get a feel for experiences where consumers did and didn't feel like they belong. One respondent wrote in, "we were the only white family there. I'll never go back."
Weeks later, that line is still burned in my head. As a Black woman, I've grown accustomed to being the only one in the room on many occasions. But it's not just my experience. Ask any woman, person of color, or anyone else from a historically underrepresented group, and for most, being "the only" or "one of a few" in both personal or professional settings is nothing new.
But we adapt. We find ways to push through the discomfort of those experiences in a manner that enables us to thrive. However, you can't learn to thrive being the only one in the room, if you don't stay in the room.
When you stay in the room, you learn to focus less on who isn't in the room, and lean into your purpose of being there. When you stay in the room, you learn to identify common ground and similarities that exist between you and others you interact with. When you stay in the room, you learn new things, ways of operating, and perspectives that come from engaging with people who are different from you.
There are many benefits to being in the room when no one else is like you. But there are downsides too. Representation matters and is important.
It matters because unfortunately, all too often when representation isn't in the room, voices with differing points of view are shut down or ignored. When representation isn't in the room, people who are different are often treated like they don't belong, or worse, like they don't deserve to be there. And when representation isn't in the room, far too many people who are impacted by decisions in the room, don't get what they need.
Consumers and society need more diversity and representation in the room.
If you've never been the only one in the room, take the opportunity to intentionally put yourself in an environment where you are. Doing so will better equip you to practice empathy for others, and better equip you to create and nurture an environment where everyone feels like they belong in other settings.
If you are in the room, you have both privilege and power. Use them both to open doors to get more people from underrepresented and underserved groups in the room too. Use them both to speak for those who aren't being heard. Use them both make change from what is, to what could be.