“Let’s be brave about speaking out. Let’s assume positive intent that people take it the right way and help us move the ball forward for ourselves and all our female allies and colleagues.”
She added, “Let’s be brave about speaking out. Let’s assume positive intent that people take it the right way and help us to move the ball forward for ourselves and all our female allies and colleagues.”
10 strategies for cultivating a culture of psychological safety
Psychological safety supports overall inclusion by allowing women and men to bring their whole selves to work, a concept to which Grant Thornton is strongly committed. Creating such a safe place provides a work environment where members from non-majority groups can share novel ideas and perspectives free from the risk of ridicule, rejection or penalty. In this type of environment, in short, employees are more likely to leverage their differences for good than mask them.
But actions speak louder than words. This psychologically safe workplace does not emerge on its own. Leaders must commit to fostering inclusion, innovation and a speak-up culture. They must model, promote and reward behaviors that promote a safe work environment.
Psychological safety can still be a fuzzy concept for organizations to wrap their head around. How to get started? Here are some steps to take:
- Embrace a culture of respectful debate. Formally appoint a devil’s advocate to reduce anxiety around speaking out by separating the argument from the individual. Emphasize a cooperative approach to conflict focused around collective goals and success. For example, employees might jot their ideas down on Post-it notes placed around the room for colleagues to read. A manager facilitates the group discussion based on the ideas noted, seeking the best way to integrate them to achieve the group’s shared objectives.
- Encourage personal storytelling. Sharing personal experiences helps create authentic connections with employees and develops empathy, leading to psychological safety.
- Ask questions. Model curiosity and encourage employees to voice their diverse perspectives and ideas. Actively seek dissenting views and do not shut down ideas. When people feel that their managers want to hear from them and value their perspectives, they are more likely to provide input to discussions.
- Allow for experimentation and failure. Provide support when employees encounter challenges in their efforts to innovate and deliver results. Demonstrate to employees that it’s okay to take reasonable risks even if they don’t always succeed. Remind them that failure is an opportunity to learn by highlighting your own failures that contributed to ultimate breakthroughs.
- Dismantle perceptions of hierarchy. Differences related to professional rank can inhibit the sharing of ideas. Power differentials can skew contributions toward members with higher status. Challenge junior staff to question your ideas and reward those who do.
- Model openness to feedback. Demonstrate that you value employees’ views by employing 360 feedback and deliberately seeking employees’ real-time feedback on your leadership skills.
- Set clear goals and key performance indicators. Psychological safety is not about being nice or lowering performance standards. Rather, it recognizes diversity and collaboration’s contribution to high performance.
- Offer development opportunities. When leaders assign high-profile stretch assignments to women, it signals to their direct reports that they trust their capabilities.
- Build a speak-up culture. No one person can have all the answers, so encourage employees to contribute to decision-making through create collaboration. Stress that the uncertainty and complexity of the business environment necessitate new solutions that can be generated only through diverse ideas.
- Highlight competencies. Promote the sharing of knowledge about group members’ skills and competencies. Suggest that group members share their short-form CV with other members of the group. Highlight the unique contributions each individual brings to the table.
Measure and monitor
Cultivating a culture of psychological safety isn’t a one-and-done activity, and it doesn’t happen overnight. Like any culture effort, it needs to be measured and monitored. Formal surveys can help assess how employees feel about key questions:
- Do employees feel free to share suggestions and concerns?
- Are employees confident they won’t receive retaliation or criticism if they admit a mistake?
- Are training and promotion opportunities fairly offered to employees?
- Are different points of view encouraged in business meetings?
- Does management listen to employees’ ideas and feedback?
Although gender inequality in the workplace has gradually narrowed, the issue of providing a psychologically safe place for women remains. Focusing on the efficiency of work isn’t enough. With the pursuit of great achievements of a diverse team comes the risk of failure, and employees must know they’ll have a soft place to land, whatever their gender.
March 8, 2020, is International Women’s Day. An equal world is an enabled world. Take action today for equality. #EachforEqual.