I vividly remember the day when my little 12-year-old brother was diagnosed with cancer. The anxiety, the stress, the fear – it remains scarred on my heart. I remember my mom collapsing in heartbreak. What I also remember is my father in tears. First, for my brother. Then, for not being able to be present for his family during this time. He felt that his work was failing to acknowledge his commitment to his family life because he was a man. At work, he was in a constant state of duress – feeling some of the worst emotions known to man, yet unable to show any of them. He was expected to show-up ‘dressed-up’ in his workplace costume everyday, hiding his emotions and anxieties beneath it. This forever damaged his relationship with his work – he did not feel valued and began to believe that he could not trust his organization to take care of his interests as he took care of theirs. His management lost his trust. What he had once believed he could contribute to his department was irreparably damaged, and therefore during and, significantly, after the time of my brother’s treatment his productivity at and zest for his work became very low. (Kaitlyn Dyshkant)

Inclusion goes far beyond the constructs of skin color or gender. Inclusion is embracing every individual by valuing and accepting them for who they are. This can look like encouraging every voice in the room to be heard, seeking out everyone’s opinions and truly listening to them. It is being understanding and even supportive when someone has to leave work early to pick up their children, or not making assumptions about an individual’s commitment to their work or to their family life based on their gender. It’s providing an environment where people are free to embrace and be embraced for who they are – characteristics that define them, their feelings, and for what they value. Of course, professionalism while being inclusive is important in the workplace; inclusion does not replace weekly meetings with therapy sessions or work hours with the family van, but it simply means valuing and accepting every individual for who they are and allowing them to bring that to the table with them to openly contribute. It is letting others know that they are valued and treating them fairly. Inclusion safety is agnostic to a person’s title, position, authority, or background and means that every single persons’ experiences and ideas matter!

Without inclusion safety, individual contributors refrain from showing up to the table with all they have to offer and are afraid of contributing. Environments or individuals who do not promote inclusion safety are characterized by fear, distrust, disinterest, opacity, uncertainty, high stress, and silence. Fears that stifle creativity, engagement, and productivity are given free rein.

On the other hand, an environment that fosters inclusion safety is a major competitive advantage in attracting and retaining the brightest talent – both in your organization and in your personal circles. A prerequisite to momentous success, inclusion safety brings creativity, high engagement, trust, and high productivity which characterize and distinguish you and your organization.

As one of the four individual yet interrelated quadrants of psychological safety, increasing your inclusion safety will enable you with the foundation and with the tools to likewise increase the collaborator, challenger, and learner safety of your environment.

So start the conversation. Become defined by inclusion safety, attracting and retaining the brightest talent and maximizing it. How will you promote inclusion safety? Consider, what are three things you can do to foster learner safety in your environment? For educational and professionally-vetted resources or for more information on Psychological Safety, click here. 

Michael Gillespie is the Founder of BlueEQ, a global consulting, training and assessment organization focused on Emotional Intelligence and Psychological Safety.

Kaitlyn Dyshkant is a leading BlueEQ researcher, writer, and content developer.