July 18, 2024

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Here’s How Black Leaders Can Assess Workplace Psychological Safety

As a Black leader, feeling psychologically unsafe at work can negatively affect your leadership effectiveness and your emotional and mental well-being.

Psychological safety is the belief that individuals can contribute their thoughts, ideas, and concerns without fear of retaliation or humiliation.

Unfortunately, the “psychological safety” concept in the workplace has become over-simplified and misunderstood. It’s been misinterpreted as being “soft” on employees or fostering an environment where people must be treated with kid gloves. This misconception is far from the truth. The lack of genuine understanding of psychological safety, mainly how it affects diverse employees in corporate environments, often results in Black leaders experiencing negative consequences to their mental health and leadership abilities.

The survey commissioned by Indeed reveals the devastating effect of organizations failing to understand the importance of psychological safety. It shows that 43% of Black employees considered leaving their jobs due to experiencing microaggressions, demonstrating the significant impact of neglecting workplace psychological safety for diverse employees.

Although retention rates suffer when Black leaders feel that their unique needs aren’t being adequately met at work, there seems to be little urgency to rectify this issue. The Exhale Study highlighted this problem, indicating that 36% of Black women left their jobs, citing a lack of safety as the reason. Furthermore, this study also found that 50% of Black women don’t believe their workplace provides supportive environments where they can share their work stressors and lived experiences.

This data not only illustrates the negative consequences of organizations neglecting the psychological safety of their workers but also highlights the critical need for Black leaders to have tools for assessing their work environment to ensure their emotional well-being.

To address this gap in understanding, I’ve developed four critical questions that Black leaders can use to evaluate psychological safety in their work environments. These questions serve two purposes: they will educate on the indicators of a psychologically safe environment and help identify potential blindspots in workplace culture that undermine trust and belonging for Black professionals. Armed with this knowledge, leaders from culturally diverse backgrounds can make educated decisions in choosing inclusive work environments and recognizing and addressing the source of workplace stress.

1. Is there a track record of promoting Black leaders and individuals from diverse ethnic backgrounds to senior leadership positions within the organization?

The absence of leaders from diverse backgrounds in senior positions in your workplace raises red flags. It could indicate that the company hasn’t allocated enough resources or effort into recruiting and retaining Black talent.

This also points to underlying workplace attitudes towards inclusivity and a lack of understanding about why it matters. Regardless of the reason, it highlights their blind spot in recognizing the importance of representation in leadership positions, which could also impact your feeling of safety and belonging in these environments.

2. Can I express my authentic self, including aspects of my cultural identity, without fearing negative consequences for my career?

Your cultural background manifests in various ways, such as how you wear your hair, dress, or speak. Many organizations have faced legal action for discriminating against employees based on their hairstyles and race, which led to the passage of the CROWN Act in several states.

Feeling psychologically safe and free from discrimination and racism should be your inalienable right in the workplace. Your ability to bring your whole self to work without fear of consequences is crucial for your well-being.

3. Is there a system for reporting instances of racism and microaggressions? Does this process prioritize the physical and psychological safety of the individual making the report?

Unfortunately, racism and microaggressions are present in many workplaces. Given their prevalence, your company should have clear protocols and a fair process to address these issues at their root.

When you experience or witness these incidents, you should have access to a safe and supportive system with adequate resources for the aftermath. This support should be designed to avoid causing you further trauma or embarrassment.

4. Are open conversations about race and equity in the workplace actively encouraged and facilitated?

Pay attention to how workplace conversations about race and equity are handled. If they are discouraged or shut down without an adequate explanation, this is a sign of an environment where these topics aren’t safe to explore.

The response you receive from bringing these concerns to the attention of leaders within your company, coupled with how they choose to address it afterward, highlights whether psychological safety is present in that environment.

As you navigate your career as a Black leader, let these critical questions guide you in recognizing and addressing psychological safety in your workplace. Your mental well-being and leadership effectiveness depend on your ability to show up in your authenticity without compartmentalizing your identities. These questions will help you make informed decisions in your professional journey.

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