Lawrence Hall’s DEI Committee strives to ensure Lawrence Hall is a diverse, equitable environment of belonging and inclusivity. Having “brave conversations” about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace is a necessity for healthy company culture and requires honesty, compassion, and self-reflection of all involved. Our Brave Conversations Series highlights topics not normally discussed but that have deep, personal impacts on our staff, youth, families, and communities.
April is Arab American Heritage Month, so this month’s Brave Conversations will attempt utilize issues facing Arab Americans to shape understanding of the need for DEI initiatives. Today’s topic is workplace psychological safety
Psychological safety is the belief that you won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. What is psychological safety at work in particular? It’s a shared belief held by members of a team that others on the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish you for speaking up.
You may look around at your coworkers and say, “we are a diverse team,” but being diverse is just one part of it. You must ask yourself; do you feel like you belong to that team? There is a worldwide consensus that more diverse teams will outperform less diverse teams. The thought is that different perspectives, ideas, and opinions in diverse teams are essential to achieving breakthrough and innovation. Which in theory is true, but in practice diverse teams often underperform relative to non-diverse teams. Why? They face communication challenges that get in the way. People with similar backgrounds share norms and assumptions about how to behave, how to set priorities, and at what pace to do the work. When team members come from different backgrounds, these taken-for-granted habits frequently clash, leading to misunderstanding and frustration. Being diverse is not being inclusive.
The are many historical barriers to psychological safety amongst diverse teams. Microaggressions—subtle acts of exclusion that demean, belittle or harm—can reinforce an insider/outsider dynamic and undermine psychological safety. A comment about a Black worker’s hairstyle or an Asian colleague’s accent, or an assumption that a Latinx worker can easily translate a document into Spanish, or endorsing stereotypes that Arab-Americans all wear head coverings; all undermined trust and destroy any sense of psychological safety.
A 2007 study done by Derald Wing Sue discusses how individuals who were born, raised, or lived a significant amount of time in the US are still often treated like foreigners. Many of these participants were Arab-American and spoke on their experiences of not feeling psychologically safe. One participant shared: “I walked up and he [coworker] goes, ‘What are you, Indonesian?’ You know he made it seem like I must be from another country or something.” Often Arab-Americans experience situations in which others make them feel as if they do not belong in the US, even though they were born in the US or consider the US to be their home. Such experiences communicate that these individuals do not belong in the US, subtly communicating that there is a certain way of being or looking American.
One participant discussed an incident in which she introduced herself during class in a large lecture hall: “Everyone just got up and was just like staring at me . . . but they didn’t say anything.” Because of her Arabic name, she felt that everyone went out of their way to look at her. But although no one said anything blatantly discriminatory, she still felt uncomfortable by her peers. These scenarios communicated a message that the participants did not belong, were not welcome, or both. As a result, participants reported feeling angry, sad, belittled, and frustrated.
A workplace that does not have real inclusion can lead to a bevy of microaggressions nurtured by homogeny, making people too afraid to contribute their thoughts in meetings, participate in discussions, or take risks in their work because any misstep could be used to harm their credibility and damage their standing in the organization. A psychologically unsafe environment can be devastating to our self-esteem and mental health. Going into work and being constantly fearful that our expertise is going to be questioned, mocked, attacked, or disregarded is fundamentally unhealthy.
Ford V Ferrari (2019) — directed by James Mangold
Monsters, INC (2001) — directed by Pete Docter
The Intern (2015) — directed by Nancy Meyers
Barbershop (2002) — directed by Tim Story
Parks and Recreation (Peacock)
Black Fatigue: How Racism Erodes the Mind, Body, and Spirit
Psychological Safety: The key to happy, high-performing people and teams
Dr Dan Radecki PhD and Leonie Hull
The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth
Amy C. Edmondson
Subtle Acts of Exclusion: How to Understand, Identify, and Stop Microaggressions
Morning Train (Nine To Five) — Sheena Easton
Shiftwork — Kenny Chesney and George Strait
She Works Hard For The Money — Donna Summer
Take This Job And Shove It — Johnny Paycheck
Epiphany — Taylor Swift
9 To 5 — Dolly Parton
Psychological Safety in Theory and In Practice — The Anxious Achiever
Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace — Harvard Business Review IdeaCast