Equality, diversity and inclusion – the fear of getting it wrong

    Published: 08 December 2021

    Equality, diversity and inclusion.  These are not new words, and we generally have a good understanding of what they mean.  So why can it be so difficult to have conversations about these topics? 

    Talking about equality, diversity and inclusion often means opening up personally and doing so can challenge our own thoughts, beliefs and actions.  It’s a complex area where understanding, language and terminology are important, but what can come with this is a fear of getting it wrong.  No one likes to get things wrong or cause offence and the danger of this is that we say nothing.  The fear can take over.

    How do we move on from this to create a safe space for us and for our employees to be able to discuss matters of equality, diversity and inclusion without the fear?  We’re talking about creating psychologically safe working environments. 

    What is a psychologically safe environment?  Psychology Today have defined it as “an environment in which people believe that they can speak up candidly with ideas, questions, concerns, and even mistakes – is vital to leveraging the benefits of diversity, because it can help make inclusion a reality.” - www.psychologytoday.com/gb

    It makes sense of course, but is it the reality in your setting?  We create environments where pupils are able to learn without fear of mistakes and reprisal but do we hold the same bar for ourselves and our employees?

    Psychological safety starts with leadership and at the core of psychological safety is trust.  Employees need to be able to see, not just be told, that it is a safe environment.  Each individual will have their own view of how safe they feel the work environment is for them based upon their previous experiences and the culture across the school.  Psychological safety can be demonstrated and built by positive dialogue, encouraging and listening to ideas, providing feedback, and owning up to mistakes.  Leaders can play an important part in this by role modelling, sharing their own thoughts, ideas and acknowledging when mistakes are made.  If employees can see leaders do this, they are more likely to understand psychological safety as the school’s culture and be willing to share themselves.

    It is important to recognise that in discussions on equality, diversity and inclusion we won’t always get it ‘right’.  It’s an area we’re all still learning so much about, however by deciding that these matters are important, raising their profile, dedicating time and talking about it we have committed to moving forward.  We are showing that we are trying, we are acting, and we are learning. 

    Leaders need to create opportunities for this discussion, for views to be shared, for questions and for appropriate challenges to be raised.  They need to be clear that there is an open forum for discussion, and it is welcome.  There needs to be a way for anyone to say they disagree, or we’re not sure, or that we don’t think something is appropriate without fear of judgement or reprisal.  We need everyone to feel comfortable to not only raise points but also to be on the receiving end of a challenge.  Sharing or hearing about experiences can be deeply personal and needs to be done in a safe environment.

    In a truly psychologically safe environment we are safe to be ourselves and we can be vulnerable in front of each other.  We can be free from the fear and then matters of equality, diversity and inclusion can be talked about openly.  Discussions can be turned into learning experiences and value is gained for everyone. 

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