Mo: Hello, hello, hello and welcome to this week’s everyday inclusion and belonging where we talk about everything under the sun as it relates to diversity, equity and inclusion. I always love to tell the story about sort of how I met the awesome guests that I have and Doctor AJ Linear and I were on Qualtrics Ember DI Summit both serving on panels and I tuned into her panel earlier in the day because it was around psychological safety and AJ I just knew I had to have you on and before we jump into your introduction, I want to remind people today is giving Tuesday.
So, if you have organizations that that are doing great work around diversity, equity, inclusion creating that out in the world is a great day to make a donation and have those donations matched. Moxie Exchange to that we have supported for a long time are Girls Inc and Black Girls code. So going out to both of those if those happen. If you’ve got other organizations, whatever your jam is around the eye.
It’s a great day to give, so doctor AJ Lanier tell us all about yourself, introduce yourself, and then we’re going to dig in on the topic of psychological safety.
AJ: Alrighty, um well first I’m an INTJ, so I don’t like that part.
No, so I’m in organizational development consultant with Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. I also do freelance work as a consultant in general. Can be Ari consulting change growth magic.
You have to change and facilitate the change. It breeds the growth and then you create the magic. I am a mom of four boys and one potbelly pig. Her name is Penelope.
My specialties are emotional intelligence, strategic planning, psychological safety of course and DEI. and then I kind of describe my area as like a catch all because I’m a social worker. Also, that’s where my career started, so I’m always going be a social worker. I’ll be a social worker first, so pretty much if something is thrown my way, I’ll field it.
Mo: I love that I love that and before we got started, I shared with you that one of the threads I think that has come up in every single one of these everyday inclusion and belonging sessions is, how important psychological safety is. In anything as it relates to DEI. Yeah, let’s just help define what that is because I think it’s something that gets thrown around a lot.
But you know, what is this idea of psychological safety in practice? What is that? What is it? What does it look like? What does it feel like?
AJ: So, the simplest way, which I’ll do it the simplest way and then expand on it a bit. So, the simplest way to describe psychological safety is, the ability for you to just be, and to be you, wherever you are. Expanding on that, getting into the more academic definition of it, that means that
Whatever the environment is where we’re going, it’s safe for us to learn, to contribute, it’s OK to have a dissenting opinion and to challenge the status quo.
And bring it all together we are included in that environment.
Mo: I love what you were saying. Let’s talk about mistakes because I think that’s isn’t that a real hallmark of psychological safety as well?
AJ: It is it is. That’s one of the biggest things I’ve been trying to enforce with some of the clients that I’m working with now. We ask people to be authentic and be themselves in interviews, and then once we get them to the job, we kind of want to put them into the board.
You know, we want you to conform and to come out as this bot that does the things that we want you to do in the way that we want you to do it.
Um and going back to what you just said, making a mistake, it’s people who are in high achieving and high performing jobs there’s an immense amount of pressure that comes with that. And a lot of times the smallest mistakes can cause huge amounts of anxiety because they attach it to not only their job performance, but to their self-worth.
It’s important for leaders to create an environment where mistakes are OK and they are correctable. In areas where they are high performing even though mistakes can come at both physical and intangible costs. It’s just important to let the person know that the mistake is not bigger than the actual human being.
Mo: Well and then when I think about this through the unconscious bias lens and what we know the research process particularly like if I am if I’m a woman, my mistakes are remembered for longer and they’re amplified. If I’m a woman of color, or if I’m LGBTQ, or a woman with a disability right then, that intersectionality plays against me even harder.
Let’s say I’m a bi-PAC man our ability to make mistakes is like an inch off the floor, right? Like we don’t, they’re given much room for that, but in environments of psychological safety, not only as me as a high performer, it’s also if I see that happening, right?
Maybe I see somebody bringing up a mistake that you made AJ a month ago. I have the safety to be an ally to bring that up and say, hey, look at how this is playing out. Or let’s say I say, or I do something that is othering.
Difference Doesn’t Mean Deficit
Mo: And I don’t know that that to be the case, right? We say, nice book Lewis NBC, right? I’m NBC that doesn’t change the impact in an environment of psychological safety. You would be OK to bring that up to me. Right, right, and to help me to learn and to grow, which I think is really important.
Mo: You said you come at everything as social worker. You went right there who when you were like high performers, it’s not you. The mistake does not identify you. And then I wanted to bring it to the lens of impact of others and safety as well but.
So OK, we just went all over the board.
AJ: No, you had a couple of juicy nuggets in there I wanted to talk about.
So, one thing that you were mentioning about how we show up physically, like at times going to that bias you can be a walking mistake.
Yeah, and mistake not being the oops I messed up. But mistake being the other ring that you’re talking about being different and having environments that are so ‘corporate’ is the word I will use for now. So, in those corporate environments everyone is expected to conform to the set of norms and protocols, and if you are different then that is usually equated with you having a deficit because you are different.
Mo: Um stop, stop, stop.
Say that again, say that again.
AJ: I said when you are different, that is equated with you having a deficit because you are different.
In those corporate environments.
Mo: that is some serious truth right there.
And I think that is such a good mirror for people to hold up and ask themselves are they seeing difference as a deficit without even realizing it?
AJ: Yeah, and it creeps into language on performance evaluations and I’m speaking to this over my career span of starting in the trenches as a social worker to where I’m on a more macro level now as a consultant.
Over the past 15 years I’ve gotten it. I’m a southern Belle, so I’m usually in dresses and heels, and so I’ve gotten the well, you don’t look like a social worker. Or you know if you’re going to work in this nursing facility, which I did, I was a director of social services.
Why are you wearing those fancy dresses? Why are you always dressed so nice like? Well, this is me. This is this is just how I was raised. It has nothing to do with anything else. But there were times where I try to conform in order to be more successful, because that is what some of the coaches in the corporate environment tell people. If you want to be successful you must say this, you should wear this.
If you don’t Pull your hair back, or if you don’t remove the color from your hair, it can be career limiting. Yeah, that’s advice that’s actually given to women and persons of color. An oh gosh, before I forget, another thing you were talking about, I’m switching the railroad track a little. When you just talked about how those mistakes go on and on and are brought up. That’s something I like to call the elephant culture.
Um and it’s kind of a double reference to the elephant because one it’s the elephant in the room. No one wants to acknowledge it, but they know it’s there. But I call it the elephant culture because an elephant never forgets, so it just keeps going. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, for example, it could be something as simple as um, once upon a time I was in a meeting and I looked down like this to say something to someone like did you catch that last thing?
And because of who I was, it was, did you roll your eyes?
No, no I didn’t realize I was just looking down, talking to so and so. No, you rolled your eyes.
Mo: Right, so there’s no margin for error, right, right? So, if we’re looking if we’re looking at differences a deficit, right?
Mo: Um, and if we have cultures of conformity versus cultures of inclusion and belonging and I don’t know if you’re seeing this, AJ, but I feel like we have like a slow-motion train wreck. I see is going to be happening in the next 18 months where all these organizations are saying, we’re going to bring in all this diversity, and we’re focusing on these diversity hires. We’re you’re doing all of these things and then they’re putting these people in cultures that are already toxic.
Yeah, right, because they haven’t because they don’t have psychological safety right where I right, I have to think about, you, know, so much conversation about black women and hair right? Yeah, like you were you were talking about that or like you know how I look, how I’m supposed to behave.
The opposite of that are these cultures that have psychological safety right then, and when you have that, that inclusion and belonging role where I can make a mistake? Yeah, both as somebody from an underrepresented group.
Or anyone in the culture can make a mistake that is othering or disenfranchises somebody or put somebody else at a deficit and we can talk about those things. because I think so often when I can’t tell you how many and in particular white people say I’m worried I’m going say the wrong thing. I’m worried I’m going do the wrong thing. Yeah, right? And that leads to us being Uber polite and being Uber polite or not talking about things. Um, it just perpetuates a culture where a certain group can thrive and a whole lot of people don’t.
AJ: Right, yeah? And It’s under the guise of being successful. And speaking of diversity and improving these cultures I’m currently coaching the people I work with now to do things that create a cultural shift.
And that includes revamping your wording, that you’re putting in your postings. Defining diversity within each department for yourselves, so that you understand what that is. I’ve done a social identity workshop to where people dig, really dig, into the layers of how they are showing up.
I use myself as an example like I don’t, I didn’t really think of myself as a mom at work until this pandemic hit, and as I have three kids in different grades. They’re going to school as I’m working. Mom took over from the consulting part and I realized, like I never really brought it up.
Because that can also be a deficit as a female. So, you kind of learn to like stamp it down and deal with it. But this has made it come to the forefront for me to say no, I can’t. Because I have to do something with my kids or I’m not going to be on line with you guys at this time because I have to make sure they get their work done.
And now there are so many other people who can relate to it that it’s OK, to be a mom now and to really show how juggling goes like the eight to five is out the window for me. I’m working at 10:00 o’clock at night or something else, but sorry getting back to.
Mo: But yeah, that’s such a good example of if you have this culture of psychological safety, you can talk about those struggles, right? It made my heart hurt so much there is a woman that I know, She literally did not let any. She was in Tech an and as she worked her way up, she literally did not let people know had three boys. And she absolutely hid that part because she knew that that would be career limiting. That’s awful, right? And now, like you said, there’s no hiding it ’cause they’re running into the camera. And so, when we have psychological safety, it’s like, alright, let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about how we make sure that this is not going to be limiting in your work.
Right, it’s reality. It’s who you are and what you bring to work. Now let’s talk about that. And let’s address that. Otherwise, I will let it limit your career right. And if we have psychological safety, we can go there and say all right, we gotta, we have to look at what our performance reviews look like right now, right? What are our expectations right now?
You know all of those things. You know when people are able to deliver work. Are they delivering excellence? OK, it might not be as much right now, but the reality is, we got no safety net right now, moms are the safety net.
AJ: And under, yeah, an understanding that intersectionality is more than I’ll call them the usual suspects. It’s more than our gender, our sexual orientation, our ethnicity. It goes so much further it’s really systemic, like we’re affected by our organization, our environment, where we live. Where were we raised.
All of those things come into play as far as how people show up, and it’s just important for leaders an employer’s to be conscious of that. And to also embody diversity and inclusion in a way that there’s space for all of that to exist within one person, which is exactly what we’re talking about. Psychological safety, but really, just it really gets into just having a really deeper understanding and application of inclusion.
Mo: Yeah, well, you know I love the idea of having everybody explore their own diversity right. To me diversity is perspective, right? We’re all a part of that, It’s not dominant group and others. It’s what are all those layers and how do we all play together? Yeah, particularly I think we’ve thought about diversity from such a white centric, right, like white centric and then everything else around that is diverse. I love what you do and having people go through and really understand, it’s such a beautiful mix.
Right and you know when you start to just uncover an unpeel, all of that for every person like wow, we have so much to offer. And bringing creating these environments to bring every piece of that. So how do we create those environments? How do you know?
There’s this idea OK, here it is. I can show up, I can be brilliant, I can dissent, I can make mistakes, I can bring my whole self. How do we get there?
AJ: Yeah, well, first you need well, going back to Amber, somebody has to spark it. Yeah, but you first have to have someone who’s in the room who either they know what it is, and they’re prepared to teach others, or they have a passion for it, and they educate themselves.
And then it goes into teaching others, but it has to be learned and practiced continuously and then modeled a lot of people like to go top down. This is something that I feel like, yes, it’s important for leaders to have, because they’re absolutely going to set the tone.
But I encourage organizations to offer some sort of cultural competency with their orientation for all new employees coming in so that they’re thinking about how they show up and what areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion are present in the work environment. Which ones are missing an, who can I have a conversation with about that? But I believe that needs to be a part of new employee orientation as well as leadership professional development.
Mo: Love that right? Because then it’s like right from my first days.
AJ: Yeah, so even if it’s not on the advanced level you’re thinking about it, they have you thinking about it. It’s seeping into the environment so that it’s not this big, oh my God, we weren’t ready for so much change in such a short amount of time.
Um, when it’s time to revamp, which it’s very helpful for my current career, you’re like all right. But it doesn’t have to be a painful process. It can be done without doing an 8-step change management model if you set it up smartly and efficiently.
Mo: So right from the start with new employees, somebody sparking it from the top.
Importance of Everyday Inclusion
In this Whole series the app, everything we do is called everyday inclusion because this is about everyday behavior. So, let’s say I’m starting to realize maybe I’ve created a team or an environment, or I’m on a team or an environment that does not have psychological safety. What do I do? Give me a give me a recipe.
AJ: So, what you want do, is call in for reinforcements. So, if you have consultants, coaches or employer relations available, call one of them in. They should be able to speak with individuals to get a better idea of what’s really going on? I always like to do the interviewing process.
Just a part of the research part wants to get as much data as possible, so I want to get the rich narratives from the qualitative conversations. The social worker wants to know the stories and connect with the individuals as well, so it’s really easy to come in and look at the problem broadly.
When you’re calling in that consultant or that employee relations person, ask them to do a deeper dive. Yeah, and to have that conversation it can be focus groups or individuals. Whatever the comfort level is, and then it’s going to be important that there is some sort of tool that’s administered that’s attached to a workshop.
Now that could be something like Psychological Safety survey, an emotional intelligence survey attempt, team alignment to indicate trust. Reviewing the five dysfunctions of a team, there are tons of things out there that you can use, but make sure that it is a tool that is tailored to what the presenting problems are. Because psychological safety can be damaged in one or more than one area and so that’s where the deep dive comes in to see where that’s going to be, where you need to put the putty to fix things.
Mo: Yeah, yeah.
AJ: And then just having that person take the team through the workshop and for me the most important part is checking back afterwards. So 30 days later, OK, it should be kind of fresh. Are you using this? 60 days later you started using it. Is it still going 90 days later? The team should feel way different now an if not, there’s a problem. Either I wasn’t effective, or there was something that was amiss, and we’ve got more work to do.
Mo: Yeah, I think you know in every aspect of DEI I think the team check, the ongoing team check-ins are so important.
Uh-huh you know like and once you have these things, it’s like what should we start doing? What should we stop doing which we stay the course on? Let’s call out some wins that we’ve had right. Like just like you do any other just critical part of business. Yeah, let’s check in right this team check in how we do it.
You know, and as a leader, checking in with the people on your teams. I don’t know if you saw it, AJ, there was the American Psychological Association released their stress in America report at the beginning of October.
We’re a nation in crisis, no surprise.
Something like and I’m going to butcher these stats so we’ll I’ll put the link in the comments. Something like 80% of 18 to 22-year old’s were saying they felt like they were getting no support.
An all the way up through boomers over like over half of them, same thing, nobody’s checking in with me. I don’t feel like I have the support that I need. Right? So, the younger you were in the earlier in your career, the more deeply you felt it up through. But everyone was feeling really.
Left alone. Yeah and in need of more support, so I think these check-ins are critical, right? Max and what progress are we making? You know I think there is part of this we, but there there’s a need for vulnerability.
Um, that vulnerability for leaders for people on the team, for you know, sort of let your guard down in terms of being willing to hear to listen, to change. And to learn, yeah, to learn through it all.
AJ: Yeah, I think, I think a lot of organizations would have more success in those areas, and I want to be brave enough to say overall with the bottom line, but that’s hypothetical. But if they started going back to some of the tactics that we see in college.
I don’t know how your college experience was, but I went to two different undergrads, and each time you know they set, they set us up with their Big Brother Big Sisters available. There is you know on the quad you’re able to see all the things that are available. You’re open to explore them. We want you to tap into whomever it is you want to be.
I think we need to bring that back into the adult workspaces, especially the ones that have mid-level management and higher, making it safe to continue exploring yourself again is really critical.
Ah yeah, yeah, because we need to stop making blacksmithing a part of corporate culture. And by blacksmithing, I mean you know we get the person there. As I mentioned before, we want to see their zest in the interview and what they’re going to bring to the table. And then once we get them to the desk, we start blacksmithing them. We put them to the fire. Here’s all the tasks that you need to learn.
Here are the expectations we have of you and then we beat them. We pound them with our norms with our protocol, with our policy with our dress codes, with the unspoken innuendos are going to that your psyche until they look like what the comfortable definition of diversity is for the culture as opposed to who they came in as.
Mo: But there is the comfort, uh huh? Yeah, what’s comfortable? The water is very smooth sailing for everyone except those people who’ve been blacksmith.
AJ: Right, right, provided that they stay because some of them, you know they leave. Because we’ve seen increases in lawsuits for toxic work environments. Because it’s just, it’s too much for some people.
Mo: OK, so wow we’ve Talked about so much AJ and I feel like we could keep talking. Anything else that you want folks to know in terms of psychological safety? What can be done, the role that it plays in creating, you know, in in allowing people from the broad deep spectrum of diversity to thrive in organizations.
AJ: Definitely. There’s already an innate understanding of what psychological safety is. It’s when our gut makes us feel uneasy. When there’s something said or done so lean into that call for reinforcements. If you’re not a specialist, call one in to help your team to get those necessary support necessary. Make sure that they have a solid plan and framework that they’re acting from and that it’s not just some trendy buzzword that they’re doing. And I would say just to everyone out there, before we can meet people where they are, we cannot tell them how to show up.
Mo: Hahaha. I can’t, I cannot wait to go back and listen to this and just grab some of my own notes because you know, I knew this was going to be phenomenal and it’s been so phenomenal.
I so appreciate everything that you’ve shared. Y’all, if you’re not connected with AJ get connected on LinkedIn. Like I said, she and I it was only about a month ago that I heard her on this panel and I just appreciate the work that you’re doing. I see you as a mom. You got this right.
I think that’s I think that’s the other thing too, maybe. Maybe you don’t. Right now, everyone is doing the best they can. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thanks for the road map the tools, the ideas, everybody.
Get out there and do your part in your organizations and in your communities and in your families because the ripple effect of all of that to create this psychological safety cause we need it, we need it to be able to move forward in creating not just more inclusive organizations, but a more inclusive world now.
Thank you so much.
AJ: Thanks, I had a great time.
For more on Every Day Inclusion jump over to our Every Day Inclusion App page to learn more!