Psychological safety is the belief that you wont be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.

Safety should be at the forefront of everything we do in every day life as well business. It should form the foundation of every family structure as well company culture. Within the family structure, we ensure our family are fed, clothed and sheltered. This is basic. A company’s culture ensures that its employees are health & safety trained, hazards are removed from the workplace and there are first aiders and fire marshals to assist in an emergency.

So when and where does psychological safety come in?

Psychological Safety x Equity, Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging

Having run quite a number of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging workshops, I realised that I took psychological safety for granted because I had more trust in myself and what I was doing around this topic.

It hit me when one of my clients gave me feedback about one of the workshops I had run. One of the participants (a white woman) gave her feedback about how she didn’t like the session and it made her very uncomfortable and questioned whether such workshops should be happening in the workplace. She proceeded to state that she never faced any of the issues that were highlighted, therefore it is not ‘everyone’s problem’.

Now this feedback came as quite a shock to me because the same woman, gave me positive feedback at the end of the session and even asked for the slides so she can train her team on the importance of this topic. As I explained this, I was told that I need to take into account the psychological safety of this woman. After all, she has a right to feel the way she does. That’s when it hit me!

Now I was triggered on so many different levels, so I pulled back and took time to reflect before I stepped out of character.

Fast forward to recently, where I saw a post on LinkedIn about a viral TikTok video. It featured a white woman answering a question if white women are scared of black women and if they can be allies to black women. She confessed that she was afraid of our strength and resilience and what we are capable of. This video has got some  mixed reviews. It further confirmed to me that white people don’t realise the gravitas of what we say and when we say, ‘We know, we’ve been there’. Now, some of the reasons the lady in the Tik Tok video gave for not fully supporting black women was because of the patriarchal system telling them;

  • ‘To be quiet’
  • ‘Not to rock the boat’
  • ‘Not to be too much’
  • She confessed that ‘We are jealous of you’
  • And also stated that ‘It makes us uncomfortable when you do better than us’

I can say that, I am happy that there is now FINALLY an admission to what we (black people & black women) have been saying for a while now. My response, ‘We know. We get told the same things and more’. These are WOMEN problems, not just white women problems.

Me and other black and brown women have had to ‘suck it up’ for most of our life and get on with it. So when its highlighted what we are capable of, we’ve had no choice. This is the card we have been dealt and yet, WE MOVE!

I say this to say that, at times, I struggle with white people feeling white guilt or having blind spots in their privilege. Guilt is an emotion we experience when we think we have caused harm. The lady in the Tik Tok video felt it, whereas the lady in my workshop avoided it and proceeded to be the victim.

I bring up these 2 contrasting examples because there are similarities in that;

  • The blind spots in white people are very triggering as well dangerous. (no psychological or physical safety)
  • Whitesplaining (what was said vs what was heard vs what you felt)
  • The gravitas of reality is only hitting them now (baffling to be honest)
  • Extra support is needed for white people to handle the truth of what black and brown people face
  • White people don’t like to hear a truth that makes them feel uncomfortable

So, how can white people really be allies to black people? Also, how can men be allies to women? Lets not forget that gender equity is also another big issue we face in society. (This is a separate blog)

Word To The Allies

I would say, get comfortable being uncomfortable. It’s a rollercoaster of thoughts and emotions you are about to embark on.

Like any personal develop, you need to step out your comfort zone, walk all the way through the fear zone into the learning zone. In the learning, you’ll have to deal with challenging situations and at the same time, you will learn how to have meaningful conversations. This will prepare you for the growth zone where you can start to take meaningful action and show real support.

Use emotional intelligence regularly. Remember, you will not let go of your bias overnight, so when having these conversations or participating in initiatives, ensure you are fully aware of your surroundings and audience.

Educate yourself constantly. Admit when you don’t know something with the intention of learning. It is your responsibility to ensure that you understand the fundamentals of this topic. Follow people on socials who speak about their experiences and also the work they are doing to dismantle systemic oppressive constructs. Educating yourself on language is extremely important as well. This is where microaggressions and stereotypes are born. Negative stereotypes are more than just hurtful, they have a significant impact on someone’s wellbeing, so be very aware of what you say and how you come across when you say it. Don’t be careless with your words.

Check in regularly with black and brown people to see what they need, and, if you are an ally, if your efforts are helping them or hindering them. I have seen a lot of white people wanting to be allies, but fall very short when it comes to the efforts of actually helping black people.

Boundaries can help with enhancing psychological safety. Have a look at some of our programs to see how we support your business.

Psychological Safety x Company Culture

As well as embedding psychological safety into your Equity, Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging strategy, its important to really understand how psychological safety is embedded into your company culture as a whole.  Using engagement surveys, temperature checks and feedback from performance reviews is just a few ways to measure how safe the workplace is. Leaders can build psychological safety by creating the right climate, mindsets, and behaviours within their teams.

Understand what data you have in place…

  • Have you clearly defined what psychological safety means?
  • What data have you analysed to share with the team?
  • What measuring tool do you have?

Look at who is in your business…

  • What does your organisational chart look like?
  • Do all the employees know, understand and live the values of the company daily?
  • Do they bring the values to life through their behaviours?
  • Are your customers and suppliers aligned with your company values?

Revisit your vision, mission & values…

  • Are they inclusive?
  • Who do they represent?
  • Are they understandable and clear?
  • What training is provided?
  • Do you challenge outdated paradigms?
  • Do you encourage different perspectives and implement them?

Review your processes and systems…

  • Are there processes in place to support the safety of the team?
  • Are there safeguarding policies in place for marginalised groups?
  • Are there systems and processes in place to hold people accountable?

Then look at what opportunities you create to ensure there is psychological safety in place.

Word To The Leaders

Don’t be complicit with psychological safety.  Understand what it really means. Just because you cannot always see the ‘hazard’ doesn’t mean its not there.  Remember, you inform the dynamic within the business and if team members trust their leaders, they communicate with transparency, invest fully and produce profits.

Emotional Intelligence is imperative here as you will need to have a high level of self awareness in this situation. Ask for feedback so you can understand the impact you have on the people around you. Do not assume just because no one is saying anything that all is well. Avoid apathy.

Consciously observe and implement other outstanding behaviours someone else may be demonstrating. Learning is a constant and it is beneficial to review what paradigms need changing.

Be humble. Show your strength as well as your vulnerability. There is a power in humility.

Develop agility and cognitive diversity within your team. Without true cognitive diversity, you are placing an invisible ceiling on your capacity to create and innovate.

Make the necessary changes. ACTION over words. Consistency over grand empty gestures.

Contact Us to discuss how we can further support the transformation your company culture.