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Article Article February 2nd, 2021
Legitimacy • Justice

Is CPI an inclusive place to work? Exploring psychological safety

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Over the past year, @CPI_foundation has been learning about how to become a psychologically safe workplace, with the help of @SantalumTweets

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Trying to become a diverse, inclusive & equitable org is not easy. @gracecarmella @cpi_rachel & Rebecca reflect on learnings so far

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'It was disheartening to hear that not everyone is having the same experience at work. While challenging, it’s important for us to listen and learn'

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Partnering for Learning

We put our vision for government into practice through learning partner projects that align with our values and help reimagine government so that it works for everyone.

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Over the past year, the Centre for Public Impact has been on a journey towards understanding and addressing where we are falling short in creating a workplace that is diverse, equitable and inclusive. So far in our #DEIatCPI series, we have shared our learnings with the Applied platform to address bias in our hiring systems, explored how we could improve the lifecycle of employees, and told the story of how we co-created our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Policy.

We recognised early on that creating a psychologically safe workplace is the cornerstone of all the other work in our roadmap around programmes, external communications, and recruitment - and that we needed to create space to build our shared understanding of what psychological safety means to our team. We know that psychological safety cannot be mandated, so we decided to bring in external facilitators to help us talk openly and honestly, connect as a team and have the uncomfortable but necessary conversations required to create sustainable changes. The intention of this journey is to create a sense of belonging, where people can bring their true selves and perform at their best.

Hence, we decided to work with SANTALUM, who ‘build inclusive, equitable and conflict adaptive workplaces’. In first sharing the problems we were having at CPI, we felt that Kiran and Kyle showed deep interest in understanding and bettering our self-management structure, our mission to reimagine government and our individual wellbeing as people.

CPI's journey with Santalum CPI's journey with Santalum

We underestimated how challenging and uncomfortable this journey would be. From the root-cause analysis revealing lack of psychological safety amongst members of the team, to working group sessions making us realise that deeply-embedded characteristics of white supremacy exist within our structures - all confirmed the truth: like many organisations, CPI is not living up to our values of being Courageous, Optimistic, Respectful and Inclusive.

This truth impacted us all in different ways, leaving some shocked, while others felt disappointment and sadness. Some words resonated, while others caused hurt and defensiveness. It pushed us to realise that this DEI journey shouldn’t just be a one-off project - it should be prioritised as a matter of health and safety, and imperative to ensuring that we practice what we preach. How can we help changemakers adopt our Vision for Better Government if we can’t do it ourselves?

What we have learned so far

While we are still very much in the midst of our journey, so far we have learned so much not only about how to become a fairer and happier organisation, but also about ourselves. Though we cannot speak for everyone in CPI, between the three of us we can safely say that this journey has made us think about how to bring our genuine selves to work, and be more empathetic to our team. It has taught us the importance of highlighting the value of differences, and to speak up in times of injustice. In this article, we share the biggest lessons we have learned so far.

Be prepared to be uncomfortable

Conversations surrounding topics of inequality and injustice can be uncomfortable, especially when you are including team members at all levels of implicit and explicit power and privilege in the same group tasked with addressing them. You may not feel comfortable discussing your concerns about, for example, pay and progression, with the very people who create those processes.

Hence, it is important to foster a psychologically safe environment when discussing these topics to allow everyone to contribute, challenge and feel heard. SANTALUM created a working group with members of the team, with an agreement that we were all dedicated to this journey and in doing so would be open and honest with each other. 

Over two months, we had conversations that highlighted our different experiences - ranging from coming to terms with white privilege, to noticing how our system has disadvantaged those who may not have entrepreneurial or outspoken personalities - and forced us to sit with our discomfort. It was disheartening to hear that not everyone is having the same experience at work. While challenging, it’s been an important opportunity for us all to listen and learn. Now that we have completed our root-cause analysis, we have actionable steps towards driving change with this discomfort - using it to collectively create an environment where everyone feels heard and valued.

It was disheartening to hear that not everyone is having the same experience at work. While challenging, it’s been an important opportunity for us all to listen and learn.

Don’t get us wrong, we understand that the discomfort doesn’t stop at the point of action. We have learned that you will be repeatedly made uncomfortable in new and varying ways the more you unravel and listen. This journey may never stop being uncomfortable, but it's how you process and react that matters. It’s helped us at every stage of this process to remind ourselves that everyone involved - no matter our differences of opinion, experience, or background - wants a more equitable, inclusive and psychologically safe CPI. 

Try to involve EVERYONE, even if they cannot involve themselves

We can’t pretend that this journey had the full buy-in and involvement from everyone at CPI. The working group sessions contained only those who chose to be a part of this journey, and the work with SANTALUM so far has not involved our North America team. On top of this, remote working as a result of COVID-19 restrictions has made it much more difficult to connect. Though we fell short on representation and are still trying to understand how we could’ve made the process more inclusive, we’re proud of how committed and honest our working group has been in this process to date.

To involve the rest of the organisation, we believed in being transparent about working group discussions. So, we shared regular updates through Loom, a website that allows you to record and share video messages of both your screen and camera. We hoped that through this more personal and interactive method of communication, people would feel more involved, and welcome to talk about their concerns or reactions.

Despite this, the importance of including all regional offices in the journey became further highlighted overtime, as there needs to be a shared understanding of what CPI is striving to become: an organisation where all people feel they can bring their full selves to work so they can achieve at their full potential. Misalignments and silos only hinder the journey, and create further marginalisation.

Aftercare is important and needed

Regardless of whether you are in the thick of this journey or not, this will be emotionally exhausting for everyone in the team. It will drain those who are involved in every conversation, and those who, from afar, are feeling their identity attacked by the outcomes but do not feel psychologically safe to share their perspective.

We may have learned this too late, but perhaps we should’ve taken SANTALUM’s advice on self-care more seriously. The working group sessions required emotional labour, and at times we felt like we were bearing it all but not actioning enough, doing lip service while our roof was on fire. Yet, we proceeded to finish these sessions and go back to work without giving ourselves space to process and breathe.

By self-care, we don’t mean manicures and bubble baths, but creating time to mentally process these difficult discussions - whether as a group or with a ‘buddy’. It’s imperative that these spaces are made available throughout the process, not when emotions have already gotten too high and people are on the edge of their tether. From the very beginning, we should have offered one another more reassurance that if time away from the desk was needed, or a friendly debrief, these options were available and encouraged.

The process MATTERS - bring in the experts

Before choosing SANTALUM, we spoke to a range of people who all had something valuable to offer organisations like ourselves looking to make these imperative changes internally. However, our choosing SANTALUM was based on not only how bespoke the roadmap could be to CPI’s specific needs, but also whether they are people our team could trust. Knowing our organisation, we needed partners who would treat it not as an administrative ‘tick-the-box’ task, but would draw on their own complex experiences in navigating DEI to handle it sensitively and empathetically. We needed mindful facilitators who would pay attention to relationships, getting us thinking, sharing and connecting.

Every organisation will have different requirements depending on specific identities and structures. It is important to honour these when choosing DEI experts, identifying what you do and don’t want. For example, we separately brought in our friend Jerome Harvey-Agyei to help the team connect outside of the SANTALUM-led process because we knew that they enjoyed and felt safe in his facilitation. It's not as clear cut as choosing one expert and shunning the rest, and for us having both SANTALUM and Jerome, and ensuring they were connected, only benefited our journey.

But, don’t expect the experts to do all the work for you

At the beginning of this journey we naively believed that working with SANTALUM and Jerome would solve our problems as easy as a click… we could not have been more wrong! They did a great job of getting to know us, creating a roadmap, facilitating sessions, and being there when we needed them. However, in order for their work to succeed we needed to engage.

Conversations about racism and injustice are challenging, not only for the participants but also for the whole organisation, and managing the fallout from these discussions took a lot of time, effort and attention.

It's important to set your expectations of what the workload will be like, and not just the admin, but the emotional workload too. Conversations about racism and injustice are challenging, not only for the participants but also for the whole organisation, and managing the fallout from these discussions took a lot of time, effort and attention.

This journey should be part of your being and doing

SANTALUM prepared a final report which highlighted the key takeaways from the working group discussions, and recommendations to support our evolution into becoming a more equitable, inclusive, diverse and just institution:

  1. Make the implicit nature of CPI’s culture explicit: Create a shared language with all our offices across the globe, in order to institutionalise equitable and inclusive practices, and strengthen the connection between our organisational identity and our DEI work.

  2. Centre the voices of those who have been historically excluded & unheard: Do a listening tour across offices to understand what it means to centre ‘historically underrepresented voices’ in the workplace, and learn from other organisations to understand how they centre these perspectives.

  3. Build & operationalize new tools & systems to strengthen feedback & accountability: Develop a collective understanding of what leadership means, how leaders are held accountable and how collective leadership is practiced, and review the Pay & Progression Process through an equity and inclusion lens to provide more clarity on how the team can plan their careers.

  4. Commit to consistent learning & development as an institution: Use data to understand and track institutional change around DEI to minimise discrimination and exclusion in the workplace, and develop mechanisms to identify how bias shows up in our systems, meetings and decision-making.

The work that needs to be done to implement these recommendations will take over a year to complete, and we have no doubt that new challenges will emerge along the way. As an organisation, we need to continue being transparent - and taking care of our onboarding and training processes to ensure inclusivity and celebrate diversity. It will be an iterative process of trying, failing, and trying again. 

Though it's easy to get overwhelmed by the enormity of this difficult but necessary journey, we remind ourselves of James Baldwin’s words: “Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced”.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at CPI

We are on a journey to better understand and articulate why diversity, equity and inclusion are so vital to helping us achieve our mission and feel psychologically safe as we work to achieve it. In this blog series we are committing to transparency by sharing our learning.

Read the series