Blog Article

Workplace mentoring helps employees feel inclusion and belonging

Did you know that people with a strong sense of belonging are twice as enthusiastic about their job and twice as likely to recommend their company to others?

August 23, 2022
October 11, 2022
 | 
Author: 
Kadriye

Belonging. There is a reason why this term is much debated and studied of late. Did you know that people with a strong sense of belonging at work are twice as enthusiastic about their job and twice as likely to recommend their company to others, compared to the average employee?

In fact, as the authors of Belonging At Work, an in-depth report on management practices that promote feelings of belonging, conclude: “for company leaders looking to improve metrics around productivity, retention, and engagement, belonging should be their number one focus”.

Inspiring a sense of belonging is a complex and multifaceted process. In this post, we will review the enormous potential of mentoring in helping to create inclusive workspaces where employees feel safety and a sense of belonging.

Why inclusion matters?

Human beings are social creatures and we all need to feel accepted by our peers. The famous theory of motivation by American psychologist Abraham Maslow states that once physiological needs (food, shelter, etc.) and safety needs (order, predictability) have been met, people focus on the next level of needs which are social and center around feelings of connection and belonging. People need to form interpersonal relationships and feel connected to others and to be part of a group, to belong. 

On the opposite end of this is exclusion which, according to one study can be experienced as actual physical pain. The study looked into social pain – perceptions of pain activated by social rather than physical stimuli – and found that experiencing exclusion from a group activity activates brain circuits related to the processing of actual physical pain. Being shunned by others hurts.

Now imagine a person who feels like an outsider at work. They will probably feel rejected and hurt, or at least they will be disgruntled. How likely are they to be enthusiastic about their job and to do their best every day?

Beyond the subjective, personal experience of it, the exclusion is also a social phenomenon and can affect whole groups of people. For example, even today, women and people of color are underrepresented in managerial and executive-level positions within the corporate world. These are much more than personal stories but rather lost opportunities for employers. As we will show later, inclusion and belonging have tangible effects on productivity and profitability.  

What makes a workplace inclusive?

An inclusive workplace is a place of work where no one feels excluded and where everyone feels valued and respected as an individual, according to one useful definition by a UK-based employers forum. It is a place where people are treated fairly and barriers to progress (most acutely felt by people from underrepresented groups) have been removed. 

An inclusive workplace is also diverse. Increasingly, companies are realizing that establishing diversity is more than just hiring people from underrepresented groups. For such employees to thrive and contribute to the best of their ability, a culture of inclusion should exist. In fact, creating a culture of inclusion is beneficial to all employees. It means all employees feel safe to be their authentic selves, to ask for advice and help, and work in ways that best reveal their potential. One way to test feelings of inclusion and belonging is to observe the degree to which employees are willing to debate their superiors. People with a strong sense of belonging tend to feel more confident in voicing dissenting opinions.

Creating and maintaining a culture of inclusion is a process. A possible and much-desired outcome is that employees feel like they belong in their respective teams and the company as a whole. 

How mentoring contributes to inclusion efforts and belonging?

Employee mentoring programs pair people from across an organization with the goal of encouraging more communication, learning, and skill-sharing. If a program is designed and managed well, the interactions are meaningful and allow for employees to connect on a more personal level. Both the mentor and mentees feel supported, more engaged, and recognize that they are part of something bigger than themselves.

Here are some other ways in which mentoring can help inspire a sense of belonging:

  • People feel seen and heard: A great mentor is not some know-it-all who always has heaps of advice to give but rather a patient and empathetic listener. For most people, a good listener is pretty much all it takes to make them feel better or to inspire them to figure out their own answers and solutions. 
  • It is easier to ask for help: In today’s dynamic world, learning should be life-long. Everyone has knowledge and skills gaps, although admitting to this may not always be easy. In a company with a well-established mentoring culture, employees are encouraged to learn from each other and be open about what it is they don’t know or do well yet.
  • Levels the playing field: In general, people from underrepresented groups tend to experience more career obstacles. Mentoring can support diversity and inclusion by giving employees from underrepresented groups the opportunity to have interactions with senior employees who could champion them and make useful introductions.

Mentoring for diversity in the workplace 

It is possible to design mentoring programs with the express goal of supporting diversity and inclusion, also known as DEI. While such programs do not differ from best practices, some aspects may need additional consideration.

  • Ask the target groups

People from underrepresented groups may have very different views about a company and may be faced with some unique challenges, compared to other employees. Before an employee mentoring program with a DEI focus is launched, it will be helpful to canvas opinions and gain insight into the actual needs of would-be participants. 

  • Select and Train Mentors  

Mentor selection is always an important factor and this is also the case in programs targeting DEI goals. The selection process depends on the actual goals that a program aims to achieve. If the aim is to boost the representation of minority groups in leadership positions, a well-tested approach is to pair promising young talent with experienced managers. Mentors should be aware of concepts such as unconscious bias and be able to self-reflect and examine their own beliefs about others.

  • Match for Success 

A key issue to consider is the level of commonality between mentors and mentees. Should the parties have common or different backgrounds, should they be of the same gender or not? In the cases where there is more commonality, mentees can hear from someone that they can relate to about the challenges they have had to overcome to advance their career. Pairing people from different backgrounds may help increase the cultural competency of both parties. Both mentors and mentees should be asked for input about who they are paired with.

In conclusion, diverse and inclusive workplaces promote employee engagement and well-being. They are also places where more employees are likely to feel a strong sense of belonging. Mentoring can be a valuable tool to support DEI goals as well as initiatives that aim to boost employee morale. An employee mentoring program can be designed so it meets several strategic goals at the same time and it can play a tremendous role in creating a workspace where employees experience a strong sense of community and where each person feels safe, empowered, and valued.

Want to learn more about the benefits of having a peer mentor at work? Make sure to check out our previous article on this topic.

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