The process of finding a place where you belong AND feel included is rarely simple.
As a first-generation college student from an immigrant family, I often felt a distinct pang of “otherness” at my (extremely homogenous) undergraduate university. Sure, on paper I was included because I shared the same characteristics and credentials of many of my classmates; yet, I still didn’t quite belong. This was a disorienting feeling, and it had a real effect on my sense of belonging.
Trust and belonging are keys to mental health for students of color, and ensuring that employees of color feel that trust and belonging is just as vital in the workplace.
As someone who’s worked in organizational consulting and learning and development, I’ve seen how important it is to find amazing, underrepresented talent and what it takes to ensure they have the support and the inclusive environment they need to thrive.
In my own career, I ask myself the same question each time I’m beginning — or entertaining the idea of — a new job opportunity: what will it take for me to feel excited and satisfied with my employer? Reflecting on this question has helped me land several amazing roles over the course of my career, and, with time, I’ve gotten good at understanding what my needs are and whether a specific culture can support them.
So whether you are job-seeking, just landed the role of your dreams or recruiting for amazing talent, here are a few points that can boost belonging.
Yes, this is basic, but it can’t be underestimated. With the variety of resources — from Glass Door to Blind — there’s no shortage of employees who are willing to describe the great, the good or the just plain unfortunate. While some of this information is revealing, it can be polarizing. Use some of the intel here to formulate questions you’d like to explore with a recruiter or current employee to imagine how you might fit within the current culture.
LinkedIn is a treasure! Over the last 10 years, I’ve received and sent plenty of unsolicited messages asking for a few minutes on the phone or a quick conversation. It’s a great way to learn firsthand about a company or specific team’s culture, but you need to be strategic. Before reaching out, read profiles thoroughly and make a specific and relevant ask. (e.g. “I see you worked as a designer at Amazon. I’m also a designer and would love to learn about how design processes work on your team…”)
Build a Board
Think of this list as your personal board of directors. It should be composed of employees with a variety of levels of experience, tenure, seniority and skills. They can be your sounding board or help point you in the right direction when things aren’t going well. Each person will likely serve a different function: some may provide friendship, mentorship, sponsorship, allyship — or even a combination. The important part is finding people you trust who want to support your success and make you feel like a valued member of the team or organization.
Share Your Observations
Your manager or team may be fantastic, but I can guarantee that they are not mind readers. If you have an experience that makes you feel excluded or like you don’t belong, share it. In some instances, it’s unintentional and people may not be aware of how their behavior is impacting you. For example, if someone keeps leaving you out of a meeting that is important for your work, explain and ask them to add you to the invite or forward the meeting.
Acknowledge Contributions and Accomplishments
If you’re lucky enough to find someone talented who truly adds value to your team’s work and culture, they need to feel your support and encouragement. Chances are they’re being courted by a variety of other employers too, and these moments of recognition — whether publicly in a team meeting or during your one-on-one meetings — can help them feel as valued and respected as when you first hired them. Your goal is to sustain that sentiment.
Seek Different Perspectives
The act of making space and time for others to show up as they are or to introduce different ideas and processes sparks creativity and innovation. Many companies need to embrace difference to thrive or they risk becoming obsolete. Providing opportunities for employees to express their opinions freely and constructively confirms your willingness to hear all voices and welcomes people in.
Will we ever attain perfect inclusivity, an altered state where everyone always belongs all the time and unicorns and rainbows abound? Of course not.
But if as job seekers, employees and employers we all strive to ensure everyone has a seat at the table and the support and resources to remain there, we can get closer to a place where all of us feel like we belong and we’re included.