Identity-safe classrooms parallel of identity-safe workplaces.
When we hear the term “identity safety” most of us probably think about protecting ourselves from identity fraud via cyber theft. However, there is another meaning in the education world that is more growth-mind-set-oriented.
“Identity safe classrooms are those in which teachers strive to ensure students that their social identities are an asset rather than a barrier to success in the classroom. And, through strong positive relationships and opportunities to learn, they feel they are welcomed, supported, and valued as members of the learning community.” – Identitysafeclassrooms.org
Exploring this idea with business leadership means seeing diversity and inclusion work as a journey that values the full identity and potential that each employee and customer bring to the table. When executives and leaders, especially those of us in the dominant corporate culture, examine their own biases and blind spots, they sharpen their overall leadership ability and create space for others to do the same, allowing for a sustainable and dynamic future. Identity safety in companies means seeking questions and perspectives. And listening from an emotional and analytical place (heart & head). This requires a transformational shift in corporate leadership. According the Kirwan Institute, Transformative Approaches are ones that acknowledge that people are differently situated to opportunity and resources and acknowledge that a universal solution to disparity is never enough.
Recently, I was in a meeting with my team and those of another department. My team is made up of a Latina colleague and a white colleague. A white male from the other team asked a question about the history of our department. My Latina colleague has been with our organization the longest and has extensive institutional knowledge that was pertinent to the question. She gave an informed and concise answer. The man had not even acknowledged her contribution when he turned to my white colleague and myself to ask the same question. I cannot say for sure that redirecting the question was due to the race of my Latina colleague, but I believe that an identity-safe cultural lens would have allowed him to access and be open to the informed response she delivered. Unhealthy exchanges of this sort keep women silent. So it is important, if not vital, that white men support and challenge each other as diversity leaders. These support and challenge dynamics are critical to cultural transformation centered on identity-safety.
Michael Welp writes about men’s cultural lens in his post, “Men, are we culturally-wired to listen to women?”
We can learn from the diversity amongst ourselves, and our own ways of valuing each other to take on greater challenges of using systemic advantages to share opportunities and power with women and people of color.
We all experience greater authenticity and trust when we partner for organizational culture, free of racism, sexism and homophobia. This is a long term journey inward and outward that has the ability to maximize human potential and authentically collaborative workplaces.