As we move from the first year anniversary of the pandemic to the first anniversary of the racial reckoning and murder of George Floyd, I am concerned about the psychological safety of Black folks at work.
Y’all already know I coach Black women leading in white spaces, so I write from that perspective. But trust, everything I write can be extrapolated to every protected class because no one is free until we are all free!
Everything I write, post, and listen to is to strengthen my skills as a coach to Black women. Through my own professional journey and bearing witness to theirs, I’ve come to understand that psychological safety is one of the biggest barriers to Black women being authentic in their leadership at work.
Psychological Safety = Whiteness
So what does psychological safety even mean? According to Amy C. Edmondson, psychological safety is a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking. Interestingly, though included in Edmondston’s study, organizations rarely address whether people on the team sometimes reject others for being different.
Why? Because psychological safety has been rooted in white-dominant norms instead of the lived realities of folks like women and people of color at work.
It’s bad enough making a ‘mistake’ or asking the question no one else will ask; imagine doing that as a Black woman, a trans woman, or as a Black trans woman. Every trope placed upon us immediately enters the room and our safety exits.
Safety isn’t just what we say but also how we show up. The first time I had a coach partner say they never felt like they could wear their hair naturally at work I had to pause to acknowledge the moment. Not because I was surprised, but because I realized the sacredness of safety that she would tell me her truth.
I see you Black woman.
Our jobs take us over the edge some days with how we are watched at work, much like how it feels when we are walking through the store, going to the library — dot. Dot. Freaking dot.
Black women want to be authentic in their leadership.
We are stressed out, overworked, and underpaid because our workplaces aren’t safe places for us. So why stay? We believe in the work. We have financial obligations. We have become masterful compartmentalizers who wear masks all day until we can mentally check out at 4:59.
Staying or leaving costs us and the organizations. If we leave, the culture change work that needs to happen at the organizational level doesn’t move forward as it should. If we stay, we often shrink back so that we can assimilate and integrate into white culture and have a chance to advance within the organization.
When either of these things happens organizations miss out on so much Black genius.
We go to work expecting to experience gaslighting, microaggressions, or crazy-making behavior. In those moments we shut down or deflect. Either way, the emotional energy we put out takes a psychological toll. It changes us.
Just reading this Black women are saying, Sis! Get out my head!!!
When we show up as our authentic selves we bring joy, relatability, and skill. When we show up masked, you get a hard-working robot. You’re missing out on a depth to our strategic thinking that can take the team to a higher level.
Which do you think will help your organization with sales/outreach/partnerships more – bland Kelli or Kelli who works in color?
The world we live in is the most diverse in history. This means you need diverse leaders who can bring their lived expertise into your organization so it can thrive. Now is the time to do the culture change work of true inclusion. Without it, people of diverse experiences will not stay or show up authentically in your organizations.
Now is the time
In 2020, we saw organizations rush to put out statements and diversity and inclusion strategies. Psychological safety needs to be included in these plans. Without it, we won’t get far. Why? Because your Black staff won’t feel safe. The Black women I coach will continue to show up to our sessions tiredt.
The last 12 months have been rough on Black folks as we have navigated a racial uprising and global pandemic while trying to keep our jobs and companies running. Those of us who have spoken out have done so under the cover of heightened media attention and the safety of being at home, on Zoom.
As the world rushes to open back up and get back to ‘normal’ (inserts eye AND neck rolls here), many Black staff feel the tension of going back into spaces that are not psychologically safe for us. We don’t want to go back to that hyper-polished and buttoned-up way of existing. We are enjoying the distance. And we want to keep the safety. Can we count on you to provide it?
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