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Does It Feel Safe at Your Firm for People of Color?

Sometimes a neutral third party is needed to evaluate the culture of your workplace to ensure everyone feels welcome.

February 18, 2021

We want more ___(fill in the blank with a protected class)___ represented here.

We don't understand why there aren't more ___(fill in the blank with a protected class)___ here.

It’s a noble assertion and corporate goal to seek more diversity for your company or real estate association. However, sometimes the closer we are to the norm (with common phrases like, “This is how we have always done it.”), the less likely we will see the aspects of our environment that may feel unwelcoming to the very demographics that we want to reach.

Psychological safety is a must for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). Before you tune me out because you believe the environment at your company or association is a “safe space” for all, including for BIPOC, please let me explain.

In his recent Coaching For Potential Podcast, Rory Rowland, a business consultant specializing in communication skills and management, and a member of the Missouri House of Representatives, broke psychological safety down to four components.

1. Does the individual feel included or are there conversations they have not been invited to participate in? When they do offer input, do they feel like their view is trivialized or outright ignored?

2. Does a person feel safe to learn (i.e., does not have to be perfect and is allowed to go through iterations of development)?

3. Does a person feel safe to contribute or will they be criticized, embarrassed, or marginalized?

4. Does an individual feel safe to challenge the status quo or do they get the impression they should “stay in their lane”?

If any one of these psychological safety conditions is an issue among your team, firm, or association, you may have a problem.

Infographic of the problems woman of color face in the workplace.

Case in point: Between myself and the C-suite Black women I know, both in and outside the world of real estate, we often notice the opposite of psychological safety when we speak out or speak up. This illustration, published by the Centre for Community Organizations in Quebec, Canada, was sent to me by a Black executive, who said it outlines her current experience.

You may be thinking, “We are nowhere near as bad as that illustration.” But if you have not had a neutral third-party interview your staff or team, you likely do not know the full story. If you are truly committed to diversity and inclusion, or more assertively being an anti-racist real estate pro, I encourage you to have an unaffiliated third-party do the following exercise that I do with firms that have felt this disconnection.

As a coach, consultant, and objective third-party who’s not part of the group, I first ask all leaders separately (to prevent groupthink) the following questions:

  • What does it mean to you for this to be a safe space?
  • What have you noticed about this environment?
  • Are there any participants that you believe may feel uninvited or unsafe to learn, contribute, or challenge the status quo? Why or why not?
  • How have you personally contributed to this being a safe space?
  • What could be improved upon to promote psychological safety for all participants?
  • Do you feel included or are there conversations that you have not been invited to participate? Or, when you do offer input, do you feel like your view is trivialized or outright ignored? If you have felt unincluded, please share at least one instance.
  • Do you feel safe to learn (a.k.a. not be perfect and allowed to go through iterations of development)? If you have this lack of safety, please share at least one instance.
  • Do you feel safe to contribute or have you been/will you be criticized, embarrassed, or marginalized? If you have felt this lack of safety, please share at least one instance.
  • Do you feel safe to challenge the status quo or do you get the impression that “I need to stay in my lane” or “it's not broken so don't try to fix it?” If you have this lack of safety, please share at least one instance.

Then, I ask individual participants the following questions (particularly those with one foot out the door as evidenced by either their silence or physical absence):

  • What does it mean to you for this to be a safe space?
  • What have you noticed about this environment?
  • Do you feel included or are there conversations that you have not been invited to participate? Or, when you do offer input, do you feel like your view is trivialized or outright ignored? If you have felt unincluded, please share at least one instance.
  • Do you feel safe to learn (a.k.a. not be perfect and allowed to go through iterations of development)? If you feel unsafe learning, please share at least one instance.
  • Do you feel safe to contribute or have you been/will you be criticized, embarrassed, or marginalized? If you feel unsafe contributing, please share at least one instance.
  • Do you feel safe to challenge the status quo or do you get the impression that “I need to stay in my lane” or “it's not broken so don't try to fix it?” If you feel unsafe challenging the status quo, please share at least one instance.
  • Of the leadership team, who has personally contributed to this being a safe space? What did that person(s) do to create a safe space?
  • What could be improved upon by the leadership (and even the team as a whole) to promote psychological safety?

Then, without revealing any identities, I share the results with the team in a psychologically safe way (I don't use the answers as weapons).

Typically, in times when a firm or association is inadvertently repelling people, those in leadership are not aware of how they show up to those they lead nor of the psychological needs of those they lead. By leadership actively and energetically working daily towards creating a truly safe space, diversity becomes the natural byproduct. This is one of the few instances where top-down implementation is a must.

Follow the link for an excerpt from How to Be an Anti-Racist Real Estate Pro.


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Lee Davenport

Dr. Lee Davenport is an Atlanta-based real estate coach and blogger who has been featured in REALTOR® Magazine and the Huffington Post, to name a few. She trains real estate agents and brokers across the country on how to work smarter with technology. Join Lee's free RE Tech Insider's Club at LearnWithLee.REALTOR for tips and tools to help your business thrive. Follow Lee on FacebookInstagramYouTube, Google+, and search the #LearnWithLee hashtag.

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