BUILDING A HARMONIOUS &
INTEGRATED WORKPLACE CULTURE OF INTEGRITY
WITH PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY
AND SOCIAL MINDFULNESS
TEAM LEARNING & ADVISING
"There Is No Inclusion or Belonging Without Kindness"
Workplace Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) programs are evolving on almost a daily basis. Many books published in the field during the past few years are already outmoded. According to research by McKinsey, SHRM, Glassdoor, Business Insider, Harvard Business Review, Inc. and more, many of the initiatives and approaches that have been the foundation of employee DEIB training programs over the past decade in particular have by and large failed, or outcomes are mixed at best. There’s little agreement on what is actually moving the needle in terms of organizational culture change in eliminating the worn-out, bug-ridden status quo of discrimination and outright hatred toward the myriad of marginalized populations who are the recipients of this divisive behavior, including people of color; LQBTG+, women, religion/faith, age, class, weight, demographics, educational, and physical and neuro-disabilities. Many are in more than one group, and this intersectionality compounds their daily stress on top of other "elephant in the room" behaviors.
The abstract of study published in the January 2022 issue of the Annual Review of Psychology titled "Diversity Training Goals, Limitations, and Promise: A Review of the Multidisciplinary Literature" includes the following: "In examining hundreds of articles on the topic, we discovered that the literature is amorphous and complex and does not allow us to reach decisive conclusions regarding best practices in diversity training. We note that scholars of diversity training, when testing the efficacy of their approaches, too often use proxy measures for success that are far removed from the types of consequential outcomes that reflect the purported goals of such trainings. We suggest that the enthusiasm for, and monetary investment in, diversity training has outpaced the available evidence that such programs are effective in achieving their goals. We recommend that researchers and practitioners work together for future investigations to propel the science of diversity training forward."
Anyone who has been doing advocacy and allyship work in workplace DEIB in some capacity (directly and indirectly) has likely conducted company-wide surveys, and based on those random metrics recommended programs and best practices that ended up not having the results they intended. Yet some of them are still being trotted out as “check the box solutions” that myopically center themselves on symptoms, not root causes. And when generic workplace trainings such as unconscious bias are mandatory, those who have those biases don’t automatically take ownership for them and reverse course. In fact, their reaction is often to give lip service to demonstrate they’re complying when in fact they are just going through the motions on a surface level while angrily digging in deeper - like many human beings do when they are told what to think and how to act that is contrary to their long-held mindset of what they believe is justifiable discrimination. These are often deeply ingrained behavioral habit grooves that are strengthened by the deep human need to belong that compounds confirmation bias, not eliminates it. The origins of when this began often begins in childhood when they adopt the beliefs of their parents and friends without questioning them.
Celtic knots symbolize unbroken harmony & unity.
Often the excuse given for these acts of unkindness and inhumanity in the workplace that we constantly hear is that cultural change takes a long time. However, repeating that mantra only reinforces a diseased status quo in not doing the hard, challenging, and messy work of internal change, both individually and collectively. Additionally, even if an organization has a Chief DEI(B) Officer, HR is often solely tasked with implementing programs that don’t get to the roots of the problem.
Part of the reason why is that it is also an ethical risk.
Just like unaddressed/improperly addressed workplace stress is an organizational ethical risk, the same goes for any company that does not take actions beyond “raising awareness” and window dressing. Any organizational culture that defines itself as being grounded in ethical values, principles and processes simply must have an authentic, transparent culture of integrity – and integrity is not measured in fractions or percentages. You either have it, or you don’t.
Building a Harmonious and Integrated Workplace Culture of Integrity
with Psychological Safety and Social Mindfulness
TEAM LEARNING & ADVISING
While every workplace situation is unique, this training framework is foundational for all. Achieving workplace diversity is the first step in the DEIB process, but it doesn't mean inclusive, harmonious collaboration is automatic. Ensuring inclusion safety through a company-wide culture of psychological safety is the second step that works to embrace and celebrate the gifts, talents, insights, and strengths of a diverse workforce. No company can have an inclusive, ethical culture of integrity without psychological safety in place equally for all employees - and without treating our fellow human beings with kindness regardless of our differences, there simply cannot be genuine inclusion throughout the workplace. Incorporating Mindful Awareness and Social Mindfulness skills as the third step creates a workplace culture that collectively works toward harmony and integration, and both heals past suffering and consciously prevents falling back into patterns of abusive behavior. Social Mindfulness is a key skillset for any successful workplace DEIB program.
image from The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety:
Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation by Timothy R. Clark
"Think about the traditional approaches most organizations take to diversity and inclusion. Many organizations have made great strides to create diverse organizations, but they’re still not inclusive. Others achieve a token representation of the full range of human differences and congratulate themselves as if they have an inclusive culture. Still others train employees to be inclusive by teaching them awareness, understanding and appreciation for differences. That’s nice, but it’s a coast of paint. When we get threatened, we get defensive, take counsel from our fears, and go back to our default settings of learned bias. A better way is to give people opportunities to practice inclusion. Make it experiential by creating diverse teams and assigning individuals to diverse mentoring or peer coaching relationships."
- Dr. Timothy R. Clark,
Psychological Safety and Workplace Inclusion
While there is not one definitive answer to breaking though the dysfunctional status quo, a universally good place to begin is by purposely creating a workplace culture that is framed by Psychological Safety for everyone in the company, equally and without power abusive hierarchies.
A prevailing thought amongst leaders who are committed to DEIB through creating an abiding workplace culture of integrity (and not just capitalizing on the latest “trend”) is if an organization collectively and consciously works to create an environment wherein everyone has what Dr. Timothy Clark defines as the Four Stages of Psychological Safety: Inclusion Safety, Learner Safety, Contributor Safety, and Challenger Safety. This is good for every human being, without exception, without prompting reactive and defensive behaviors by those whose ingrained patterns of discrimination are also rooted in misplaced grievances that trigger defensive reactions.
Psychological Safety is not a magic panacea that will “fix” racism and discrimination against marginalized employees, yet it’s a non-negotiable component in building a diverse and harmonious workplace environment that bravely and honestly addresses root causes and is aligned with an organization's core commitment to a sustainable culture of integrity.
Such an organization is one that proactively engages in a respectful, dignified wall-breaking, and inter-group “blending of the tones” of a diverse workplace populace instead of just putting them all in the same space and hoping a one-day training creates unity. Diverse coexistence within the workplace doesn’t imply everyone is living and working in harmony; it’s similar to tolerance in that divisive mindsets can also be included and nothing changes. Marginalized populations deserve equality as all of us fellow imperfect human beings, who are often just doing our best to make it through the day, the month, the year – just like you.
Social Mindfulness and Workplace Belonging
When I was a child, my grandmother would always say grace at holiday meals, and it concluded with this line:
"Make us ever mindful of the needs of others."
As a precocious youngster, I wanted to know what that meant, and when I was around nine years old I began my now decades-long studies, practice and eventually teaching mindful awareness skills that are focused on the needs of others as well as those of ourselves - not something the popular Westernized "stress reduction/management" version put forth during a very "MeMeMe"-oriented time. I taught that model to corporate employees, law enforcement professionals and the general public for a number of years until I saw that it didn't address the root causes of workplace stress and social distress and was often what I call a "bandaid over metastasizing cancers," so I stopped identifying myself as a mindfulness teacher, even though I continue to teach what I believe are Life Skills that mindfulness practice has to offer.
To my great joy has come the rising support of the work of my long-time friend and colleague Mark Leonard, who has tirelessly and selflessly committed himself to bringing forth the principles of what is called Social Mindfulness to organizations. As Mark states, "Little will change if mindfulness is merely applied as a means of coping with stress." Social Mindfulness is rooted in kindness, building bridges and facilitating social harmony and community amongst diverse people.
Two of Mark Leonard's Social Mindfulness models.
In other words, being ever mindful of the needs of others.
And what all human beings need and want is to experience the comfort and safety of belonging - but they often do not experience it at work, especially when they are the targets of the worn-out, bug-ridden status quo of discrimination and outright hatred toward the myriad of marginalized populations I referenced in the first paragraph. Bottom line: Social Mindfulness is a key component of any sustainable workplace DEIB program.
Mindful Awareness and Self-Reflection: Internal Operating System/Behavioral Habit Upgrades
Every learning session begins by addressing root causes and safely sharing personal stories, acknowledging that biased and exclusionary behaviors exist on two levels - personal and organizational/institutional. Bias at a personal level (conscious and subconscious) is the result of unquestioned socialization, often adopted at an early age within our families and circle of friends as part of the deep human need to belong. Bias at an organizational/institutional level is the result of unchallenged socialization as well, and spreads into policies, procedures, structures, systems, and processes - often rooted in fear and control.
In both sectors, human suggestibility (the quality of being inclined to accept and act on the suggestions of others) toward adopting discriminatory behaviors and a myriad of divisive biases is increased when they live in constant survival mode in their personal and/or professional lives, prompting them choose to compromise their integrity and basic humanity. When human beings are in survival mode, their default mindset is all about avoiding pain and seeking comfort. There is a greater tendency to dehumanize and dismiss whom they don't understand. Unfortunately this behavior is a negative contagion, and if the person modeling this behavior is in a position of power in someone's life (boss, family member, teacher, significant other, political figure, etc.), there is a tendency for those dependent upon them to adopt those same dehumanizing behaviors and go against their own values.
A critical aspect of Mindful Awareness and Self-Refection Reflection is regaining control of your own mind. We engage in Mindful Awareness skill-building practices to illuminate our cognitive distortions (often referred to as "mind traps"), and purposefully use our human superpower of choice to create upgraded mental grooves within our personal Internal Operating System. Numerous studies on the impact of specific mindful awareness practices on implicit/unconscious biases and discriminatory behaviors has demonstrated their effectiveness in reducing auto-pilot reactivity and decreasing a number of types of ingrained biased beliefs and behaviors. By engaging in compassion and empathy-building practices, we are able to see that people we may believe are totally different than we are, they are just like us in so many ways.
Concurrent Behavioral Habit Upgrades
Awareness alone is not enough - and waiting to completely move through the Mindful Awareness and Self-Reflection phase before behaving differently is an inefficient way to approach personal growth, change and upgraded Internal Operating System transformation within and without. This is not "faking it until you make it" - it's learning through doing, which involves the process of neuroplasticity: the ability of the brain to form new connections and pathways and change how its circuits are wired. Learning through new experiences causes new neural pathways to strengthen, whereas neural pathways which are less frequently reinforced become weak and eventually die. This process is called synaptic pruning. Deliberate mindful awareness practices, practiced consistently over time have the ability to facilitate self-directed neuroplasticity.
While participants are engaging in Mindful Awareness and Self-Reflection they actively progress along the steps of becoming fear-less, safely speaking up and consciously taking head-on divisive, socialized and unquestioned behavioral discrimination and judgments to creating a psychologically safe workplace culture that completely supports inclusive worker safety, harmony and integrity. This requires a combination of humility, taking ownership for our impact, engaging in critical thinking, busting myths and misinformation, and the courage to challenge the status quo, internal and externally.
"There Is No Inclusion or Belonging Without Kindness"
Again - the most important behavioral upgrade is making kindness your default first response toward all marginalized populations - and that includes yourself if you find yourself anywhere within the intersectionality circle. There is a greater tendency to self-harm and fall into the debilitating trap of victimhood and its accompanying behaviors of blaming, shaming, guilt tripping, and dismissively judging - and thereby excluding them and perpetuating division. Kindness is what keeps us from falling into the quicksand of fear and hate, and Social Mindfulness is a perfect vehicle for collective practice at work - and beyond.