The Role of Psychological Safety in Diverse and Inclusive Work Environments

BusinessManagement

  • Author Sean Tan
  • Published August 13, 2021
  • Word count 6,521

Abstract

This paper will explore the role of psychological safety in diverse and inclusive work environments. I will discuss about psychological safety, its role and benefits and compare the different cultures and its characteristics for America, Europe and China. I will also discuss what comfort and psychological safety means for each culture in the work environment context. As part of the study on the cultural study and comparison, I will also compare the cultural difference for China, United Kingdom, United States and how we can logically categorize the characteristic of their culture diversity using the six Hofstede indexes. I will discuss the importance and inevitability of culture diversity in the current times where global and technological advanced workplace is a norm. The paper will conclude by sharing the benefits of creating psychological safety amidst diversity and inclusion and what must a leader do to drive psychological safety in work environment, through celebrating and embracing diversity and inclusion.

Keywords: Collectivism, Cultures, Diversity, Inclusion, Hofstede, Power Distance, Psychological Safety, Restrain, Trust, Uncertainty Avoidance.

The Role of Psychological Safety in Diverse and Inclusive Work Environments

Introduction

Psychological safety is the state by which individuals express and communicate their thoughts and ideas willingly without been intimidated or humiliated even if there are mistakes or errors (Edmondson, 1999). The idea of psychological safety at first came up with regards to workplaces that have complex degrees of human relationships particularly in the medical world where there is the need to take cognizance of the mistake of others as well as accommodate such mistakes instead of throwing verbal lashes at them for their errors (Edmondson, 1996).

Psychological safety refers to the mutual understanding that interrelating with other people is safe (Edmondson, 1996; Carmeli and Gittell, 2009). In psychologically safe groups, colleagues feel acknowledged and regarded and subsequently, they are more confident that when they have a sense of security they are encourage to contribute more to their organization (Edmondson, 1999; Baer & Frese 2003). This experience certainly comes from shared regard and confidence among colleagues. Presence of psychological safety regularly unite a group, both in light of the fact that colleagues are dependent upon similar arrangement of underlying impacts and in light of the fact that these \are created out of unique shared moments. Psychological security has been distinguished as a significant reason in seeing how individuals work together to accomplish a common result (Edmondson, 2004), subsequently making it a basic idea for more findings.

Importance of Culture

Culture is the mirror of the community and it creates assumption of how the entire world functions. It describes the way of life of a set of people i.e. how they act, react and interact. Culture allows an individual have a sense of fellowship and belonging. Culture is pervasive because it confines someone into a particular society and provides direction for actions and reactions. Culture also creates incentive structure such that you are motivated to do something. It strengthens relationships and boost understanding unto performance. It enhances the quality of life and well- being of both the individual and community at large because it creates the platform for trust, tolerance, supports, cooperation, fellowship and rich understanding in the community of people.

With globalization, technology and influence of multinational companies, we are interacting and working significantly more frequently with people from different cultures. It is ever more paramount today to learn, understand and respect about other cultures.

The understanding of a certain culture can help you avoid misunderstanding, embarrassment, build relationship and trust between the team or community. This is a valuable skill in the corporate environment and daily life as we are living increasing in a multi culture environments.

Secondly, learning other cultures can broaden your horizons. It is a good way to absorb new information, and view things from different perspectives. Last but not least, you probably will become more open-minded. When you make an effort to understand others, you will find it easier to respect and accept their differences.

Cultural awareness has become an increasing important and essential issue. The consequence of not understanding and diverse culture is very serious. As an example, the current pandemic has seen increased incidents of racism, discrimination, and violence against “Asians,” particularly in the United States. Throughout 2020, reports of hate crimes, violence, racial slurs, wrongful job termination, physical violence, etc are well over 100 per day, Media and some US government official has made matter worse by stigmatizing and putting the blame on Asians for the Covid-19 pandemic.

Culture Differences

Cultural differences refer to the various way of life which includes the beliefs, norms, practices and customs associated to various people from diverse cultural background Bodley (1999; Lee, 2006). These diversities make the office more energetic and vibrant as well as encourage individuals to expose troubling issues or conflicts in any (Gurung and Prater, 2006).

Cultural difference is the complexity in the manner with which several individuals from different culture live their lives. It is the homogenization of diverse societies. It refers to what exactly make a culture different from another. It is the uniqueness and assortment of persons or societies in a particular district, or in the world generally.

A culturally diverse workplace boosts problem-solving capabilities and possibly increase happiness and productivity. It creates a better environment for talents and skills development as a wider range of expertise and ideas are generated from the a well diverse team.

The different cultures have their uniqueness in relation to their way of life. While some culture will embrace a particular disposition or action, it might be considered highly rude or disrespectful to some other cultures. For example, some cultures believe that the colour a bride wears on her wedding day might bring good fortune. So, in the US, bride usually wear white while in China, the bride wears red (Peng & Nisbett, 1999).

So in creating comfort within cultures, it is imperative for individuals to keep abreast of the norms of the cultures. An individual can comfortably live within a culture if it is fully understood.

Work Cultures and Etiquettes around the World

Culture is characterized by Lobby and Corridor (1990) as a framework for documenting and processing information. Public culture is set of qualities that are commonly accepted and practice by individuals from a country (Gurung and Prater, 2006). Culture describes the totality of individuals which includes family, households or individuals from diverse town, neighborhood, city or country. They are also individuals sharing similar ethnic background or work culture. Cultures are differentiated by their language, belief, history, food, and they greatly influence people in their thoughts and behavior. (Gurung and Prater, 2006).

We have 195 countries worldwide with thousands of cultures. Having insights into some cultures will enhance our psychological security while appreciating diversity and inclusion. I will look into 3 key cultures, United States, Europe and Asia with the intent to compare and understand them and their differences.

The US Culture

The US is the third biggest country in the world having a population of in excess of 320 million. There United State actually has no official language (Clack et. al.,1997). There are many languages spoken in the US. English is the main language and some other languages that are spoken in the US are Chinese, Spanish, French and German. Most American are Christian and there are about 23% of American that are free thinkers. (Fussel, 1983).

The US is broadly referred to around the hub in broad communications creation, including TV and films. In addition, US is a games – loving country, with a huge number of fans following football, baseball, basketball and hockey, among others. Numerous occasions are commended distinctly in the US which are Remembrance Day, Thanksgiving Day, Presidents' Day, Veterans' Day and so forth (Allen and David, 2002; McDonald, 2010).

The European Culture

There are exactly 160 socially distinct cultures in Europe with cultures (United Nations, 2009). The three biggest nations in Europe are Russia, Ukraine and France. Vatican City is the littlest country in Europe. Most European dialects have a place with either the Romance dialects, (for example, French, Italian, Spanish), the Germanic dialects (among them are German, English) or the Slavic dialects (among them Russian, Bulgarian, Clean).

The five most communicated local dialects in Europe are Russian, German, French English, Turkish and Italian. A large portion of the European public is Christians (76%) and there are modest number of Muslims (6%), Jews and different cultures. Euporeans are well known to excel in the area of craftsmanship, engineering, film, music, financial, writing, and theory (Landry, 2006; Malloy and Gazzola, 2006).

The Asian Culture

Asia is the birthplace of human civilization. Many Asian American women feel a sense of obligation to maintain perfect appearances, excel in school and work, and find a marriage partner (Lowe et. al., 2012). They believed that practices like meditation and yoga will enhance the total well-being. (Witt and Redding, 2009; Whitley, 1999; Weller, 2010; Minkov, 2012). Most Asia are very religious with as part of their upbringings with about 46% Christian, 15% Buddhist, 6% Hindu, and 2% Muslim (Witt and Redding, 2010).

Work Etiquettes of Americas

Greetings & Meetings

Because Americans believe everyone is equal, their greetings are often informal. They greet you with a casual "Hello" or "How are you?" or even just "Hi” and the usual response is "Fine," "Great," or "Very well, thank you” (McDonald, 2010). Professional titles are used when introducing one another with eye contact while handshakes are brief and firm. They sit with one ankle crossed on the knee or legs crossed at the ankles or knees. They take punctuality serious (Adams & Pearlie, 2001).

Decision Making

They exhibit direct communication such as ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and do not use ‘maybe’. They avoid silence in social or business gatherings and are uncomfortable with silence. Their managers are saddled with the responsibility of making decisions and are seen as possessing high performance (Allen and David, 2002; McDonald, 2010).

Organizational Structure

They have a flat organizational structure and instructions are often very detailed. The managers are constantly giving feedbacks to the staff and customers. The organizational structures usually involve teams, they establish several teams or units that will carry out specific instructions and then report to the supervisor or manager. They encourage competition and reward high performance. Leaders or managers are often appointed from within the organization who has a good track record while few organizations employ managers from outside the organization.

Human Resources System

Employment is based on competence and not politics. Their communication is direct and they are keen for high performance. They are not gender bias but gives equal opportunity to both male and female. They ensure that he workforce is enthusiastic.

Work Etiquettes of Europeans

Greeting & Meeting

When meeting someone, shake hands, make eye contact and say the proper welcome for the hour of day. Punctuality is very key except that for Southern France, Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal are special cases (Hervé et. al., 2013).

Organizational Structure

The organizational structure is similar to that of US. Appointment of managers is based on the person’s track record. The mangers are given the responsibility to make decisions after several deliberations. (Schneider et. al., 2010).

Human Resources System

They also work long hours but not as long as the US and employment is hinged on competence and ability while rewards are based on performance and quality output (Landry, 2006).

Work Etiquettes of Asians

Greetings & Meetings

Punctuality is an absolute necessity on the whole business and social gatherings (McCormack, 1996; Li and Redding, 2013). More established individuals have higher status than more youthful, men predominantly higher social status than ladies and senior chiefs higher than junior heads. Title is highly vital when introducing people (Denoon et. al., 1996; Witt and Redding, 2009).

Decision Making

They encourage open discussion among members in a business meeting but they solely allow the manager or leader or someone of high status to make decisions that everyone would work by.

Organizational Structure

They do not have a flat organizational structure like the Americans and their management style is also different. They exhibit higher work life balance which means that they adopt flexibility and control over their work life. Due respect is highly given to those with high status. It is customary to send a supervisor of a similar position to meet with another partner of similar position. The emphasis of Title is vital is vital during business meeting (Denoon et. al., 1996).

Human Resources

Employment are based on competence and business is highly of political influence and connections. They rely primarily on family successor for the business rather than director or stakeholders. Their management or leadership style is that of a directive approach but in the 21st century, the young entrepreneurs are shifting from Directive Leadership Style to Empowering Leadership Style in order to build a more competitive leadership talent and formidable workforce (McCormack, 1996).

Hofstede’s Cultural Dimension Theory

Geert Hofstede developed a structure in 1980 to understand the cultural characteristic and differences around the world. The study will demonstrate the difference across each culture and how businesses are being done differently (Hofstede, 2001; Steers et. al., 2013).

Hofstede recognized six categories that culture can be defined namely:

  1. Power Distance Index

  2. Collectivism vs. Individualism

  3. Uncertainty Avoidance Index

  4. Femininity vs. Masculinity

  5. Short-Term vs. Long-Term Orientation

  6. Restraint vs. Indulgence

Power Distance

This is the measurement of power relationships where people from different culture behave in environment where power is not distributed equally. It is a measure of how people in a lower power position accept and handle such imbalance among the individuals in society. Some cultures accept a higher degree of unequally distributed power than other cultures

Individualism

Individualism is focused on meeting personal goals and the rights and benefits of the individual. Collectivism focuses on the greater good of the team and often the decision will be based on what is best for the collective group instead of the individual.

Masculinity

Masculinity is a set of behaviors, roles characteristics that are often associated with courage, decisiveness and strength. Usually these are associated with men and some of these behaviors are more biologically influenced than socially constructed. Femininity are more often associate with trait nurturing behaviors, participation equality, environmental awareness, and personal satisfaction.

Uncertainty Avoidance

The Uncertainty Avoidance index measures the way cultures use rules, structures, and laws to make things predictable and less uncertain. It is the extent to which individuals from a society or group relies on established procedures to avoid uncertainty. Nations with a low Uncertainty Avoidance keep lesser and more general set of laws and regulation while nations will high uncertainty avoidance will have specific law and regulation to minimize unknown and unusual circumstances

Time Orientation

This is the how a nation views the connection between the past, present and the future. It is the national preference toward past, present, or future thinking. Nation with high score on this measurement will keep long term view and interest while nations with low score is likely to have short term view with objective to make immediate returns and view long time cultural change with doubt.

Indulgence

Indulgence represents a society that allow free satisfaction of basic human gratification while restraint represents a society that suppresses the satisfaction of such necessities and control it through strict social practices. (Hofstede, 2001; Steers et. al., 2013).

Cultural difference between China, United States and the United Kingdom

Figure 1 : Cultural Comparison of China, United States and the United Kingdom

Source: https://www.hofstede-insights.com/country-comparison/china,the-uk,the-usa/

We will discuss the 6 different indexes of the Hofstede framework for China, US and UK

Power Distance

China has a Power Distance Index of 80. This means that the China society has a high tolerance of power imbalances among individuals. United Kingdom and United States has Power Distance Index of 35 and 40 respectively and this means that they are willing to interact with the authority and expect to be able to influence decision and policy in a less rigid system.

Individualism

With a low 20 index, China has a strong collectivism culture, where the huge majority of individuals act collectively for the good of the nation at the expense of the individual’s own benefits. Both UK and US has a high index of 89 and 91, which indicates that most individuals are only concern about their own interest and goals. The greater good of the nation is not of interest to the UK and US individual.

Masculinity

All 3 nations have medium score of 60s. This indicates that all 3 nations are masculine societies who focus on achievement and very driven by outcome. This is usually achieved at the expense of family line balance and personal rest and relaxation. This distinction between US and UK is that US show their masculinity early and in advance but UK pull surprises and shock you.

Uncertainty Avoidance

UK, US and China all have a low score in the range of 30s which means that these individual are alright with equivocalness and rely on less on regulation and policy. These individual will be ok with new plan and policy with new discovery of data. This is especially true of UK. For US, they love new ideas, inventions ranging from technology to food.

Long Term Orientation

China has a high score of 87 which means it will likely to value long term interest. It will not be so driven to drive short term benefit at the expense of the future generation. UK has a medium score which mean it balanced long term interest with short time goals. There must be intermediate achievements with a longer term goal in view. US individual are more short term focused. This can be observed in US listed companies with quarterly focused results. Consequently, the way of life doesn't make most Americans down to earth, yet they are practically-oriented and have the "can-do" mentality so focus on the short term interest.

Indulgence

With a low score of 24, China has high restraint as a society with strict social practices and control and to tend to skepticism and negativity. The UK and US has a score of 69 and 68 respectively. Being developed nations, there are significantly high amount of freedom for human gratification. There are higher quality and appreciation of life in these nations

CREATING PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY

Human beings are fundamentally creatures of relationship and no culture is inferior to another though there are seemingly diverse differences (Ford, 1994). In the 21st century which is advancing in technological and thus making the entire world a global village, it is pertinent that we appreciate and embrace diverse cultures (DuPraw & Axner, 1997). This will promote a safer environment for the world and business organization to live and work in.

There are 5 key success factors that will make team great as per shown in Figure 2 below. They are psychological safety, dependability, structure and clarity, meaning, and impact.

Figure 2: 5 Key success factors for a great team

Diversity can be characterized as attributes and qualities that make individuals extraordinary. It is the aggregate combination of contrasts and similitudes such as individual and authoritative qualities, social foundation and nationality, values, convictions, encounters, inclinations, and practices, age, sex, sex character, incapacity, strict convictions and instruction. It likewise incorporates qualities like proficient abilities, area, and beneficial encounters (Mayer et. al., 1995; Robinson, 1996).

Inclusion involves setting up a secured, cooperative climate that underpins common agreement and alternate points of view. It is actions and accepted practices that guarantee individuals feel respected and welcome. Inclusion means appreciating each individual equally and allowing access to the same resource and opportunities regardless of their handicaps and capability. It is significant for organizations to advance development and affect the primary concern. Inclusion implies recruiting a different, skilled labor force yet in addition connecting with researchers so they become dynamic supporters of the organization (Vêlez, 2012). Inclusion is accepted to give a scaffold between relational contrasts and an individual's capacity to contribute adequately to the association (Mor Barak & Cherin, 1998). Thus, experts frequently see strategies and practices that advance consideration as having the capacity to incorporate different individuals into work groups and associations, accordingly assisting groups with working all the more adequately, and advancing positive individual and hierarchical results (Roberson, 2006; Matz-Costa et. al., 2012). Below are some ways which a psychological safe environment can be created:

High Team Engagement

Demonstrate high level of engagement by showing positive body language (example: leaning forward, face the speaker and making constant eye contact. Everyone in the team discussion should be present and focused on the discussion. There should also be active listening and questions should be asked with the intention to understand and learn from each other experience and point of view. There should also be confirmation and validation of mutual understanding and clear acknowledge of subject of agreement and differences. Proactive solicitation input and opinions should be encouraged at all time from the team.

Foster a Positive and No Blame Culture

Always be available and approachable to ad hoc one to one discussion and express appreciation for contribution and input. Jump in and nip any negative comments in the bud from one team member to another. Stop any side conversation or personal conflict among the team

With a no blame culture, the team should be encouraged to be open and creative and encouraged to take calculated risk. The leaders should also lead by example by demonstrating risk-taking in their own work. We can also encourage the team to challenge each other perspective and push back in a constructive manner.

Vulnerable Leadership

A vulnerable leader is willing to share personal struggle, perspective and even failures at work with the team. Exhibiting vulnerability is key for open and non-judgmental communications and can build strong bond and trust within the team. With trust, the leader can set the stage for the rest of the team to open up and feel psychologically safe to express themselves within the team.

Recognize individual uniqueness and avoid individual stereotypes

Each individual should recognize everyone for their own uniqueness. Consider that you might be similarly different to others as they are to you. Everybody has its own preferences, inclinations, thoughts, and mentalities—making them unique. It's just when you understand your own uniqueness that you can start to comprehend and regard the uniqueness of others (McCoy et al., 1997). If individual uniqueness is embraced, there will be respect, understanding and empathy of each individual and this is one of the key to creating and enhancing psychological safety.

A stereotype is simply the way you see others and it is frequently the reason for bias and segregation (McCoy et al., 1997). Generalizations are by and large educated and arise in the predominant culture's mentalities toward those from outside that prevailing group. People shold not be generalized but they should be treated as unique individuals ((Takaki, 1993; Kaye & Wolff, 1995). Stereotyping associates a characteristic with an individual or group and often lead to a bias and affective reaction and impression. Preformed superficial impression will adversely affect creating a safe, objective and neutral environment. As an expansion of not generalizing any gathering, any unique individual ought not be considered as far as gathering attributes. Individuals are people first, individuals from a gathering second, and thus, some random speculation basically may not have any significant bearing to a person (Kaye & Wolff, 1995). Diversity can be celebrated at the workplace by encouraging involvement, creating cultural celebration calendar and initiating the company’s unique traditions (McCoy et al., 1997).

Advantages of Cultural Diversity

We will discuss some of the advantages of having cultural diversity in the work place. Innovation is increased due to the fact that there is diverse mindset and participation. Places of work with cultural diversity are known to record better performance. Community connection is enhanced and it gives a sense of belonging by allowing the individual to participate in a multi- society. It brings about attraction and retention where several people are given hands off fellowship despite their difference. It also helps to retain company’s employees. It brings about growth and profitability in a place of work and helps employees to focus on their strengths while it is complemented by others. Job is often created for diverse people and the minority workers and with that the organization would have a wider pool of talents, which bring about healthy competition and spurs creativity and innovations.

Disadvantages of Cultural Diversity

While not executed properly, there cultural diversity can breed mistrust among people of same cultural background. Healthy competition will be good for the work environment however if it is harmful to the organization if toxic or political competition is created. Decision making could be difficult and slower since everyone would want to have his way. In an disorganized and not well managed environment with poor leadership, channels of communication could be distorted and this could breed eye- service employees and impact productivity and contribution.

Benefits of a team who feels psychologically safe

Study that shows an increase in 12% of productivity and increased employee engagement if there is psychological safety (Gallup 2006). Hence, we are certain that psychological safety was the most important factor in determining a team’s success.

The creation of psychological safety benefits organizations and teams in many different ways. Psychological safety in team has a direct effect on learning behavior, which in turn affects team performance (Edmondson, 1999). A team who feel psychologically safe will be more open to learn and take moderate risk – taking, which includes speaking your mind, creativity and sticking out your neck out. It boosts employee engagement and improving team innovation. When a work environment has undeniable degrees of mental security, representatives are bound to remain in their positions instead of search for new jobs. A work environment with undeniable degrees of mental security can give representatives a better perspective and, likewise, better actual wellbeing. A harmful workplace causes them to feel exhausted which can progressively diminish their wellbeing. All things considered, they'll prescribe their working environment to companions who are searching for business. A group works best when everybody is conveying and teaming up appropriately. A work environment that has undeniable degrees of mental safety will energize more collaboration, correspondence and thought sharing for advancement (Delimonza 2017). Employees who have a sense of security in their work environments have higher performance and better efficiency when compared with representatives in harmful work environments (Edmondson, 1996; Nembhard, & Edmondson, 2006). Other benefits will also include improved correspondence, sharing of information, positive mentalities and levels of commitment and with that task execution, creativity and development is included. Due to the trust environment, there will be more openness to critical thinking and taking in and gaining from errors and mistakes.

Conclusion

The psychological safety cannot be exhaustive in a rapidly technologically driven world. Every individual and culture is uniquely different, gifted and such should be embraced and everyone should be held in respect and good high esteem. Psychological safety encourages inclusion in the midst of cultural diversity. Thus, ensuring that individuals that are termed “different” are given warm hands of acceptance which in turn results in a peaceful, prosperous and productive workplace. A workplace that has cultural diversity is at an advantage over others and such competitive advantage can be exploited towards achieving business objectives and higher performance. In a cultural diverse work place, there would be a pool of creative and talented workers whose weaknesses would be complemented by the strengths of others and this would be providing a cutting edge for the organization profitability and optimum performance.

Leaders are instrumental to creating psychological safety. To do this, they must set clear goals that will meet the organization strategic goal. There must be consistent and clear communication to the team about these goals, especially when these goals are being changed to address new market or business direct. In the current globalized workplace, leader can leverage on the Hofstede’s 6 cultural dimension framework to help them select the correct approach in engage the culturally diverse work place.

It is globally acknowledged by top organizations and senior thought leadership that psychological safety is the most important attribute to a high performance team. To create psychological safety with the team, demanding goals and direction must be driven with the need of employing fear or power that may stifles trust and openness. The team must be allowed the room for learning and innovation, through an inclusive and diverse work environment. This creates a psychological safe atmosphere and structure without rigidity and encourage synergies, spontaneity and creativity, which allows people to feel safe taking risks, and yet without complacency, maintaining the competitive edge within the team.

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Sean is currently working on his final thesis on AI and Leadership on this PhD, Management

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