A Spotlight on Psychological Safety During a Month Honoring Belonging

We should aspire to a world in which every person is empowered to bring their full self to any situation and take joy in celebrating who they are and who they love.

Lorraine M. Martin
June 28, 2021

On this day in 1969, the Stonewall uprising began in New York City — a watershed moment where the LGBTQIA+ community said “enough” to the enforcement of discriminatory, anti-gay laws. The events at Stonewall represent such a pivotal moment in the international gay rights movement that we celebrate Pride Month every June in commemoration. 

As the old saying goes: history does not repeat itself, but it rhymes. Many years after Stonewall, the gay community would come to face another violent, history-defining event in the month of June. 

Just five years ago, 49 people senselessly lost their lives and 53 more were wounded in a mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. It was supposed to be a fun evening out where all could celebrate “Latin Night” safely. Instead, it was the deadliest incident against the LGBTQIA+ community in the United States, sending shockwaves across the LGBTQIA+ community, the country and, indeed, the world. 

As I reflect on that heartbreaking night, I can’t help but think back to how I learned of the shooting only hours after marching in the D.C. Pride parade. I was working at Lockheed Martin at the time — you can see the Lockheed Martin float (right) — and had many employees located in Orlando. Thankfully, none were at Pulse that evening, though many lost friends. I’ll never forget the pain I witnessed in my team members’ faces when I arrived in Orlando to speak and mourn with them just a few days later. 

As we celebrate Pride Month, that moment has left an indelible impression on me. It’s among many reasons why I am compelled to attend and support Pride events. The photo you see here (right) was taken in London with my husband, just a few weeks following the Pulse shooting. It’s no exaggeration to say the world mourned with us. 

Unfortunately, many of my friends and colleagues in the LGBTQIA+ community have shared personal stories of fear related to coming out or living their lives as their authentic self. One thing is clear: at an absolute minimum, everyone should feel safe. Of course, we should aspire to a world in which every person is empowered to bring their full self to any situation and take joy in celebrating who they are and who they love. 

The Importance of Psychological Safety 

Simply put, we need to broaden our definition of safety to include psychological safety — the ability to show and be one’s self without fear or negative consequences. This means everyone is empowered to bring their full self to any situation, but especially at work. Psychological safety isn’t just a “nice to have,” it is an essential component of a culture of safety because people who feel safe do not hesitate to speak up and voices save lives. 

When I think about psychological safety and its connection to this month, it reminds me of another story from much earlier in my career. One day at work, I noticed a talented engineer struggling. By that, I mean she wasn’t bringing her voice to the team. Though I didn’t know why at the time, I sensed she didn’t feel safe at work. I set up some time for the two of us to talk. While the conversation was a bit awkward at first, we quickly warmed up to one another. 

Over the course of our discussion, she found the courage to come out to me as gay. She taught me that leaders have to be active allies so everyone feels safe. I’ve thought of that conversation every day since. I strive to ask in all situations how I can foster, cultivate and protect a culture of safety where every worker feels they can be true their self. To this day, I keep a Pride flag in my office year-round to remind me of this valuable lesson. 

The Link to Physical Safety

Imagine your workplace culture made you feel as if you couldn’t be your full self. Imagine feeling uncomfortable displaying your partner’s photo on your desk. Would you feel safe enough to speak up in a high-consequence environment? I would presume not. 

As America’s leading nonprofit safety advocate, NSC is in an important position to help safety leaders engage in dialogue, learning, and best practices around psychological safety. We take this charge seriously and, along with our partners, will do much more to help employers, workers, governments, and communities met the challenges of 2021 and beyond. 

Pride & National Safety Month 

Not only is June Pride Month, it’s also National Safety Month, which is fitting given the strong link between the two. A major theme throughout the month was psychological safety and we know this topic needs to remain front and center.  

That’s why NSC will have a number of sessions at Congress in the fall to continue this important conversation, including:

  • Psychological Safety at Work: Building and Supporting a Thriving and Inclusive Workplace.
  • The Human Dynamics of Achieving an Injury-Free Workplace: Safety Directives from Psychological Science.
  • Connecting the Dots: Integrating Mental Health.

Building on the National Safety Council’s Commitment to DE&I 

At NSC, we are on a journey to demonstrate our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion through our culture and our values. We deliver on our mission to save lives, from the workplace to anyplace, by working together — our employees, members, and stakeholders — in such a way that everyone feels a sense of belonging. 

We know that, in order to make lasting, cultural change, we had to link this work to our mission. That’s why we’ve integrated DE&I in our strategic planning, policy work and goal-setting process for the NSC team. We also unveiled a new commitment statement earlier this year to share our values with the outside world. 

We’re introducing the next step in our journey. NSC colleagues will soon have the option to add their pronouns to their email signature lines — an action we hope advances our culture of inclusion and psychological safety. While we’re far from the first organization to take this meaningful step and we recognize our DE&I work will never be complete, we’re proud of the steady progress we’re making as Team NSC.

Honoring the Lives Lost at Pulse

Just last week, the President signed into law a bill establishing the Pulse nightclub site as a national memorial. This means Pulse will join the Stonewall Inn monument and other historic sites as federally protected landmarks honoring LGBTQIA+ heritage. 

“We’ll remember,” the President said before signing the bill. We will, indeed — and continue to be active allies in the struggle for LGBTQIA+ rights.  

It’s the only way to ensure the next time history rhymes, it’s with a joyful note. 

Happy Pride Month,

Lorraine (she/her/hers)

Lorraine M. Martin

Lorraine M. Martin is president and CEO of the National Safety Council.

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