Finding your voice: Psychological safety at Umicore
To create a more inclusive work culture across sites and units, the North America Region formed Employee Resource Groups (ERGs): Young Professionals in the Workplace, Women in the Workplace, and Minorities in the Workplace in 2021. ERGs are voluntary led employee groups made up of people with similar backgrounds, experiences, or identities, such as race, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, or common interest. Members of the ERG come together to network, discuss a variety of topics, focus on career development, and support each other and the organization. ERGs give a voice to people, who may be underrepresented in the organization, allowing employees to connect to the company through parts of their identity that is important to them, and fostering a better working environment.
Key to the success of ERGs and to their impact on our inclusive work culture is the concept of psychological safety. Psychological safety is about creating a space or environment where employees feel comfortable enough in a team or work setting to make suggestions and present new ideas without fear of reprisal.
“It means that they know they can share their ideas, ask questions and state their concerns without worrying about whether their identity, appearance, or background will influence potential reactions.”
Sharnell Jones, Regional HR Manager for Umicore North America and a member of the Minorities in the Workplace and Women in the Workplace ERG
“They can show up as their authentic self regardless of race, religion, national origin, gender or sexual orientation, and they won’t be ignored or judged because of those same things. The response will not be: ‘She doesn’t know what she’s talking about because she is this or that’.”
Productive and engaged
The benefits of a psychologically safe space work both ways – for management as well as for employees. From a leadership point of view, an inclusive work culture means creating a diverse team. Psychological safety means making sure that diversity of thought is put to good use and leads to a sense of trust. Employees who feel heard and respected are more engaged, which leads to heightened productivity.
The Minorities in the Workplace ERG is working to improve psychological safety by raising awareness of diversity, unconscious bias and inclusivity. Unconscious bias are ideas people have about others based on stereotypes or learned attitudes from the past. Since these biases, which many people are not even aware of having, hinder an inclusive work culture and psychological safety; it is important to raise awareness.
The North America Region ERGs are working to raise awareness in a variety of ways, including holding webinars, lunch and learn sessions, and workshops. The Women In the Workplace ERG hosted a screening of the documentary This Changes Everything about gender discrimination in the film industry. The Minorities in the Workplace ERG is looking at celebrating the various diversity months, such as Black History Month, Diversity Awareness Month, Hispanic Heritage Month and many more. Young Professionals in the Workplace is hosting workshops on generational differences in the workplace. These kinds of events and activities are helping to open up conversations across the company.
At Umicore, ERGs have been able to make a significant contribution to psychological safety. “It goes hand-in-hand with an inclusive work culture,” says Sharnell. “When employees feel they have psychological safety, diversity and inclusion, they are happier about coming to work and want to excel at what they do. They feel like they belong there – that their voice matters.”