Why Every Workplace Needs Affinity Groups

When spaces are defined by race, class, gender, and sexuality, people who inhabit those identities seek to go where there is a natural understanding and a shared experience, where they can temporarily escape the burden of explaining the nuances of their identity.

These shared safe spaces are especially vital in the workplace, where, because of white-capitalist standards of labor practice and professionalism, employees whose identities do not fit the mold of white-collar professionalism bear an excessive burden to overperform and are forced to conceal parts of their identity.

Add in common micro- and macroaggressions, and the workplace experience is both exhausting and ostracizing for so many people of color. In fact, we even speak of the workplace experiences of Black and Brown employees in white-centric language and during gatherings that cater to white culture.

This is why affinity groups are so crucial to the employee experience. A collective space where individuals with shared identities can come together to express their commonalities away from the microscope of cis-straight whiteness. In this environment, we can have a common dialogue that is exclusively for those individuals. Affinity groups drive up employee engagement, create a more fulfilling work experience, and help to retain talent.

Speaking of my own experience at iMentor, being a part of the Black Men’s Affinity Group has been a core aspect of my time in this organization. Since the nonprofit sector is a white space dominated by white people, it is refreshing to enter a space with Black leaders who exhibit immense passion and expertise. Crucial conversations flow naturally because we have a shared experience. In essence, we are our brothers’ keepers. We feel a responsibility to consistently check in on one another, uplift, and advocate for one another. Given the small number of Black men in the organization, our collective sense of safety and belonging is paramount.

I am grateful that we have this group for connecting through shared experience, laughter, and in radical honesty around the challenges of existing in a space dominated by white culture. Being able to have freeform conversations with the Black Men’s Affinity Group, with our guards down and our shoulders relaxed, has given me a more positive experience at iMentor.

Affinity groups have evolved from just a workplace-sponsored “feel good” space to a necessary environment that enables us to examine the world at large away from the cataracts of whiteness. During a time of immense, tumultuous change, we can rely on one another.

Steven Joseph is associate director of the Regional Office at iMentor.