How to Diversify without Hiring in a Pandemic

Think of a time at work when you felt marginalized because of your fundamental self. Maybe you just entered your career and notice your ideas are met with resistance from more tenured talent, making you feel undervalued. Perhaps your company has been vocal about their support for Diversity & Inclusion (D&I), but as an underrepresented minority you find they fall short when you step in the door (or, given the climate, when you log in to your company’s server). Microaggressions and actions perceived as a blatant disregard against your identity prevents you from bringing your full self to work and can have lasting impacts on your well-being. It’s even more pronounced now, when most of us are working remotely and missing the in-person support. This is where a company’s commitment to D&I comes in.

It’s difficult to understand why an employer wouldn’t make D&I a priority given the positive business outcomes. But wait…we’re in a global pandemic. Companies have implemented hiring freezes to mitigate losses triggered by Covid-19. Without the opportunity to secure external talent, organizations may struggle to diversify their workforce. It’s become more important now to focus on the inclusivity piece and rethink how internal workplace culture fosters and values individual differences. Regardless of the size or scale of your organization, steps can be taken in this direction, starting with building a psychologically safe work environment.

Psychological safety is the perception of the consequences of taking risks in the workplace. The more psychologically safe, the more employees are comfortable contributing ideas and actions (Edmondson & Lei, 2014). Employees are more likely to take risks without feeling they’ll be perceived as failures, allowing for innovation to blossom. Effects of psychological safety on employees include:

  • Take risks regardless of status.
  • Speak up about problems.
  • Confidently make mistakes without fearing they will be held against them.

Source: The Secret to Inclusion in Australian Workplaces: Psychological Safety (Catalyst, Prime & Salib, 2015).

This may seem like a relatively abstract concept, but there are several small, concrete actions that organizations can take towards a psychologically safe culture. And if you really want to create a lasting initiative that sticks – make an event out of it! One idea for an entertaining activity is a Screw Up Night. At SAP, this event is a celebration where employees share in their failures and learn from each other’s ‘screw-ups.’  Leaders can incorporate something similar with their teams for members to openly speak about their failures and share insight on specifics and learnings. Virtual screw-up happy hour anyone?

Forbes created a list of 14 ways leaders can improve psychological safety at work, highlights including:

  • Create Rules of Engagement: Clarify expected behaviors & honor them. Encourage open dialogue for issues that arise.
  • Adopt a Learning Mindset: Engage through coaching questions to problem solve and learn from mistakes. Eliminate the fear of blame in your employees.
  • Value People More than Process: Exercise trust, active listening, compassion and empathy. Communicate human-to-human instead of role-to-role.

For those struggling to build psychological safety remotely, here are some tips:

  • Build relationships through an informal, rotational buddy system.
  • Be inclusive in decision-making: Get input from your team and explain the thought process behind final decisions.
  • Keep close communications with employees to solve issues, check up on how things are going, give consultation, etc.

Source: Internal SAP Content

We are, excuse the cliché, in unprecedented times. Since the start of the pandemic, 44% of individual contributors, 41% of C-level employees, and 40% of managers report decreased mental health. We must focus on psychological safety to mitigate the negative effects of the pandemic on our well-being & continue our efforts in creating a more inclusive culture.

Given the benefits of psychological safety to D&I and the concerning stats on mental health, what will you do to increase psychological safety at work?