Sector News

Toxic workplaces drive out POC leaders faster

September 15, 2023
Diversity & Inclusion

Not only do people of color feel less belonging in the workplace, they also feel less safe to speak up without fear of repercussion, according to data from DEI consulting firm The Courage Collective. The report, published in August 2023 and sent to HR Dive, shows that this disproportionate apprehension around speaking up extends to the management level: Whereas 84% of White managers feel like they can speak up confidently, only 50% of POC managers feel that way.

“If those who have historically held power are the only ones who feel comfortable disagreeing, innovating, and taking risks lead to change, we are likely to repeat the same inequitable workplace cultures,” researchers said.

The researchers for The Courage Collective’s report called out “four key drivers” pushing forward their interest in designing the study. This included alignment of values, access to leader support, growth opportunities and the safety to “disagree and disrupt” — conditions that researchers call out explicitly as “psychological safety.”

Study facilitators asked participants whether they could agree with the statement “I can voice a dissenting opinion without fear of repercussions.”

Belonging at work takes “an ongoing effort”
“Psychological safety,” as defined by The Courage Collective, refers to “the belief you won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.”

In discussing the crucial need for psychological safety in the workplace, The Courage Collective researchers noted that when employees do not feel safe voicing dissent, that safety’s absence affects workers’ sense of belonging. It also “decreases [workers’] overall engagement and motivation to contribute.”

McLean & Co. researchers noted employers can create psychologically safe workplaces by preventing harm, promoting health, and reaching workplace conflict resolutions in a timely and efficient manner.

Regarding the firm’s findings, Grace Ewles, manager of HR Research & Advisory Services at McLean & Co., warned employers against approaching psychological safety as a “checklist item.”

Instead, “it is an ongoing effort that requires commitment from key stakeholders and strong alignment between the organization’s norms, leadership behaviors, and day-to-day processes,” Ewles said in a 2023 statement.

POC Turnover: A vicious cycle
The Courage Collective noted the diversity, equity and inclusion push in 2020, spurred by the police killing of George Floyd. Employers made investments to diversify their talent pipeline, “with intentions to create more representation in leadership and management roles,” researchers wrote, but POC turnover remains high — particularly in management roles.

“One key perpetuator of this cycle is hiring or promoting POC managers into leadership positions without empowering them to push against the status quo,” the report said.

By Caroline Colvin


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