Founder OpEd: Pride Month

How to Create a Culture of Belonging

Creating a culture of belonging is necessary for BIPOC and Queer leaders. Through nine years of leading my equity space, EqualSpace, my team and I have gained insights into the critical needs of diverse founders and the specific, often obstructive journeys they travel. These experiences inform the culture needed for them to grow and thrive.

As I reflect on Pride and its origins, I think of the struggle of Queer people to exist authentically. For many of us, EqualSpace represents the safe space we have always craved. LGBTQIA+ individuals often face the challenge of coming out repeatedly, shedding layers of falsehood. This process is deeply tied to feeling safe, yet many of us come out despite not feeling safe, embodying radical and unapologetic authenticity.

This journey varies for different people, but the critical need for safety and belonging remains the same. EqualSpace is my love letter to the intersectional experiences of multicultural people. It affirms their worth in a world that often tells them they are not enough. My co-founder and I created EqualSpace in response to the pain points and obstacles we faced, from lack of investment common among BiPOC founders to feeling othered at events.

In creating a more intentional sense of belonging, we focus on intersectionality and addressing the impact of othering. Let’s explore some definitions:

“Othering” refers to perceiving or portraying someone or a group as fundamentally different or alien, often marginalizing or dehumanizing them. Renowned sociologist Stuart Hall explains: “The concept of ‘the Other’ is central to understanding how we construct and maintain our identities by distinguishing ourselves from those we view as different. This process often involves stereotypical representations that diminish the humanity of the ‘Other’ and reinforce existing power imbalances.”

Belonging is the inner process of feeling seen, heard, felt, and understood. It refers to the human emotional need to be an accepted member of a group, whether it be family, friends, coworkers, or a community. Renowned social scientist Brené Brown says: “True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”

To create a space where our community and guests feel a sense of belonging, we focus on multiple touchpoints:

Being Heard

We use a 1/3 rule during engagements: 1/3 of the time sharing our story, mission, and amenities, and 2/3 of the time understanding the journey, goals, and dreams of our members. This approach ensures they feel heard, responded to, and empowered.

We actively engage members through regular acknowledgment of achievements, whether small or large. This includes newsletter highlights, monthly one-on-one meetings, social media shout-outs, and personal greetings.

Encouraging a member or SPACE(r) to feel valued involves creating an inclusive environment, recognizing individual contributions, and fostering active participation. These strategies build a community where everyone feels seen, heard, and felt.

At EqualSpace, we affirm our members from the moment they step in. We greet them, ask for their pronouns, and respect their identities. Our space features diverse visual affirmations, from hanging plants and mud cloth fabrics to art by Queer, brown, and Black artists. The air is scented with Kanea Candles, poured with love by Akosua Ayim, a fantastic African woman founder. At our coffee bar, we serve Black Swan Espresso, a local Black-owned roaster.

Every detail at EqualSpace is intentional. It is healing to see members shed the weight they carry, if only for a moment, and truly belong.


  1. Hall, Stuart. “Cultural Identity and Diaspora.” In Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory: A Reader, edited by Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman, 392-403. New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1994.
  2. “Othering.” Postcolonial Studies @ Emory. Accessed June 21, 2024. Link
  3. Brown, Brené. Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. Random House, 2017
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