Is the Post-Election Workplace the Inadvertent Hostile Work Environment?

Most would agree that organizations must create a space for people to show up feeling good about who they are. Of course, it’s easier said than done and many people offer different views as to what that means and how it manifests in the workplace.

We spend a lot of time talking about diversity and inclusion and define, and redefine, quotas to meet our diversity numbers, but we rarely talk about creating safe spaces. A safe space, is a place where an individual knows he or she can show up with 100% authenticity without fear of judgment or harassment. The word safe, inherently means that this space is inclusive. But it doesn’t stop there. Creating safe spaces looks at safety from a holistic perspective of the individual: emotional, spiritual, physical, psychological and social safety.

What we know is not enough leaders make decisions from a conscious place of safety for their team regarding their emotional, physical, spiritual, and psychological safety. One might ask why spiritual, emotional and psychological well-being matters in the workplace. With micro aggressions and unconscious bias, individuals can inadvertently perceive a joke or off-handed comment as disrespectful, offensive, or even worse, they could believe they are in a hostile environment. Many individuals also fear saying the wrong thing or sending the wrong perceptions, but have great intentions.

In the pre-election and post-election weeks, politics has become more of a conversation in the workplace than ever before. Where it was once seen as taboo, even just five years ago, to talk about politics, race or religion in the workplace, it can now seem unavoidable. With companies like Starbucks starting campaigns like Race Together, AT&T CEO, Randall Stephenson, explaining why Black Lives Matter, and several other companies urging lawmakers to abandon bills unfairly targeting LGBT and transgender citizens in Indiana, Tennessee, and North Carolina, its clear that what’s good for business is inclusiveness. With corporations taking a bold stance, that supports their employees, and customers, it’s not surprising why taboo topics have now become part of the corporate vernacular. With that comes a new need to create safe spaces not only for these conversations to take place, but for leaders to recognize when there has been increased harassment, awkward or unprofessional comments, and more importantly how to facilitate conversations where all people feel safe and comfortable to bring their full selves to work.

In a recently completed two-year study, Google management identified that, with their employees, emotional safety in the workplace was among the most important issues noted. Employees wanted an opportunity to bring their real “selves” to work.

Google discovered that people work best when they trust their coworkers and feel like they can take risks, depending on one another and understanding the team’s goals.

“This research gives a language to the things that I think are not necessarily rocket science but creates a structure to talk,” Roya Soleimani, a spokeswoman for [Google], told The Huffington Post.

The news comes at a time when most major tech companies, including Google, are struggling to diversify their worker ranks. And the findings surely will help the company create the kind of welcoming workplace that not only can attract more women and minorities (only 30 percent of “Googlers” are female, and 70 percent are white) but help retain them.

“If you want a diversity of ideas and people, that goes back to psychological safety and clarity and trust,” Soleimani said.
(encapsulated from Emily Peck’s Huffington Post article of November 19, 2015)

Psychological safety took the #1 position in the survey. Taking responsibility for creating that safe space where everyone feels psychologically, emotionally, and physically safe means collaborating with corporate leaders to be accountable for creating that inclusive culture and atmosphere.

As we look forward to more predictions of what a Trump Administration means for businesses, it won’t be just about labor laws or business tax benefits. It will be about inclusiveness, tolerance and understanding, not only in American society and communities around the country, but corporate culture, more than ever, will be a barometer of safety for Muslims, people of color and LGBTQI individuals.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, 867 incidents of harassment occurred in the immediate days following the election (this does not include online harassment). CUNY Graduate School of Journalism is also tracking incidents. These are small numbers compared to the 260,000 reported and unreported harassment incidents that the government (2013) estimates occur yearly.

The benefits of creating safe spaces is clear: increased productivity, increased employee engagement, increased trust on teams, increased team building, more innovation, and heightened creativity within organizations. As companies start to adopt strategies that don’t just support the bottom line, but also provides social solutions in society, whether its in technology, heath care, or the environment, it is clear businesses must continue to look within and cure the social concerns affecting their own company culture in this post-election season.

Jessica Robinson is CEO of PurePoint International and founder of Consciously Secure Living which provides organizational and leadership training on creating safe spaces.

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