Psychological Safety - Diversity & Inclusion - Cate Bichara - Skyguide

Picture of Julija Razmislavičienė
Posted by Julija Razmislavičienė
Welcome to another episode of Radar Contact. My name is Julija. I am a partner and the managing director of Fox ATM Baltics. I'm an ATM consultant within the FoxATM team, and today I will be hosting this episode. The guest for today is Cate Bichara. She's the head of inclusion and Diversity at skyguide. Cate, welcome to the episode and please tell us about yourself and your work.

Thank you, Julija. Thank you for inviting me. It is really a great honor to be able to participate in this podcast. So indeed, as you mentioned, I'm head of inclusion and diversity and also leading a project on air traffic controller abilities, skills, and competencies for the future. I'm doing this within the Swiss navigation service provider skyguide. Previously I spent eight years being the FABEC Social Dialogue manager where I was dealing with the liaison between top management within FABEC and the trade unions. I'm a holder of master's degree in Social and Educational Sciences and a no longer valid air traffic controller. But I do hold the license and obviously I'm also continuing courses at university on all these topics particularly in social sciences, inclusion and diversity. And I really firmly believe that inclusion, equity, and diversity are fundamental to ensure sustainability in the industry and even outside.

Okay, thank you. That's a very nice introduction and very nice background of yours. Today we are talking about a very important topic, it's psychological safety. Can you please describe to our listeners what that is and why we actually need that?

Yes. So I like starting with the why. Psychological safety to me as an enabler to making better decisions and there is a clear link to safety as we know it. In aviation, we are very familiar with the concept of just culture, which applies to the front end operator, to the air traffic controllers, to the pilots. And I argue that it should be applicable to everybody, to all staff that need it. An example would be there was a hospital that was built up in Scotland a while back and there was a mistake in a spreadsheet that was made when they put out the call for tender. It was noticed by one of the organizations, one of the companies that were tendering. They said, we'll have to put our prices up because you've made this mistake, but at least it'll be safe. The hospital decided not to go along with them and then in the end it could have cost lives.
It cost quite a few million pounds to set it right once the hospital was built. Now that gives an example of how a mistake in an office and seemingly normal mistake of a copy paste in an Excel spreadsheet can actually impact safety. And why did that person in the office not put their hand up and say sorry, I made a mistake. Maybe we need to review this. So to my mind, it should really be embedded in any safety critical environment. To move on from that, what is it? Well, there are, I would say two very big people who talk about this, Amy Edmondson and Timothy Clark. In a nutshell, it's feeling safe to take interpersonal risks hence the psychological feeling part of the team that will support and not ridicule, ridicule or buy you and buy your progress. If you've said something that may be seemingly silly and having people listen to you.
So one can see it around four pillars an inclusion pillar. And here I come back to inclusion and diversity because for me, you can't have proper and true inclusion and diversity and equity in a company without actually having psychological safety. There's the learner safety where you can put your hand up and say, I didn't understand and not get told off for it, not get shouted at because you are silly and you don't understand. One of the examples that I like giving is when my daughter was in high school, she thought that she was really, really bad at maths. She's now really, really good at maths. But at that point in time, her maths teacher just wasn't capable of explaining things and so she'd put her hand up and say, I didn't understand. And he would come back and say the same thing, louder and slow word.
It didn't make her feel any better and she didn't learn anything. And that is a counter example to what learner safety is. Contributor safety would be another pillar or third pillar where you feel like you can actively contribute to the discussion you feel again included you feel that you're being listened to. So it's a speak up and also listen up a culture that needs to be embedded there. And then challenge challenger safety, feeling comfortable to say that you don't agree without having a fear of retribution. And no matter how high the person is in the hierarchy compared to you, you can still challenge in the right way. Obviously what they're deciding or saying, it doesn't mean that anybody has the full autonomy to do anything. And it doesn't mean that this is some sort of holocracy where everybody is entitled to make decisions. The hierarchy still remains.
But you have to be able to say, well, I think that that's a bad thing. It's a bad example. It it's something that we shouldn't be doing because X, Y, Z. An example of a lack of psychological safety could be the Challenger disaster. Back in 1984 I think it was there was a decision to launch Challenger, the space shuttle. The engineers were saying, no, you should not go ahead with it. This could be dangerous. In fact, we're pretty sure it is going to be dangerous. And then they were not listened to. The management decided that because of economic pressures and PR they had to launch, and we all know that that ended up in a disaster. Here we can see that you definitely need to be able to speak up and be listened to. So another example of a lack of psychological safety would be one that I found in the shops here locally.
As you know, I'm Swiss and we eat Toblerone here and I bought a packet of Toblerone with the wrapping at it, had a competition on it play to win, scan the QR code. I opened the packaging and I ate the Toblerone and then I want to play. And I realized that the tab to open the packaging has gone right through the QR code. Now that meant that I didn't play to win, I didn't participate in the competition. Imagine how much Toblerone must have lost in data on their clients on the market because that's why they do competitions and all of that. Probably because somebody either didn't feel comfortable putting their hand up saying, we have a problem with the packaging and once people have opened the package, they won't be able to scan the QR code and play or possibly they won't listened to. So here is an example of where one loses potential due to probably maybe a lack of psychological safety. I can just imagine if that everybody was feeling very comfortable, somebody would've put their hand up and said, we can't go to market with this packaging. So that's an example of a lack of psychological safety and it's impact that it can have. So back again to the why.

That's a very good explanation. Thank you Cate for that. Actually, we might lose some, you are right. We might lose some good ideas or we might have some very crucial mistakes because we are lacking of psychological safety. So it's really important to speak up and to be listened to in the company. And the psychological safety and its need at first has to be recognized by the highest manager, the CEO of a company. Is there a way to help them or is there a way to put an effort into the topic and help them put an effort into the topic? Because we know that sometimes it is not obvious that a company is liking a safe environment.

And that is the difficult question. We've talked about the why and we've talked about the what those I would say are fairly easy. How do we get this into the company? And indeed it is a culture change. We need definitely need top management. Not only support but drive on this getting the CEO, getting the board, the C-suite on board and fully committed to this. I think that here there is no one size fits all for any company. It is really about how the company functions because each company or organization, which will be on a different part of this journey, and it really is a journey. It's a culture change. So obviously to create a culture change, there needs to be buy-in from the top and to get buy-in from the top. The question one can ask oneself is what's in it for me if I'm in the CEO's shoes, if I'm in somebody C-suites shoes, why would I want psychological safety?
What do I gain out of it? Is this not just simply going to cost the company more and bring no added value when I really actually need to get on with my day job? And here there is a conversation to be had and there are plenty of statistics and plenty of surveys and studies that have been done to prove that psychological safety is absolutely necessary. And I would say particularly in a high reliability, safety critical environment. I would say another point that is very important and probably also even more difficult is when you go one or two layers down, depending on how hierarchical the organization is middle management has targets to meet. They have their work to be done very often under quite a lot of pressure. Are they going to necessarily take the time out to start thinking about this or is it just an add-on and can we then have a team that does this?
And I would argue, no, we have to have people leading this and we probably have to have a team of people supporting and helping the company in the cultural change. But we can't have people just doing it for the company. A little bit like we have accountants in the company, but they're not the ones that actually create the money in the company. They're the ones that support in the finance department and organizing the money, but they don't actually create it. Everybody in the company puts their hand to the task and they are the ones who actually create the the added value of the company. So it's top level commitment and drive and real commitment, not just lip service. So showing that they're putting their money where their mouth is walking the talk. And then we have another challenge and very often top management doesn't know it's not necessarily visible. Very often one reports up what is comfortable to report up saying all the good things and saying, well, look how good we've done. Look how well we've performed which means that there is a layer of invisibility and this requires also some courage and the contributor and the challenge of safety. I would say then in itself to be able to report up and say, well, maybe we need to rethink these things or maybe we need to take a closer look at what is really happening within the teams or within the lower levels in the company.

You answered very nicely about the cultural differences, but what about the generational ones? We have different people in the companies and maybe there are some sort of examples or not rules, but maybe suggestions, how to overcome that.

Well, I think that it's it, it's true of any differences or diversity. Generational is obviously a big one and we come back to the inclusion and the inclusion in the diversity of the company. Getting people to feel that they can contribute and be part of it. Again, there's no one size that fits all. Generally generational differences, cultural differences, seeing things in a different manner. I think that there's a lot to be done around metrics and data collecting metrics, knowing where one is today so that we know where we want to go tomorrow, where we want to be, what does good look like and what is the gap. This can also be done through nudges, suggestions. It doesn't always have to be a big bang. One of the things that I quite enjoy doing, and it's a little bit provocative, is when I write a paper, I write it in the feminine form just to get people to think about things differently.
The pilot, the air traffic controller, she and it changes people's perception. They suddenly have a different idea or a different image in their mind. And these things can help quite a lot. Removing the implicit bias in a certain number of areas in the company. In fact, it should be in all areas in the recruitment process, in the images we send out, these are all nudges that can really help to widen one's perception of the way things should be going. And then it's education. It's a learning journey. It's having the right material, it's creating and having quite a lot of material to support and help people through this journey of understanding why it's so important and what they can do. One of the mistakes I think that we make is also that we tell people they've got to be inclusive. We need I&D in the company, we need to have psychological safety, but we don't tell them.
We don't give them the tools and giving people the tools, role modeling, role playing, there are all sorts of means to do that is also very valuable. It does mean that there needs to be a push from the top. Cause people need to have the time to do this. If they're just told to go and do it on a Friday evening or a Saturday morning, chances are they're not going to. So it requires a whole environment. And most importantly, it's getting the buy-in at all levels and having the conversations. Psychological safety can appear disempowering for a certain level of people particularly with regards to middle management where they've got to let go of a certain number of things they've got to trust quite a lot. Maybe then they're not in that mindset in their management style. That's also very possible, but also they've got to believe that this is going to bring added value even though they can't see the return on investment today it'll be there for tomorrow.

Yes, exactly. You don't see the return next week or right after. It's for a long term. And managers, all sorts of managers, I mean from all the levels have to recognize that. So thank you for the explanation. That was really interesting to hear. Now, you were just recently introduced as the ambassador of diversity in transport which is great and congratulations on that, but also pretty challenging right now for the field was main male dominant for years. What are your expectations in the field in this area and what results are you planning on achieving?

Yes, it was indeed a great honor to be nominated as one of the ambassadors for the diversity and transport initiative and platform. And I'm really, really looking forward to this challenge. It'll be challenging. I'm sure that there's going to be plenty to do. I will be focusing with a group of other ambassadors on the corporate aspects and the organizational aspects of diversity in transport. I'm really, really looking forward to learning, to looking at best practices to seeing how things are done outside the aviation world and other transport areas, but also to leveraging on economies of scale. At the moment, we tend to try and do things in our own company or by ourselves because we don't know what's out there. And I believe that there are a lot of people with some really great ideas that we can all use together. We can also cub together, as it were, to get studies done that would be more specific to the transport industry in general seeing different perspectives.
So again here I think that the diversity because this is across all transport areas, not just aviation, is going to be very, very interesting. And the results that I would like to see is an inclusive and diverse industry where there are no less barriers in the immediate and then no barriers in the future towards being a transport user being a passenger in something, but also within the industry in the organization as being an employee. Ensuring this is fundamental to ensuring that there is sufficient professionals who have the right qualifications and this will ensure sustainability of the whole of transport industry industry across Europe. We can't afford to put barriers in the way of certain underrepresented groups or because we're not even aware of them. And even when we are aware of the issues we really need to embrace everybody and make sure we get the best talent pool for transport. And I would say for aviation, COVID has taught us that it's not that easy to re-recruit people after they've been laid off maybe, and certainly to engage them and keep them when there are other industries that are also very, very interesting and would very much welcome particularly the millennials, the Gen Z the younger generations.

Okay, thank you for that. One of the questions we ask our all guests is, in your opinion is the future of what is the future of psychological safety in working environment in five years and to look even further in 50 years from now?

Very interesting question. I think that five years we're still going to be on a journey. This is a culture change and culture changes take at least a generation to move things forward, if not more. I think it's definitely necessary to start now, get the ball rolling, knowing that in five years we will see progress. I do believe that we will see progress. I see a lot of initiatives at European level at FAB level, particularly in the air traffic, air traffic management industry and also within the companies and the organizations that are around in the aviation world. And this is really, really encouraging because we definitely need it for safety reasons, for innovation reasons, for sustainability reasons. And so five years down the line, we should be better. And yeah, it's important to have metrics to know how much better Are we really better? Is there a trend for, is there an upward trend or not?
In 50 years time, ideally, we would not look at the attributes of someone that they cannot control, whether they're born woman or man or whether they are older or younger. That is just an attribute. But we'll be looking at the people for their competence, for their expertise and what they can bring to the industry and we will be in a fully inclusive environment. That would be my dream. I also firmly believe that the companies and organizations that embrace psychological safety, inclusion, equity, and diversity now are the ones that are going to be thriving and they will be moving the game forward in the coming years.

Cate, thank you very much. This was really interesting to listen to you and thank you for participating in this episode.

Thank you. Thank you Julija. It was great to be invited. Thank you again. Looking forward to hearing it.