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The importance of Belonging

Posted on August 14, 2023 By Bedford Thomas

Last week Two Circles was at Wembley Stadium as Kick It Out celebrated its 30th anniversary, with new research indicating that fans believe football has become safer, more inclusive, and more welcoming over the past three decades.

While progress has been made, there is still significant work to do…

As part of a new series, Bedford Thomas, Head of People at Two Circles, considers the importance of belonging; in sport, in the workplace, in society.

“You f***ing Monkey”

It wasn’t directed at me – this particular individual’s ire was Luis Nani after missing a golden opportunity to score for Manchester United against Sporting Lisbon in 2007.

I was in my second year at university and – as a traditionalist – went to a local Coventry pub to watch the match.

As the only black man in a crowded pub, how would you react? Flight, fight or stay out of sight?

Sadly, as is often the choice for outsiders, I stayed out of sight, waited until half-time, and left early. ‘It’s normal’ you tell yourself (a grim state of affairs in its own right), it wasn’t directed at you.

While the specifics may be unique (Kick It Out add that their battle continues in the physical as well as the online world), the experience of feeling excluded, sadly, are not. We have all experienced a feeling like we don’t belong, but for some it’s a daily occurrence. And that extends to the workplace.

Data to support the importance of wellbeing at work is still in its relative infancy. However, it can serve as a powerful mechanism to create deep connections between employees and their employers.

In fact, according to Harvard Business Review:

“If workers feel like they belong, companies reap substantial benefits. High belonging was linked to a whopping 56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in turnover risk, and a 75% reduction in sick days. For a 10,000-person company, this would result in annual savings of more than $52M.”


The increase in job performance for those with “high belonging”


The reduction in sick days for those with “high belonging”


The drop in turnover risk for those with “high belonging”

I’m grateful to have been raised in a household that gave me belonging, a tangible identity I take home every day knowing I’m:

  • Responsible for the bins
  • Sous chef during the week – head chef at weekends

My sense of belonging at home allows me to be my authentic self. That could mean trying new dishes at the weekend or, more importantly, fostering a sense of trust and belonging to others in my household.

Belonging creates an energy for individuals to truly engage in a home or business, rather than as passengers, giving them a sense of ownership for the company they contribute so much of their time to.

It’s that sense of belonging, of wider inclusion, that attracted me to Two Circles. As Kick it Out indicated in their latest Impact Report, significant progress has been made over 30 years but ‘belonging’ in football still has a long way to go. However, we can play our role in building a better future for the sports industry.

The benefits are numerous – increased viewers, engagement and opportunities to create sustainable revenue. But it also ensures fans see the best athletes performing at their authentic best.


On the back of a wonderful Euro 2022, an independent investigation identified abhorrent abuse across professional soccer, while income of parents continues to be a driver for participation of children, and disability remains underrepresented

There are nuances and particularities within all sports, different diversity and inclusion challenges and different approaches required.

One thing we can all agree on – the more people that can watch, play and feel connected to sport, the better off we are.

It has brought fighting armies together to play football during Christmas. Unite nations to begin peace talks again over table tennis. And bring a youthful country to try to move on from its past to celebrate together.

And it’s mine and the Two Circles’ Diversity, Equity and Inclusion team’s responsibility to think about belonging, so that Two Circles is in the best position to support our clients.

Since January 2023, we have increased our Employee Resource Groups to six, with a Black network, Muslim network and Neurodiversity network alongside Women’s, LGBTQIA+ and Jewish networks, coming together to share knowledge, experience and create belonging.

We have set our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion objectives within our three-year Flywheel Strategy, ensuring we hold ourselves accountable to change. Also setting up training for all Two Circlers to feel like they can engage in the topic.

We have discussed with group and team leadership personal objectives to bring the wider company objectives into real, practical objectives for each of our leaders in the business.

Some of the highlights of the past few months include sessions on Trans inclusion in the work environment and celebrating significant religious moments  – the chana masala during the Hindu Festival at Holi was a particular favourite.

We have communicated the results of our recent survey to the whole business. Ensuring complete transparency and open discussion on our current metrics.

And more Two Circlers than ever are involved as mentors of Two Circles’ Diversity in Sports programme, aiming to accelerate the growth of under-represented talent across the UK industry, now celebrating its fourth year.

The above is a step in the right direction, a step that may still include missteps and the wrong choices. Where some team members may feel like they don’t belong.

But rest assured within Two Circles, the ball is rolling and while moss may slow it down, it will not be gathering.

Let’s change the game Twogether.

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