Have you ever excitedly accepted a job offer only to spend your first few months (or longer) at the new office feeling uneasy or out of place? The experience is called belonging uncertainty — and you're not alone.
When employees feel insecure in their work environment, it affects their confidence and productivity, as they expend mental energy trying to figure out whether or not they belong. Paradigm, a consulting agency focusing on workplace diversity and inclusion, is currently studying belonging uncertainty, specifically as it pertains to women in tech roles, since tech has long been a male-dominated industry in which female tech professionals understandably experience these feelings.
For companies seeking to foster a sense of inclusion, it helps to create a sense of "ambient belonging" — subtle cues in the physical environment that send a message of valuing and celebrating diverse perspectives. This can take the form of wall art, design selections, or even the snacks available in the break room. For example, "consider the names of conference rooms in your office: if they're named after people, how many of these people are men? How many are white? Are they named after sci-fi movies, computer games, or sports teams?" Even small efforts to be more inclusive can go a long way.
But what if you experience belonging uncertainty as an employee? What can you do to combat these feelings? For advice, we turned to Lauren Aguilar, a partner at Paradigm and one of the world's foremost scientific experts on diversity and inclusion. Here's what she suggests:
Know that you're not alone.
Research shows that a lot of people experience belonging uncertainty, especially when they start new jobs or a new role. It takes time, but these worries do dissipate.
Connect with others when you're struggling.
Often we try to bear challenges alone, working late into the night trying to figure things out on our own so that others don't see our struggle. However, this just piles on more work and more stress, while the isolation leads to more belonging uncertainty. Instead, ask a trusted co-worker for advice. And if you're brand new and you don't know anyone yet, asking for advice is a great strategy to build your network.
Embrace a growth mindset.
This is the belief that skills and talent can grow and develop over time and are built up through practice and effort. Learn to love your mistakes and shortfalls rather than taking them as evidence you don't belong. Research has shown that people who see mistakes, dead-ends, and confusion as opportunities to learn, make the most progress in their work and feel more secure in their belonging.