Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging: It #StartsWithAName

How can you belong in a place where people can’t say your name?

That’s the premise of Version 1’s #StartsWithAName campaign (see our video below). The Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (DIBs) team at Version 1 asked employees to do something simple: put the phonetic pronunciation of their name on their e-mail signature.

You’ve lived with your name all your life. Your family can all pronounce it. You instinctively turn your head when you hear it — it’s an intrinsic part of you. On your first day in a new workplace — when you have “newbie” emblazoned on your forehead — correcting your boss’s mispronunciation is not your desired starting point.

Some names travel well and some don’t. I brought my vowel-filled, highly unpronounceable Irish name with me when I started my first grown-up job 5,000+ miles from home. It’s over 20 years ago now (eek!), but I can still clearly picture stepping out of the elevator on the 42nd floor on my first day. I was greeted by a radiant receptionist, Tim, who said: “You must be Aoibhe. Welcome”. He said my name FLAWLESSLY. I instantly felt at home.

It transpired that a prescient HR manager, Julie, had written “Aoibhe pronounced Eefa” on yellow stickies that she distributed to the key people I would work with. When someone connects with you and takes the time to say your name properly, it matters. Dale Carnegie said back in 1937 in How To Win Friends And Influence People: “Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language”. I loved that job.

Belonging is now at the centre of the conversation in the Diversity & Inclusion space.

Pat Wador’s work on Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging (DIBs) warms my heart. Dr. Anita Sands does a brilliant job of explaining DIBs here. DIBs says what we all instinctively know — you can have all the diversity in the world and be invited to the dance, but you won’t thrive unless you feel that you belong. This is not new thinking — Maslow was on about it in 1950s — but it’s relatively new to the workplace. Our expectations of work are changing. Dan Siegel says that when you create an “attachment home” at work, people give more.

My colleagues at Version 1 got on board with our #StartsWithAName campaign and we had video entries from across the globe. You can check out our shortened version below. When looking for submissions, I nabbed a colleague who was perplexed at first — very willing to help out, but baffled as their name is a no-brainer to say. When you reassess your name with your diversity lens in hand, it can dawn on you that your name is not so simple in a country miles away. When watching all of the video submissions (we had many more than we could show in the video), I sighed in relief. Names that I wouldn’t have dared to attempt to pronounce if getting on a conference call were now made easy. Putting the pronunciation of your name on your e-mail signature is simple. You can add a video recording of you to your signature. We’ve also taken it a step further at Version 1 by building #StartsWithAName into our recruitment process so we greet you properly on your first day. #StartsWithAName works externally too.

You’d be surprised at the number of comments I get from customers and suppliers when they see my e-mail signature. I can almost hear the panic evaporating and it’s a positive conversation starter. Please join our campaign and make it easy for others to say your name. Belonging starts with a name.

We all want to belong.

Aoibhe (pronounced Eefa like FIFA without the F⚽!) Cantwell wears two hats at Version 1 — one as Head of Legal and the other as Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging Lead. To find out more about diversity, inclusion and belonging at Version 1, visit our dedicated DIB page here.