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“Psychological Safety” is Aspirational, not lived Reality – Part II

A Gemisode™ Series – Part II

In part I, we presented the concepts and definitions central to the series, specifically, intersectionality and psychological safety. We then connected the concepts and highlighted the researched benefits (e.g., increased team performance, retention, and effective communication) of psychological safety in the workplace before sharing our belief around why psychological safety is an aspirational concept and not lived reality – “true equity doesn’t exist in the world, and by extension, cannot truly exist in workplaces”. In a world built on systems and structures designed to exclude many for the benefit of some, psychological safety in the workplace is unrealistic. In this Gemisode™, the conclusion of the series,  we share our thoughts on what a more realistic alternative goal to psychological safety in the workplace can be. 

If the sentence starting, “In a world built on…”  caused a myriad of thoughts and emotions to come up for you, we invite you to honor yourself by allowing yourself to sit with them. Perhaps you’ve held onto the idealistic view that meritocracy exists, perhaps you navigate the harmful impacts of inequity daily, or perhaps you’re wondering whether there is truth to what has been stated. Either way, as a first step, we encourage you to get still so that you can get clear on the ‘why’ behind your feelings, thoughts, and emotions. Getting clear on your whys is necessary if you want to assess what, if anything, you’re willing to do or change in order to support the pathway towards creating more inclusive realities for yourself and others.

Moving from thought to action is the bedrock of change so as you seek clarity and  learn more through your own research,  the questions become, what will I do with the information and what commitments am I willing to make to continue learning so that I can create the changes I desire moving forward? If the proposed questions have caused a bit of uncertainty or anxiety, deep breath in and out 3 times and remember, change is a process, not a singular event, more importantly, change is hard, even when we desire the outcome(s).

To manifest new realities, we must be willing to let go and give up some portion of what we currently possess.  Unfortunately, the idea of loss isn’t one we as people readily embrace –   tennis great Jimmy Connors was once quoted as saying, “I hate to lose more than I love to win”.  If we hate to lose more than we love to win, how can change begin, and specifically within the workplace? To support the path to change, we must first adjust our mindsets around perceived or actual loss, and instead focus more on measurable wins such as, “diverse teams are better at making decisions 87% of the time over non-diverse teams” and  “diversity significantly improves financial performance”, one of the many benefits of diversity noted respectively in this Forbes article and this HBR article.

If change is hard due to perceived loss and psychological safety doesn’t exist, what is a more realistic goal related to inclusiveness in the workplace?  While we certainly don’t have all the answers, we do know that if we’re ever going to get closer to the ‘feeling’ of psychological safety, we must all start by having more grace for ourselves and others. This means that we willingly extend the grace we would hope to receive and that we call people into spaces and conversations about structures, behaviors, and impact, instead of forcefully attempting to hold them accountable to the experiences, knowledge, and expectations we have for ourselves. No one is perfect, and we will never be aware of all of the intricacies and experiences that make up the intersectional identities of others. At some point, perhaps multiple times a day, it’s inevitable that we will say or do something that is perceived as offensive to another — rather than focus on your intent, own the impact of the offense if someone points it out to you. 


Attempting to hold people accountable for experiences and realities that are not their own is pointless

All paths to progress begin with acknowledgement. In the context of what we’ve been discussing, acknowledgment of the harm caused, and often perpetuated  by the fallacy of psychological safety in the workplace, is necessary. Failure to do so erases the lived experiences and identity impacts of those most at risks of harm. Once you acknowledge, you’re better positioned to create new structures, systems, policies, and approaches. 

Instead of anchoring to the concept of psychological safety, we believe that workplace inclusivity and harm reduction goals should instead focus on the creation and implementation of continuous organizational learning and assessment models anchored in the willingness to ‘lose’ to ensure wider gains. What’s included in the continuous model? Our recommended model includes: Grace (permission to forgive), Awareness (education), Acknowledgement (ownership of benefits and impacts), Measurement (e.g., bias, bias impact, engagement, reported experiences, compensation decisions, business results. etc. are all measurable) and Accountability (making the organizational, structural, systematic, and people changes necessary to support change and growth. Includes identified internal and external partners who assess and monitor your actions). 


A continuous learning and assessment-accountability model is the only realistic goal.

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