Creating a psychologically safe and inclusive space for all
With reports in 2021 stating that only 51% of people felt a sense of belonging at work, how can we look to create, and re-create a sense of community and belonging within the workplace to tackle loneliness and exclusion?
Creating an environment where people can bring their authentic selves to work can not only encourage productivity, but ultimately helps maintain healthy well-being for people. It has often been proven that a diverse workforce can create a greater business because having different people, with different stories and ideas can allow a more creative and psychologically safer environment. By also having people who hold different lives, you create a space where people can feel like they belong and bring their best selves to work.
So, what do we need to consider when trying to create a more inclusive environment to help people feel less isolated and feel like they truly belong?
First and foremost, everything you do from this point onwards must be done with integrity.
Celebrate the individuality of your team members
How are you encouraging and allowing your talent to be their full and authentic selves?
Championing and celebrating your individual team members helps them celebrate themselves, their protected characteristics and what makes them who they are. It can also help the individual feel a sense of self-empowerment and love – in particular, for those who may have been historically excluded from areas of society.
When you acknowledge that people have different needs and different requirements to be their best in the work environment you create a space for listening and learning.
By listening to your talent pool on where they may face barriers to feeling psychologically safe and producing their best work you inadvertently encourage them to start an invaluable line of communication to grow a more inclusive workspace. In addition, by doing this your workforce will become an ally force – a force that supports and celebrates one another, and works towards breaking down exclusion.
How can you get started with this, and importantly, keep it going?
- Do your research, speak to consultants in the space, and see what training offerings are available – you may be new to this, and that’s ok, but there are plenty of experts and knowledgeable people out there to guide you and learn from – invest in these.
- Set out guidelines for conversations that you want to have around inclusion
- Discuss the use of appropriate language within your teams
- Create the safe space for open discussions – make sure to reiterate that mistakes will be made, but that you want to be able to acknowledge them and learn how to resolve them together.
- Engage all of your team members – from the senior staff to every single member of your team – everyone should be involved in this conversation.
- Offer real choices and set out realistic tangible goals – creating the inclusive environment will not happen overnight, it will be ongoing, and will need to be a part of your forever strategy.
- Take the time out to speak to people individually. This process and idea if you work in a large organisation can seem a near impossible task but find a way that works for you – divide and conquer, get reps from different teams, or start a task force group to help. Speaking to people individually as well as in groups can help you hear vital voices that may otherwise go unheard if certain people feel anxious raising their concerns or feelings. Doing it may feel like a mammoth task, but when done right, the rewards, including respect and overall better mental health of your employees will be invaluable as it will give them that sense of self and belonging.
- If discrimination or bullying happens in your workplace, are you looking after your people first and foremost who are at the receiving end? Are you following best practice when it comes to those acting out the discrimination?
By acknowledging that you appreciate and encourage a diverse work force; by celebrating the individuality of your employees, without unjustly focusing too much on a person’s protected characteristics, you are showing that you’re actively encouraging a transparent and supportive environment, where your employees can feel respected and connected. This will not be a ‘do the course once’ or ‘have a conversation and this will solve all your problems’. It needs to be a continuous and on-going learning and development process, and vitally, forever done with the upmost integrity.
How are you encouraging learning within your teams?
- How are you encouraging a culture of open mindedness and transparency?
- Are you encouraging your talent pool to do the inner work as well?
- The tougher conversations and open lines of communication, how are you starting those and ensuring that they are welcomed as a way of learning?
- How are you adapting your work environments for your neurodiverse staff?
One thing to remember is to ensure that anything you are working on to change and bring into your company is not simply an act of ‘box ticking’. The best and diverse talent out there is not hard to find and having supportive and open-minded team members within your company will only allow that inclusive environment to thrive. You must remember to not only find the best talent, but once you have them, to create the welcoming space they deserve, to treat them equally in a place where they can thrive.
Let your people’s voices be heard and let them shine.
Social events – let’s widen the scope
Now that people are returning to the office, as well as social gatherings coming back into play – re-evaluating how you socialise within your company should be another step to helping create a more inclusive environment. Many people are put off by the thought of going out on an all-night drinking session with co-workers, but often feel if they raise this, they will be judged. There’s not a suggestion of never having drinks with co-workers again but to simply put other activity suggestions out there, explore new avenues, and try new ways of fun whilst also taking into consideration that members of your team will have various out-of-work responsibilities in addition to being aware that not everyone will have the ability to do certain activities. Factoring these in will show your employees that you recognise this and value them as part of your team.
It’s important to consider what social things people will want to take part in, so encourage people to suggest new activities, and if you’re worried about no one coming back to you, start the list yourself. Some activities can include:
- Going to a restaurant or non-alcoholic space
- Plan a museum outing or an evening exhibition
- Try out a sports activity such as an ever-growing popular axe throwing, bowling or an escape room
- A team cooking class
- Attend a racing track
- Try out some team volunteering – if there is a charity or cause you are particularly interested in, see who’s interested in giving back. This is a great way to help worthy causes, whilst in the process enabling your team to connect for good.
Creating connections and safe spaces
We all need to look inwards to our own biases, understandings and what we know. By doing this we can create an open space to have difficult but very much needed conversations. Whilst people themselves and workforces are doing work to encourage and set out a more inclusive work environment, this work is far from done.
Creating a more inclusive space not only applies in the workplace, but something we all need to carry through into our everyday lives. We will all make mistakes, and that is ok, it’s how we learn – the most important thing is to apologise when one is made and look to how you can rectify whilst learning from it. It’s important to look around ourselves – our social groups, the media, and our relatives to see who are in our groups – is everyone the same and holding the same outlooks and views? What is being said and what is being challenged. Having people with who hold different stories to us will enable a better understanding of our own biases and help us dissect and deconstruct them as well as opening the door to us experiencing new things and embrace the diverse world we live in.
Let’s all be open to further listening, learning, and challenging what we know to help make a space for safer spaces where people can be their full and best version of themselves, feel less lonely, and more connected.
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