Trust and Safety are Foundational for an Organization’s Commitment to DEI
LDIA Magazine is a publication of Legal Diversity & Inclusion Alliance, a cross-firm alliance in Belgium that works to eliminate workplace discrimination and promote an inclusive organizational culture in the legal sector. In a recent issue, Tamara Makoni, Founder and CEO of Kazuri Consulting, a leading DEI consulting firm, published an article titled Trust as the Foundation for Successful DE&I Work. She began the article with this analogy:
Imagine teaching someone to ride a bicycle. You explain how it works, give a demonstration, then invite your student to try. Through the process of trial and error that follows, you offer encouragement (“You can do it!”), guidance (“Apply pressure on both brakes”), and hands-on support. Finally, they master the skill and ride unaccompanied.
Mutual trust underpins this interaction. You trust that your student is capable of putting in the hard work to succeed. Your student trusts that you can effectively teach this skill and won’t expose them to unnecessary harm while doing so. And importantly, they trust you to honor your commitments. You said you would steady the bike when it wobbles, and you do every time.
Embarking on a DE&I journey is like inviting people to learn to ride a bike. It involves acquiring new skills and interacting with the environment differently. Learning about inclusive behaviors and adopting them as their own. Transforming from pedestrian to cyclist. It’s a challenging process that won’t happen if individuals don’t trust that leaders are capable of cycling themselves and willing to change the status quo.
DEI strategist Lily Zheng Position
In her book DEI Deconstructed, DEI strategist Lily Zheng, trust is positioned as central to enabling people at all levels of the organization to become effective change-makers. Zheng posits that in low-trust environments change is almost impossible and says that leaders should focus on increasing trust as a first priority, mostly by empowering those with less formal power to take the lead, triggering bottom-up change.
Essential to trust is psychological safety, a shared belief within a team that it is safe to take interpersonal risks – it is a measure of how comfortable people are to ask questions and voice discontent without fear of reprisal. As Makoni says,
If trust is the foundation of successful DE&I work, psychological safety is the foundation for trust. When there is psychological safety, people can afford to trust leaders – and each other – and reasonably expect that doing so will result in positive outcomes. And because they feel safe to communicate how they truly feel, take risks, and propose ideas, leaders have the input they need to identify solutions that are fit for purpose. They also have the right conditions to support innovation.
Building Trust at the Workplace
Finally, it is important to realize that building trust is not a “one and done” phenomenon – it is a set of practices that can easily be lost, so psychological safety and trust must be a priority and are necessary, but not sufficient, to building an environment that is truly diverse, equitable, and inclusive.
For many, if not most business organizations, this will require a new approach to leadership and to recruiting, hiring, and retention across the entire spectrum of US industries. Given the complexity of the change, companies will need to recruit in a whole new way. A relationship with a recruiting firm that understands and stands for the demands of this new world is likely to produce the best results. An effective recruiting partner will partner with the company to identify the right combination of skill and experience to find the top candidates and to convey to them what the hiring company stands for.