Why Psychological Safety Matters In Diversity and Inclusion

communication at work diversity and inclusion inclusion psychological safety Oct 11, 2022
Psychological safety in team meetings

Psychological safety is "a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes" (Professor Amy C. Edmondson, 1999).

Psychological safety supports a productive and constructive culture of error – being able to openly discuss mistakes and learning from failure. 

In brief, psychological safety is about enabling candour. 

The D&I promise is that when companies build a team with diverse members - who bring different perspectives, ideas, and opinions - it will result in greater performance. 

The reality is that diverse teams often underperform because people from dissimilar backgrounds often clash. A study of 62 drug-development teams suggests that the key to getting them to work better together and tap the potential of diversity is to create a psychologically safe environment. 

Psychological safety is of greater importance in companies that promote Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. Experiences with systemic discrimination often discourage employees within oppressed groups from speaking out — such as workers of colour, women, and LGBTQ individuals. However, the need for psychological safety applies equally to all – whether they are from marginalised groups or not. Without psychological safety, people remain uncomfortable in their work environments, and their teams lose out on valuable input. 

When you’re building an environment of psychological safety, everyone needs to feel included – that they’re safe to be on the team, safe to be their true selves, and safe in the knowledge that others on the team will not reject them on the basis of their differences. 

Those differences may include ethnicity, gender, age, sexuality, social background, ability, or any other of the myriad ways in which we’re all different. This is why it’s so important when building a psychologically safe team, to define the team’s values and behaviours early on – also known as a social contract or team charter – so that this inclusion is made explicit. 

We are not arguing that psychological safety is the only strategy for building diversity, inclusion, and belonging. Building psychological safety is only one element of an effective and learning-oriented approach to change. It is important to have interrelated goals related to recruitment, training, promoting, and learning to shift the workplace climate.

In summary, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion within psychological safety:

  • Employees feeling able to be their whole selves at work means they can exhibit their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, background, family status, and all other parts of their identity without judgment
  • High functioning diverse teams improve productivity, increase innovation, and saves their organisation money
  • Celebrating, valuing, and respecting others’ diversity will lead to psychological safety within work teams, fostering a more positive, open-minded, and better-performing workplace

We fundamentally believe that psychological safety is a precursor not only to performance but to inclusion and diversity. How can we truly leverage the diversity of a team if we’re not inclusive? And how can we be inclusive if we don’t foster psychological safety?

How to know if a workplace has psychological safety:

  • People are not rejected for being unique
  • Mistakes are not often held against people 
  • Employees feel safe taking risks 
  • It is easy to ask other team members for help 
  • It is easy to discuss difficult problems and issues
  • All team members value and respect each other’s contributions

5 practical ways to foster psychological safety:

  1. Framing the work: Create an understanding of what work the team does, the value it creates and why everyone’s input matters. For example, in team meetings, open the meeting by making the sharing of information and ideas an explicit goal. Then, make sure to systematically invite people with different perspectives to join the conversation, one by one, and listen to and capture what they have to say before moving on to consider the implications of these perspectives and make decisions.
  2. Facilitate conversational turn-taking. Make sure that team members, especially in meetings, have a roughly equal amount of time talking and that all voices are invited. When there are dominant voices or personalities in a team and very shy quiet voices, you may need to use dialogue tools such as 1-2-4-all to make sure all voices are heard.
  3. Practice Inquiry: Learn to ask open questions to seek input and perspectives and actively listen to what is being said. Don’t be quick to judge, make assumptions or jump to conclusions. This takes practice.
  4. Role model failure: Reframing the role of the leader to someone who facilitates the team to work through problems and reach goals can create the space to allow yourself to make mistakes and show humility. Not only does this build trust with others, but it also role-models beautifully the ability to discuss mistakes and failings and learn from them.
  5. Show appreciation. Make it spontaneous and specific. Especially in meetings, take the time to appreciate what different people brought to the table and how they showed up.


Find out more about how you can achieve psychological safety or get in touch with one of our experts to explore the different ways in which we can support you with this.

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