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Promoting Psychological Safety Through DEI Principles

For your organization to be the best that it can be, you must create an environment where staff members feel comfortable being themselves, asking questions, and providing potential solutions to problems.

By working to make your organization a safer place to work for everyone, you’re likely to see staff retention and engagement increase, which can lead to more consistent, quality care for persons served. It’s truly a win-win.

Embracing the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) best practices is one way to help create this type of psychological safety in your organization.

A culture of psychological safety is not achieved overnight. To help your organization begin your journey toward better staff well-being, let’s review what psychological safety is and the steps you need to take to get there.

What is psychological safety?

Psychological safety is the idea that staff members feel safe from ridicule or reprisal when bringing up new ideas, being themselves at work, and collaborating with coworkers.

It’s easy enough to understand why, then, psychological safety has become such an important issue for so many organizations: if your staff does not feel secure enough to do their best work, your organization will ultimately fall short of its mission.

While many of the studies conducted on the causes and effects of psychological safety involve non-healthcare-related industries, making sure to take care of your staff’s mental well-being is just as important in human services settings. Indeed, with the effects of burnout and turnover still sending shockwaves through the field, your organization must prioritize creating a psychologically safe environment.

As a leader within your organization, it’s up to you to get the ball rolling on creating this type of work environment. But where should you start? Creating a culture of psychological safety may seem open-ended, but there are a few concrete tactics you can use to begin your journey to greater staff well-being. We recommend:

  • Acknowledge that each staff member on your team is their own, unique person, who brings valuable experiences and knowledge to their work.
  • Make sure you create a shared understanding of what your team or organization’s goal is and how each staff member contributes to that larger goal.
  • Seek the input of your staff. This could entail how to better offer services to persons served, how to create better lines of communication within the organization, and more.
  • Thoughtfully and respectfully take input from staff members then act on that feedback when appropriate. If you choose not to implement staff members’ input, then be sure to thoroughly communicate why that decision was made.

The importance of DEI in psychological safety

While the above steps are important, to create a work environment that truly embraces psychological safety you must champion DEI practices and principles. The more comfortable staff members feel bringing unique viewpoints afforded to them by their cultural, religious, and personal backgrounds to the team, the better your organization will function.

In fact, studies have shown that workplaces with greater diversity not only increase psychological safety, but also improve productivity, increase innovation, and can even save money.

The bottom line: When your staff feels safe from judgement or punishment, they perform better. So, if you haven’t already, how can you begin integrating DEI principles into your organization?

Using DEI best practices to promote psychological safety

While getting to a place of true inclusion and psychological safety is difficult, the journey towards better DEI practices is well worth the effort. By creating a safe space for staff members to grow, you can support their careers, reduce turnover, and develop an overall healthier organization. But, like all such journeys, it can be difficult to know where to begin.

The first step is commitment from leaders and staff alike. The ability to create psychological safety via DEI principles is entirely dependent on active participation from all the employees as well as strong support from your organization. As a road map, we recommend pursuing the following policies:

  • Practicing inclusion
  • Promoting growth and learning
  • Making communication a priority
  • Championing self-improvement

Practice inclusion

A culture committed to DEI and psychological safety requires a sense of belonging and acceptance among staff members. Through this sense of inclusion, staff members will feel more comfortable sharing their unique viewpoints and skill sets. When staff members feel empowered in this way, they are more likely to contribute to the success of your organization.

Inclusion can be fostered by empathetic, committed leaders who:

  • Treat employees fairly.
  • Establish a sense of belonging.
  • Create and promote a joyful, inclusive workplace at all levels.
  • Build an inclusive brand by being self-aware.
  • Speak out authentically from their own experiences.

Promote growth and learning

Regardless of the size of your organization, you and your team will benefit from the development of well-structured comprehensive programs and engaging inclusivity training for all levels of the organization. It is important and necessary work.

Growth and learning can be nurtured by intentional actions that:

  • Support success, innovation, and creativity.
  • Share DEI knowledge and experiences.
  • Enhance employee engagement, networking, and empowerment.
  • Value differences and develop an inter-cultural curiosity.
  • Support and encourage difficult conversations when it’s warranted.
  • Understand sources of conflict between groups.
  • Connect with other cultures.
  • Validate others within dialogue, even when there is disagreement.

Make communication a priority

Transforming into an inclusive, DEI-driven environment that promotes psychological safety requires a committed cultural transformation at every level of your organization, as well as transparent communication.

Some communication strategies you can use to help you on this journey include:

  • Listen with attention and patience.
  • Seek clarification.
  • Communicate to understand.
  • Communicate your personal responsibility for dialogue, events, actions, and changes.
  • Affirm others and develop their communication skills.
  • Play the facilitator role in dialogue with others.
  • Be honest, clear, and transparent.

Champion self-improvement

DEI and psychological safety require everyone’s participation, and even more importantly, they start with a commitment from an organization’s leaders to be and do better.

As a leader, you must participate in these difficult and promising conversations. To navigate these dialogues, try the following techniques:

  • Recognize your errors and correct them.
  • Acknowledge the existence of a system of privilege.
  • Be self-confident.
  • Talk about difficult or controversial topics with empathy.
  • Explore your social group privileges.
  • Recognize and own your contributions.
  • Identify discrimination and bias triggers.
  • Build trust and rapport with others.
  • Express your feelings.
  • Move from self-focus to “other” focus.

Building Resilience: Empowering Your Clients and Your Staff

Download our white paper on building resilience in and empowering your staff. In this white paper, you’ll learn six concrete strategies for promoting resilience in your staff, including the benefits of trauma informed supervision.

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