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Why feeling safe is key to sharing personal data  

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Jennifer Morris, Business Disability Forum Consultant, highlights the importance of trust and psychological safety in disability data collection.

In April, Business Disability Forum published a comprehensive research report about collecting global employee disability data (sponsored by HSBC). In talking to numerous global D&I Leads for this research, we came to understand the head-spinning number of factors they needed to consider, when designing their approach: legalities, terminology, system requirements…the list went on and on.

Amidst all the logistics, there is a risk of forgetting the most important thing:

at the end of the day, the decision to share disability data is up to the individual.

In fact, amongst all the challenges research participants identified with the collection of global disability data, the top two challenges related to lack employee willingness to share their information. And their preparedness to do so, often came down to a few simple things:

  • Whether they believed that their data would be treated appropriately – that it would be confidential and secure
  • Whether they believed that ‘good would be done’ – that something would come of them sharing their data and that things would change for the better
  • Whether they believed that ‘nothing bad would happen’ – that they wouldn’t be disadvantaged in some way because of their self-identification

In short, if colleagues don’t know why you are collecting information and what you are going to do with it, they will be reluctant to share. These factors highlight the profound importance of an organisational culture of trust and psychological safety. Psychological Safety has been defined as:

“a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.” Amy Edmondson, Harvard Business School

Interpersonal risk-taking could mean speaking up with ideas or questions, offering support and challenge to each other, or making ourselves vulnerable by ‘bringing our whole selves to work’. Psychological safety is underpinned by trust, candour and respect, and all of those elements are necessary for people to talk openly about identities and their lived experiences, without fear of detriment.

The leaders of an organisation have a vital role to play here, and senior executive support was named as the #1 enabler for data collection by research respondents. Leaders can role model the behaviours that foster safety and trust; they can position disability inclusion as something that impacts everyone; and they can be clear about zero-tolerance of disability discrimination.

Here are some more top tips for fostering a culture of psychological safety and trust, in support of disability data collection, that our research surfaced:

  • Set the scene about disability inclusion. Don’t make an invitation to self-identify disability the first thing your colleagues experience!
  • Be clear about the purpose for any data collection and what the benefits will be for colleagues – answer the “what’s in it for me?”
  • Be clear about what will happen to information so that colleagues feel safe
  • Spread the word using case studies, storytelling and lived experiences to share the potential for positive outcomes
  • Work with disability networks to foster psychological safety amongst colleagues with disabilities and inclusion allies

Fundamentally, the request to employees for their disability ‘data’ is actually an invitation to individuals to be open about their identities and share their lived experiences with their employer and colleagues… and in order to do that, trust and psychological safety are key.

If you are interested in learning more about how you and your organisation can work with your colleagues to gain more insight on employee data, Business Disability Forum Members and Partners can access the full Collecting Global Employee Disability Data report and the series of corresponding Mini Reports.

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