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TechTalk 2021: Ann Arbor's Tech Week Premiere Event

Laura Cowan

By Laura Cowan

Laura K. Cowan is a tech editor and journalist whose work has focused on promoting sustainability initiatives for automotive, green tech, and conscious living media outlets.

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Sandy Harvey of ouroffice works with startups to set the foundation for functional communication and psychological safety early on.

This week we have covered a few new events or those we don't usually make it to during Ann Arbor's expanding tech week, a2tech360. TechTalk is a must-attend event, and we are covering it today to take you behind the scenes. This year's theme focuses on Ann Arbor's tech visionaries, particularly those working in cutting edge areas of diversity and inclusion.

Psychological Safety Is Essential To A Functional Workplace

Sandy Harvey of ouroffice, which partners with Ann Arbor SPARK to train tech startups in DEI programs early in their founding, spoke about how diversity and inclusion programs are about psychological safety. "When we talk about psychological safety, it is the feeling that many of us have or want to have that we feel safe to share in the workplace, that we can make mistakes.... We want to encourage that environment as leaders."

Psychological safety is the belief that one will not be punished or attacked for speaking up. "I don't know about you, but I have been both a violator and a victim," Harvey said. People who experience a lack of psychological safety might not realize the situation until it's too late. "What do people tend to do?" Harvey asked about these scenarios. "They tend to leave. If people don't feel safe, it's very difficult to initiate DEI programs, because it just doesn't work."

How To Create DEI Programs That Work

"We are continuing to live through a pandemic, but I can tell you that at the end of 2019 I had organizational leaders saying there's no way people can work at home," Harvey said. While in 2019, organizations didn't trust their employees to work from home, now they don't have a choice.

Now workplaces want people to come back, and they're not sure they want to. "I can work from my home or office and connect with any company around the world. This is a global talent market. Many organizations are experiencing talent shortages. They can't find workers or talent who will do the job, but they're also thinking that everyone is redefining how they want to do the work. Then we have the cost of conflict in the workplace. A CPP study from 2008 says that employees spend 2.8 hours working through conflict a week. That results in $359 billion a year in lost productivity."

Areas to focus in if you're concerned about your workplace being a safe and functional environment:

Invite people To contribute: "You may work with introverted individuals where you need to invite them into the conversation to get their perspective."

Create space for communicating ideas: "Those of us doing the work daily know what works. But there's the bureaucracy that comes along with having a great idea and telling others about it."

"Employees don't feel heard.... If you don't feel heard within the workplace, your productivity goes down. They don't feel they're benefiting from the strategies set forward."

Employ and respect whole people: "In the past we've asked people to separate their personal lives from work. Today we're working in a climate where personal and professional go hand in hand...."

Train leaders to be effective: "Poorly trained leaders were an issue before the pandemic, and guess what? It just got worse. If someone was a micromanager before the pandemic... they're super micromanaging even when their team members are at home. Hierarchies, ego, poor communication. I worked for a company where the CEO wanted to do a touchbase every day." The CEO wanted to see everyone's face, but they were burned out from showing up for no apparent reason.

Address lack of trust and transparency: "If you don't have team members who trust the organization leadership, they're not going to trust any initiative you put out."

Understand the larger context: Deadlines and productivity have been phenomenal. 20% more productive at their homes, but, "Outside the walls of your office, there is something happening. We had George Flloyd happening, voter rights... all of the questions in between. You don't want to ask someone to say don't be yourself. I don't care what you think. I just want you to come and do the work. I promise you they will leave. And if they leave, it will take you a lot more time and money to fill the position."

Tips for greater success: Invite people to participate, be self-aware, address conflict in a constructive manner: Have listening sessions, safe digital environment, do anonymous surveys so people don't have to put their name on their opinion or report of a difficult conflict. Be willing as a leader to assess yourself and think about what it is you need to do better. "When creating psychologically safe environments, don't cut off others and think you're creating a safe environment," Harvey emphasized as a closing point.

ouroffice will be partnering with Ann Arbor SPARK on an ongoing basis to help startups properly train leaders and employees in these areas earlier in the company growth stage, so the foundation for success is set earlier on.

a2tech360, ann arbor spark, ann arbor tech week 2021, dei programs, techtalk 2021

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