Many minority members fail to understand that their career mobility can be affected by their colleagues’ feelings of familiarity or closeness with them. Even those who do understand this can find building workplace relationships across racial boundaries difficult. Being one’s true self, disclosing elements of one’s personal life, and forming social connections are harder when attempted across a demographic boundary such as racial background. Helping workplace relationships flourish among people of differing races may require special effort.
The authors suggest several strategies that organizations can use to make employees from varied demographic groups feel comfortable engaging with one another: (1) Recognize the role that structure—such as formal icebreaker games or having a leader introduce everyone at a gathering—can play in easing the discomfort of free-form socializing. (2) Adopt a learning orientation by asking open and curious questions that demonstrate that being different makes someone more valuable. (3) Consider creating a buddy system of informal mentorship, in which more-experienced employees help facilitate social relationships for new hires.