What has psychological safety got to do with equity?
Ok, psychological safety seems to be pretty important. So, what do we need to do? This is always our favourite question because it gets us into the super practical stuff.
The first challenge to overcome, is that leaders hope to achieve things like psychological safety, effective hybrid working, building talent and driving innovation, without talking to their teams about it. We cannot achieve these things by stealth. We need to work with our teams, talking about what is important and why and shaping together how we can change things.
So if you want to build psychological safety in your team, then you need to start talking with your team about it.
That’s a great starting point because you are role modelling a key part of psychological safety: that you are interested in and trust the value of the team’s ideas. But Psychological safety – the feeling that we are safe to ask questions, speak up, request support, make mistakes, challenge leadership…. is not experienced equally by different groups.
The colleague who did not get a university education and is often referred to as the “non academic one” feels less comfortable speaking up in meetings. The Black colleague who has been questioned repeatedly about how they got promoted feels less able to ask questions. The manager with autism who at times feels overwhelmed by the pace of conversation, is not sure how to ask their peers and leadership about different ways of working.
This means that if we want to build psychological safety, we will need to consider how each individual in our team may already be experiencing things very differently. And we are not mind-readers, so reviewing our own behaviour and talking to each individual is a helpful start.
Equity auditing is an overly complex way of saying that we need to check our behaviour. This is not about checking that we treat everyone in our teams equally, but that we do so equitably. That means that we find out what each person needs, and adapt to them.
I often get asked about how we can carry out these audits with our teams, so I’m putting together some top tips to share here… stay tuned!
For more on the importance of understanding the interplay of psychological safety and equity, check out this brilliant white paper from august: