Over the last few years, the need for diversity in company workforces has been on the rise. There has been a large societal push to see more women, more people of color, and more people of different gender identities both in leadership positions, and throughout the workplace itself.
Hiring for diversity is tricky: to hire for the appearance of diversity risks tokenization of minorities and does not change institutional systems that makes it harder for those minorities to perform and excel. So, what can companies who genuinely want to create change do?
1. Facilitate social bonding
Bringing people together naturally provides an environment where people feel they belong. In the office, there are many ways to naturally create opportunities to “socialize” while continuing to be productive. With a thoughtful effort, you will likely be able to create stronger, more welcoming community.
Structures to consider that help build a more belonging workplace culture:
– How are teams structured? Are you doing your best to avoid tokenism? Do teams encourage and support each other?
– What is your office layout? Do you have spaces that encourage social interactions (i.e. kitchens, break rooms, etc)? Are there ways you can encourage interaction through design?
– Do you periodically give employees on different teams opportunities to come together and socialize?
2. Encourage mentorship
Fostering belonging is not just for peer groups: it should also be implemented within the hierarchical structure of the company as mentorship opportunities. Those who have a trusting relationship with a mentor or manager have more opportunities to learn and improve. This will help employees feel not only a sense of belonging, but also a sense of responsibility and achievement: somebody within the organization cares about them and their work, which will help ensure their retention and promotion.
3. Be intentional
Intentionality is incredibly important when trying to create a sense of community and belonging in the office. Unless people consciously try to be inclusive, exclusion can occur by accident. Even unintentional passive cues can undermine people’s sense of belonging.
Check in with yourself: “Am I making others feel they belong? Being mindful of your own actions can influence how others perceive their sense of belonging. A concrete example of where being intentional is important is in a meeting where you’re looking for others’ input. Rather than asking for input in front of everyone, think of alternative ways to even the playing field.
4. Bring belonging to center stage
Understanding another person’s story – the broader aspects of their life, such as hobbies or outside interests, concerns or hardships – can dissolve interpersonal barriers. Recognizing the universality of certain experiences can dispel the limitations that people often impose on themselves.
5. Sharing the vision
Shared purpose, values, and goals can significantly contribute to a person’s feeling of belonging. People feel a sense of belonging when they believe the work they do is significant. Having a vision and goals for your organization is the first step. Communicating your vision in a way that motivates people is the next.
Whether you own a company or you work for a company, these are all ways that we can individually move the needle forward when it comes to fostering belonging in the workplace. The only way we can make other people feel welcome is when you take action into your own hands. We’re asking for more than just diversity, we want everyone no matter their race, gender, or anything else to feel as though they belong where they are.
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