Psychological Safety – a prerequisite to create inclusion for all.

16 June 2023

June marks Pride – a celebration of the LGBTQIA+ community globally.  Despite raised awareness and increasing representation of LGBTQIA+ experience in popular culture – recent Deloitte research (LGBT+ Inclusion at Work 2022: A Global Outlook ( revealed that 42% of LGBTQIA+ employees reported that they have experienced non-inclusive behaviours at work and 82% believe that they have experienced negative behaviours more than those that do not identify as LGBTQIA+.   Just over half (53%) admitted ‘covering’ – saying they are not openly ‘out’ to the majority of their colleagues or do not talk about their sexual orientation at all in the workplace.

The study makes clear the role of allyship in improving the lived experience of LGBTQIA+ colleagues in the workplace – and alongside this, the role of psychological safety in shaping an inclusive culture where people feel able to show up at work in a way that feels authentic and honest.   But what is psychological safety – and how do we gauge it within our organisations – so that individuals from marginalised groups feel able to bring their whole selves to work, without fear of stigma or judgement?  Let’s delve a bit deeper…

What is a safe team environment ?

Safety is the belief that you won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or showing up as yourself.  At work, it’s a shared expectation held by members of a team that teammates will not embarrass, reject, or punish them for sharing ideas, taking risks, expressing or soliciting feedback.

According to Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson, psychological safety is “a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.”

As Edmondson puts it, “it’s felt permission for candor.”

The “team” in team psychological safety is important. “This is a group level phenomenon — it shapes the learning behaviour of the group and in turn affects team performance and therefore organisational performance,” she says. As Edmondson explained, the sense of safety and willingness to speak up is not an individual trait, even though it’s something you do feel and experience at the individual level; “it’s an emergent property of the group.” In fact, in most studies, people who work closely together have similar levels of psychological safety compared to people in other teams.


Why is psychological safety important?


  • First, psychological safety leads to team members feeling more engaged and motivated because they feel that their contributions matter and that they’re able to speak up without fear of retribution.
  • Second, it can lead to better decision-making, as people feel more comfortable voicing their opinions and concerns, which often leads to a more diverse range of perspectives being heard and considered.
  • Third, it can foster a culture of continuous learning and improvement, as team members feel comfortable sharing their mistakes and learning from them.

All of these benefits — the impact on a team’s performance, innovation, creativity, resilience, and learning — have been proven in research over the years, most notably in Edmondson’s original research and in a study done at Google. That research, known as Project Aristotle, aimed to understand the factors that impacted team effectiveness across Google. Using over 30 statistical models and hundreds of variables, the project concluded that who was on a team mattered less than how the team worked together. And the most important factor was psychological safety.

When it comes specifically to LGBTQIA+ inclusion, safety is particularly important to reduce microaggressions. Even after many years of work, LBTQIA+ people continue to face discrimination, discomfort – mostly because of microaggressions, and sometimes also because of pronounced threats. The following graph can help us visualise the quantum of microaggressions faced by people across a spectrum of sexual identities.



What are the 4 quadrants/ stages of psychological safety?

The Four stages of Psychological Safety Model

  • The first stage is inclusion safety. We all want to feel included. We long to belong. As humans we need to be accepted in a team before we can be heard, so essentially the first stage is simply being comfortable being present. This stage means all members but be included and welcomed – without discrimination regarding gender, age, social background, sexual orientation, neurodiversity or anything else.


  • The second stage is learner safety – and this means being able to ask questions, give and receive feedback, experiment, and make mistakes. Team members at this stage will provide feedback to each other, and ask for feedback themselves.


  • The third stage is contributor safety. This means being able to participate as a member of the team, contribute ideas and suggestions, and raise threats and risks using members’ individual talents and abilities to contribute to the team without fear. At this stage, retrospectives and “post-mortems” become very powerful practices.
  • The fourth stages is challenger safety. This means being able to challenge the way the team works, come up with new ways of working, behaviours, and challenge the ideas of others – even the ideas of senior members. This is the most powerful “stage” of psychological safety, as it not only allows new ideas to surface and learning from mistakes to occur, but it can prevent potentially bad ideas from getting to the real world. You could argue that disasters such as the VW emissions scandal, Enron, or the global financial crisis may not have occurred if the teams in those organisations had possessed challenger safety.

The downside of not having psychological safety :

Further research has shown the incredible downsides of not having psychological safety, including negative impacts on employee well-being, including stress, burnout, and turnover, as well as on the overall performance of the organisation.

How do you know if your team has psychological safety for an inclusive environment?

Survey link :


How do you create psychological safety?

Edmondson is quick to point out that “it’s more magic than science” and it’s important for managers to remember this is “a climate that we co-create, sometimes in mysterious ways.”

Anyone who has worked on a team marked by silence and the inability to speak up, knows how hard it is to reverse that.

Project Aristotle called it Conversational Turn taking + Social Sensitivity

  • Establishing clear norms and expectations so there is a sense of predictability and fairness.
  • Encouraging open communication and actively listening to employees; making sure team members feel supported.
  • Showing appreciation and humility when people do speak up.
  • Make clear why employees’ voices matter.
  • Admit your own fallibility.
  • Actively invite input.
  • Respond productively.