Right now, orga­ni­za­tions across the coun­try are ask­ing them­selves what they can do to make their work­places more inclu­sive, diverse, and equi­table, par­tic­u­lar­ly for Black employ­ees. They’re host­ing con­ver­sa­tions, acknowl­edg­ing areas where they’ve fall­en short, and iden­ti­fy­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for improvement.

For these efforts to be suc­cess­ful, employ­ees need to be able to speak freely, offer­ing crit­i­cal and can­did feed­back about indi­vid­ual behav­iors, work­place prac­tices, and orga­ni­za­tion­al poli­cies. None of this can hap­pen, how­ev­er, if peo­ple believe it isn’t safe for them to speak up.

It often isn’t.

Employ­ees who report harass­ment and dis­crim­i­na­tion, speak can­did­ly to their super­vi­sors, or chal­lenge the sta­tus quo often find them­selves exclud­ed from projects, denied a pro­mo­tion, or out of a job. Accord­ing to a study by the Equal Employ­ment Oppor­tu­ni­ty Com­mis­sion (EEOC), 75% of employ­ees who spoke out against work­place mis­treat­ment faced some form of retal­i­a­tion. Giv­en this real­i­ty, it falls on employ­ers to show their employ­ees that they can report inci­dents of dis­crim­i­na­tion, iden­ti­fy insti­tu­tion­al fail­ures, and rec­om­mend solu­tions all with­out fear of retal­i­a­tion. Pre­vent­ing retal­i­a­tion is part of that. Here are a few oth­er ways to estab­lish a firm foun­da­tion of trust, open­ness, and respect:

Admit mis­takes and make amends
Employ­ees will be reluc­tant to hold their lead­ers account­able if their lead­ers nev­er admit fault or acknowl­edge areas for growth. If, how­ev­er, lead­ers show a will­ing­ness to be vul­ner­a­ble and a desire to learn and be bet­ter, they can help put their employ­ees’ minds at ease and more effec­tive­ly solic­it their feed­back. For exam­ple, an employ­er might acknowl­edge that they hadn’t pre­vi­ous­ly made diver­si­ty a pri­or­i­ty for the com­pa­ny, but that going for­ward, they will strate­gi­cal­ly place job ads where under­rep­re­sent­ed job appli­cants are more like­ly to see them, and they’ll iden­ti­fy ways to make the work­place wel­com­ing and inclu­sive. State­ments like this, when fol­lowed by action, open the door to hon­est com­mu­ni­ca­tion between employ­ees and their employ­er. They build trust.

Reward instead of retaliate
Cre­at­ing a real sense of safe­ty takes more than pre­vent­ing retal­i­a­tion. Employ­ees need to see that pro­vid­ing can­did and crit­i­cal feed­back is met with appre­ci­a­tion, grat­i­tude, and action from lead­er­ship. In oth­er words, it has to be reward­ed. Employ­ees who iden­ti­fy prob­lems in the work­place or pro­pose solu­tions shouldn’t fear being ostra­cized or hav­ing their career derailed by a venge­ful peer or super­vi­sor. On the con­trary, they should be rec­og­nized as lead­ers in the orga­ni­za­tion (infor­mal or oth­er­wise), giv­en oppor­tu­ni­ties to make a fur­ther impact, and empow­ered to help make deci­sions that ele­vate the work­place, its cul­ture, and its prac­tices. Con­sid­er shout-outs from the CEO, com­pa­ny awards, strate­gic bonus­es, pro­mo­tions, and career devel­op­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties. These show sincerity.

Tol­er­ate no retaliation
For some employ­ers, the hard­est part of build­ing trust will be appro­pri­ate­ly dis­ci­plin­ing any­one who vio­lates it, espe­cial­ly if the one being dis­ci­plined is a star per­former or high up in the chain of com­mand. One instance of retal­i­a­tion, if not imme­di­ate­ly addressed, can under­mine months or years of work and ruin even a stel­lar rep­u­ta­tion for diver­si­ty, inclu­sion, and equi­ty. Any retal­i­a­tion, for any rea­son, no mat­ter who does it, must not be tol­er­at­ed. For­tu­nate­ly, swift action to dis­ci­pline the offend­er and pre­vent future instances can help repair the dam­age and restore trust. It shows you’re serious.

Psy­cho­log­i­cal safe­ty takes time to estab­lish, even in com­pa­nies with­out a his­to­ry of overt retal­i­a­tion. Imple­ment­ing the three strate­gies above, how­ev­er, will lay the ground­work for a cul­ture in which employ­ees feel safe speak­ing up for diver­si­ty, inclu­sion, and equity.

By Kyle Cupp

Orig­i­nal­ly post­ed on thinkhr.com