“Safe Spaces” Don’t Always Stay Safe

Unpacking an experience of racism in the workplace

Hello friends,

As a Black woman, one thing I’ve learned is that so-called "safe spaces” don’t always remain safe. I’m sure many deliberately disadvantaged folx could say the same.

Whether safe spaces do remain safe often depends on who’s creating the safety and how committed others are to maintaining that safety. And as always, there can be a big difference between words and action. Plus, unless the whole leadership team is equally committed, just one person can undermine the safety of a space. Here’s an example…

I once worked somewhere which appeared to have all the right things in place: strong anti-racism and anti-discrimination policies, processes for dealing with the reporting of issues, internal education, and a leader for whom anti-racism was a personal mission. With consistent discussion and action, it felt like a safe space. And it was, for a while, until it wasn’t.

As it turned out, a key member of leadership was less committed than they seemed. That leader appeared to be saying and doing the right things, but kept messing up. They kept apologising and going through remediation processes, but they kept messing up. They said they were truly committed but, you guessed it, they kept messing up. And one day they messed up to the point where the space became a LOT less safe.

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