Paradoxes of Inclusion: An Article Summary from a CAF Member Point of View

As part of the culture change efforts in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and the Department of National Defence (DND), I have appreciated the opportunity to act as host during a series of Inclusive Leadership workshops for our DND/CAF executive cadre. The discussions have been rich and I have been moved by the conviction of our leaders to help enact culture change in our department. Our facilitator, Dr Lise Hebabi, discussed a particularly eye-opening article with us, which was written by Dr. Bernardo Ferdman. The article is called “Paradoxes of Inclusion: Understanding and Managing the Tensions of Diversity and Multiculturalism” (2017). As the paradoxes of inclusion spurred such great discussion in the groups and my own reflections, I share here a summary of the article, along with some CAF context examples to consider.

So, what is inclusion? DND/CAF has used the following definition of an inclusive workplace: “a collective culture in which people feel valued, respected, connected, psychologically safe, involved in decision-making, recognized as having unique characteristics that contribute to organizational success, and empowered to bring their authentic selves to the workplace.” (CPCC, 2021).

According to Ferdman (2017), there are three main paradoxes related to inclusion. He likens a paradox to a tension or challenge between two seemingly contradictory components. Ferdman argues that inclusion is inherently paradoxical. The challenge is not moving from one sole perspective to another, but, instead, managing the tensions that will inevitably arise between two paradoxical perspectives as an organization aims to become more inclusive.

Ferdman’s three paradoxes of inclusion, as I will describe, are: 1) Self-Expression & Identity; 2) Boundaries & Norms; and 3) Safety & Comfort. Note that the images below are taken directly from the Ferdman (2017) article.

The Paradox of Self-Expression & Identity

On the left side of this first paradox, we see the perspective of belonging and absorption, and on the right side, we see distinctiveness and uniqueness. Ferdman states that this paradox is often one of the most salient tensions. On one side, we value assimilation. Members must be absorbed into the greater group and may have to give up or hide some aspects of who they are to be similar to the others and to fit in. The perceived benefit of this is that each member then becomes an equal within the group and receives equal benefits.

On the other side of the coin, everyone can present themselves as unique in their own distinctiveness, without losing any of the benefits of being part of the assimilated whole. Within this perspective, members can present their true authentic selves at work and differing opinions and even dissent should be welcomed.

It is easy, in the CAF context, to identify the left side perspective in how we have historically welcomed our new soldiers during basic military training. An individual walks through the [green] door and exits as part of the collective. This is done through, for example, fresh new short hair cuts, identical uniforms, a new ethos, lingo, and culture learned and integrated. I can recall being told by my military husband, at the outset of my military training, to be “gray”, to keep my head down, and to not become the “lightning rod.” The message was clear: fit in or there would be problems. Being distinct, too different, or *gasp* dissenting (as mentioned in the right box) would surely not have been in my best interest.

The CAF is currently making efforts to create a more inclusive environment. Inclusion, according to Shore et al. (2011), requires a sense of belonging and an ability to show one’s own uniqueness. The tension between these two perspectives will need to continually be managed. Are we a melting pot, where all are assimilated, or are we a mosiac, where we can come together as one while displaying our own uniqueness to the benefit of all? In other words, “To fully belong, I need to be able to keep my separate and distinct identity; for that identity to matter and make a difference to the whole [such as in terms of more diverse perspectives and skills], I need to fully belong” (Ferdman, 2017, p. 248). A great quote to reflect on!

The Paradox of Boundaries & Norms

On the left side of this paradox, related to boundaries and norms, we see that these are stable and well-defined, and on the right side, we see that these as shifting and open. On one side, our norms and boundaries are well-defined, persistent, consistent across contexts, and passed on to newcomers. There is certainly a value in stable and well-defined norms and boundaries as they help us define ourselves as an organization. Such examples in the CAF include the common standards of accepting unlimited liability, respecting the dignity of all persons, submitting to the code of service discipline, and wearing a uniform representing our country.

On the other side, we can see our norms and boundaries as shifting and open to change. What is “normal” (e.g. rules & “the way we’ve always done it”) within the organization can and should change as the population and its requirements change. An example of this in the CAF could be religious accommodations for meals, holidays, and prayer time. In the past, it may not have been the norm to accommodate such things during training. Today, boundaries and norms are shifting in order to meet the religious requirements of members.

Within the CAF, a recent change shows an example of how the organization is working to manage inclusion-related tensions. An update to the CAF Dress Instructions came out in September, 2022 after a re-examination of dress-related norms and boundaries. A FAQ page (GC, 2022) stated that “the appearance of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) has not kept pace with the Canadian society which it serves.” While the CAF is an organization that values stable & well-defined norms and boundaries, this example shows an understanding that as the population of the CAF and of Canada shifts, it is necessary to periodically re-evaluate our norms and boundaries to make sure that they are still representative. New changes allow for more authentic self-expression while in uniform including examples such as allowing for varied hair length, colours, and styles, more freedom with relation to tattoos and jewelry, and providing the options of both male and female uniform pieces to all members or for these to be intermixed.

A common tension arises from opening up the long established boundaries or, one could say, “the way we’ve always done things.” Some may feel that it creates a slippery slope. What will come next? How far will we go? Often, unfortunately, these kinds of fears lead to no changes, no evolution – thus the tension. To summarize the challenge, in terms of norms and boundaries,: “both overboundedness and underboundedness can be a problem for social systems; the challenge is to get it just right” (Ferdman, 2011, p. 253). An enduring and timeless challenge, no doubt!

The Paradox of Safety & Comfort

On the left side of this paradox, related to an environment of safety & comfort, we have comfort & “my way,” and on the right side, we see discomfort & openness to change. On one side, there is the perspective that everyone should be comfortable and accepted exactly as they are, full authenticity should be encouraged, and nobody should ever need to change.

On the other side of this tension, the perspective says that all must accept some discomfort and have an openness to change. Old comfortable patterns of behaviours may need to adjust in order to create an inclusive and safe environment for all.

I can imagine a CAF scenario where a member moves from a certain historical culture where swearing and off-collar jokes have been the norm and where that had become a comfortable way for colleagues to interact. This, of course, may not be comfortable to all. In some situations, one’s “comfort-zone” may offend those around them, potentially in new environments. As Ferdman (2017) points out, our “familiar behaviour and styles may not have the intended results” (p. 257) in other situations or contexts. As we often talk about “bringing your authentic self to the workplace,” in relation to inclusion and psychological safety, we can now see the tension inherent in this paradox. Bringing your “authentic self” to the workplace could have the potential to make others feel unsafe or uneasy. To build inclusion, all members must adapt themselves, as required, and always remember to “incorporate a good dose of mutual responsibility and sensitivity” (p. 257).


According to Ferdman (2017), engaging in inclusion within a diverse population will always involve some level of discomfort. He states that we must learn to be “more comfortable with discomfort” (p. 258) as we open ourselves up to let go of our “certainties” and endeavor to view situations from a new diverse set of vantage points. “When we can recognize, hold, and even welcome the contradictions inherent in inclusion [i.e. the three paradoxes], we should be better equipped to engage and address diversity dynamics” (p. 259).

As an organization, I would suggest, it is not the goal to change perspectives from one side of the paradox to the other. It is to better understand the tensions found in these three paradoxes. We should consider our current state and how we should evolve to better serve and represent our diverse population. We should consider collectively, how far are we willing to evolve and to what end. Do certain contexts, in headquarters versus on operations, affect our responses to these tensions?

I hope I have done justice in reviewing this valuable article on the paradoxes of inclusion. I highly recommend reading this Ferdman (2017) article in full if you are looking to further grow your understanding in this important area.


CPCC Initiating Directive on the Integration of the Measurement of Inclusive Behaviours in the Defence Team, September 2021

Ferdman, B. M. (2017). Paradoxes of Inclusion: Understanding and Managing the Tensions of Diversity and Multiculturalism. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 53(2), 235–263.

Government of Canada. (2022). Changes to the Canadian Forces Dress Instructions: Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Changes to the Canadian Forces Dress Instructions.

Shore, L. M., Randel, A. E., Chung, B. G., Dean, M. A., and Ehrhart, & Singh, G. (2011). Inclusion and diversity in work groups: A review and model for future research. Journal of Management, 37(4), 1262–1289.

Inclusion: a review of the literature from a Canadian Armed Forces member point of view

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA-NC

I have been reading a lot about inclusion and inclusive leadership lately so I thought I would share some of the definitions, concepts, and models that I have reviewed. As it is a vast area of research, this blog article explores merely a select set of resources that I have explored to date.

So, what is inclusion? The Department of National Defence (DND) and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) have used the following definition of an inclusive workplace within the CDS/DM Initiating Directive for Professional Conduct and Culture. It is “a collective culture in which people feel valued, respected, connected, psychologically safe, involved in decision-making, recognized as having unique characteristics that contribute to organizational success, and empowered to bring their authentic selves to the workplace” (CPCC, 2021).

In the newly published CAF Ethos: Trusted to Serve (DND, 2022a), inclusion is identified as one of six military values. It states that inclusion is “essential to creating a sense of belonging and cohesion,” and that it makes, “our military teams stronger” (p. 29). The CAF, “values the knowledge, skills and life experience that each individual brings to the team and needs to maximize this diverse potential through an inclusive culture” (p. 29). It also explicitly states that those who are inclusive will reject and take a “proactive approach to prevent, stop and report” actions related to “racism, sexism, heteronormativity, homophobia, xenophobia or any other form of hateful, discriminatory or hurtful behaviour, conduct or association” (p. 30).

There has been much research on the concepts of inclusion, inclusive leadership, and inclusive climates including the conceptualization of various models, the elaboration of proposed measures of inclusion, and the exploration of variables related to inclusion in various different contexts (e.g. healthcare, military).

Carmeli et al. (2010), for example, measured inclusive leadership based on three facets of leadership: 1) open-mindedness, availability, and 3) accessibility. Various researchers (Shore et al., 2011, Randel et al., 2016, Perry et. al, 2020, Chung et al. 2020) have based their research on a model where belongingness + uniqueness = a sense of inclusion. i.e. I feel like I’m a part of the team + I am able to bring my authentic, unique self to work = feeling included.

“Experiencing inclusion in a group or organization involves being fully part of the whole while retaining a sense of authenticity and uniqueness.” -Ferdman (2010, p. 14)

The US Army did research on inclusion (Brown et al., 2020) and devised a set of measures based on two dimensions: 1) Horizontal Social Inclusion; and 2) Vertical Informational Inclusion. The first dimension included social items such as feeling valued and respected within the team and helping each other out when needed. The second dimension seems to point to the importance of information flow within the military context. It included things such as communications effectively going up and down the Chain of Command and soldiers actively being listened to.

Bernardo Ferdman (2010) is a well-known researcher in the area of inclusion. He, with his research partners, proposed four key elements of inclusion: 1) feeling safe; 2) feeling valued; 3) being involved and engaged in the work group; 4) being embraced for one’s own authentic self. Although more empirical research is still required in these areas, he proposed that a high level of collective environment of inclusion (EOI) + high diversity in the work group + low dispersion of EOI (i.e. that there is a low difference amongst the group in individual’s feeling of inclusion) = the greatest levels of benefits in terms of work performance. In short, if Ferdman and his colleagues are correct: A highly diverse workforce where all employees equally feel a high sense of inclusion will yield the most benefits in terms of increased performance. That sounds like a worthwhile goal to me!

Other research has shown other positive relationships between an inclusion climate and/or inclusive leadership, such as with 1) creativity (innovation) (Carmeli et al., 2010), and 2) workplace/organisational improvements through sharing mistakes (due to the resulting psychological safety) and learning from them together (Nembhand & Edmondson, 2006).

Perry et al. (2020) proposed a conceptual model, based on extensive previous research, that stated that inclusive work climates would positively impact workplace outcomes, at the employee and unit levels, and negatively impact incidences of sexual harassment and other forms of mistreatment. Their conceptual model also proposed that inclusive leaders foster inclusive work environments that experience lower levels of sexual harassment at the individual and work unit levels. Of interest in the military hierarchical context, they state that, “inclusive leadership is a particular type of leadership that is important when status differences exist in the teams” (p. 438). “In order to eliminate sexual harassment, leaders must address both the overt reification of status differentials that harassment seeks to maintain” (p. 438). Leaders can do this through positive role modelling of inclusive behaviours, such as encouraging and valuing everyone’s unique perspectives.

While we work to increase diversity numbers in the CAF, it is important to understand that diversity, in and of itself, is not sufficient to achieve the potential benefits. Inclusion must be a key component in the equation. Diverse opinions, perspectives, skills, talents, and backgrounds are only capitalized upon when members feel safe and welcomed to contribute. Having a seat at the decision-making table is only beneficial if you also have a voice. Research linking diversity to increased workplace performance has been inconclusive on its own because the key mediating effect of inclusion must be taken into consideration.

That is to say, if employees, in all their diversity, 1) feel safe; 2) feel valued; 3) are being involved and engaged in the work group; and are 4) being embraced for their own authentic selves, the benefits of the diverse work force are more likely to materialize (Ferdman, 2010). If a diverse workplace is not led by inclusive leaders and if there is not an inclusive environment, the benefits from diversity will not be realized to the extent that they could be otherwise. Leaders at all levels have to play a role in ensuring our workplaces are, indeed, inclusive.

Members of November Company, 3rd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment (3 RCR) make their way to the live-fire range during the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) exercise in Fort Polk, Louisiana on February 28, 2022,  Please credit: Corporal Sarah Morley, Canadian Armed Forces photo ~ Des membres de la Compagnie November du 3e Bataillon du Royal Canadian Regiment (3 RCR) se dirigent vers le champ de tir réel au cours de l’exercice Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC), à Fort Polk, en Louisiane, le 28 février 2022,  Photo : Caporale Sarah Morley, Forces armées canadiennes
Photo credit: Corporal Sarah Morley, Canadian Armed Forces photo

So, how can you be more inclusive in your own workplace context? Luckily, the CAF and DND have already made efforts to describe inclusive behaviours, in line with our already-existing CAF competencies, outlined in the CAF Competency Dictionary, and in line with the DND/ public service core competencies. A working group, co-chaired by leaders within Chief of Military Personnel (CMP), chief, Professional Conduct & Development (CPCC), and Assistant Deputy Minister (Human Resources – Civilian) (ADM(HR-Civ)), and with input from Level 1 reps, developed two aide-mémoires, one for CAF members (CAF, 2022) and one for DND civilian employees (DND, 2022b). These list the behaviours relevant to inclusion, and provide fulsome lists of tangible things that you can do to increase your inclusive behaviours in your own workplace context.

Some of these great examples include:

  • Become an ally; learn about the challenges that your colleagues face, speak up in your own social circles, and amplify the voices of those who may not feel heard.
  • Ask: Which gender pronoun do you prefer? Asking is a sign of care for the person you are talking to and a way to give them the space to feel comfortable with their identity.(CAF, 2022)
  • Capitalize on the diverse talents that each individual brings to the team.
  • Do not make assumptions about someone’s abilities or preferences based on factors such as age, sex, gender, current job. When in doubt, ask.
  • Be a role model, and remembering that little things matter. Supervisors/leaders need to be seen by subordinates as demonstrating integrity in their day-to-day interactions.
  • Show a genuine interest in the personal life of your colleagues; get to know them, and acknowledge key events (e.g., birthdays, family, accomplishments) in their lives.
  • Avoid giving your own opinion first, so that you don’t sway responses.
  • Be open to feedback and ensure that your subordinates and colleagues feel confident to express themselves without fear of reprisals.
  • Whether chairing a meeting or participating in one, don’t dismiss or disrespect other people’s contributions. Make sure to be welcoming and open to what they say, regardless of whether or not you are in agreement. Instead of dismissing them, use phrases like I see your point, That’s a new perspective for me, or I’ve never thought about it that way.

Working towards building a more inclusive workplace is a collective responsibility and the whole Defence Team will benefit. As stated in the Chief of Defence Staff/Deputy Minister Initiating Directive for Professional Conduct and Culture (DND, 2021), “diversity, inclusion, and equity must be fostered if we are to maximize the Defence Team’s operational effectiveness.” (para. 7). Indeed!

What actions will you take today to be more inclusive and be a good role model exhibiting these behaviours within your team?


Brown, T.A., Ratwani, K.L.., Key-Roberts, M.J., Simmons, M.J., Toumbeva, T.H., & Nishii, L.H. (2020). Contextualizing inclusion: Developing a framework and measure for a military context. Military Psychology, 32:4, 313-328.

Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). (2022). Aide-mémoire on Inclusive Behaviours and the CAF Competency Dictionary. [accessible only on DND internal DWAN]

Carmeli, A., Reiter-Palmon, R., & Ziv, E. (2010). Inclusive leadership and employee involvement in
creative tasks in the workplace: the mediating role of psychological safety. Creativity Research
Journal, 22, 250–260.

Chief, Professional Conduct and Culture (CPCC). (2021). Initiating Directive on the Integration of the Measurement of Inclusive Behaviours in the Defence Team. [accessible only on DND internal DWAN]

Chung, B.G., Ehrhart, K.H., Shore, L.M., Randel, A.E., Dean, M.A& Kedharnath, U. (2020). Work
group inclusion: Test of a scale and model. Group & Organization Management, 45(1), 75-102.

Ferdman, B. M., Avigdor, A., Braun, D., Konkin, J., and Kuzmycz, D. (2010). “Collective experience of inclusion, diversity, and performance in work groups”. RAM, Revista de Administração Mackenzie, Vol. 11 No. 3, pp. 6–26.

National Defence (DND) (2021) CDS/DM Initiating Directive for Professional Conduct and Culture

National Defence (2022a). The CAF Ethos: Trusted to Serve.

National Defence. (2022b). ADM(HR-Civ) Initiating Directive on Inclusion and Performance. Annex A: Inclusive Behaviours. [accessible only on DND internal DWAN]

Nembhard, I. M., & Edmondson, A. C. (2006). Making it safe: The effects of leader inclusiveness andprofessional status on psychological safety and improvement efforts in health care teams. Journalof Organizational Behavior, 27(7), 941–966.

Perry, E.L., Block, C.J., & Noumair, D.A. (2020). Leading in: inclusive leadership, inclusive climates and sexual harassment. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal, 40(4), 430-447.

Randel, A. E., Galvin, B. M., Shore, L. M., Ehrhart, K. H., Chung, B. G., Dean, M. A., & Kedharnath, U.
(2018). Inclusive leadership: Realizing positive outcomes through belongingness and being
valued for uniqueness. Human Resource Management Review, 28(2), 190–203.

Shore, L. M., Randel, A. E., Chung, B. G., Dean, M. A., and Ehrhart, & Singh, G. (2011). Inclusion and
diversity in work groups: A review and model for future research. Journal of Management, 37(4),

Queen Bee Phenomenon: Do Women Tend To Hinder Other Women’s Progress in a Male-Dominated Organization?

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA

I had recently heard about the “Queen Bee Phenomenon” which has been said to be a common occurrence within male-dominated organizations and, having recognized the description of these behaviours through some of my own previous encounters, I thought it would be a good topic to explore and share.

The “Queen Bee Phenomenon” tends to be seen amongst women who pursue individual success, within a male-dominated environment, while adjusting themselves to fit within the male-dominated culture and distancing themselves from other women. To further the description, women who act as “Queen Bees” display three main behaviours to achieve one main goal. They: 1) present themselves as more masculine, emphasizing male stereotypical characteristics and downplaying female stereotypical characteristics; 2) they distance themselves (psychologically & physically) from other women- mainly from the more junior/lower-level women; and 3) they legitimize the current gender hierarchy, all in order to achieve individual success and often at the expense of other women.

It would be too easy to attribute these behaviours merely to the flawed female character. The true reasons for this phenomenon, of course, are much more complex. According to a review of research by Derks, Van Laar, & Ellemers (2016), the Queen Bee Phenomenon is not the main cause of gender equality, rather, the associated behaviours are a consequence of gender discrimination that are triggered by the devaluing of women and the negative stereotypes that women are continually encountering within a workplace dominated by men. This reaction is related to social identity theory, where individuals tend to base their identity partially on their gender. When women are in the minority within the higher ranks/positions of an organization, and when stereotypes see their gender as less able or suited to those roles, women often feel a social identity threat. This threat can lead to individual coping mechanisms which aim to improve upon their work opportunities in a male-dominated organization where career options & advancements for women are limited. These coping mechanisms can include such things as distancing themselves from others in the minority group i.e. other women, and working to assimilate themselves into the higher status group i.e. with men. Queen Bees will often disassociate from junior women, criticizing them, find them less career-focused, committed, or willing to sacrifice for their careers as they may have (e.g., not marrying or having children). These Queen Bees will work to build stereotypical characteristics more in line with male leaders.

I have briefly discussed the first two behaviors of a typical Queen Bee, that is, presenting as more masculine and distancing from other women. What about the third behaviour, then, of legitimizing the current gender hierarchy? Often Queen Bees can legitimize the status quo male-dominated companies/organizations by filling the “token” women seats at the senior level. This allows the organization to state that they have no issue with gender integration or equality and then continue on without any efforts to improve on this front. Since Queen Bees have been successful in their careers, using their often-negative coping mechanisms, they may not perceive the lack of fairness for other women in terms of promotion, available flex-time required for family responsibilities, etc. Research has shown that they are more likely then men to reject things like quota policies to benefit junior women (Rindfleish & Sheridan, 2003).

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY

It must be stated that not all successful women will become Queen Bees or exhibit these characteristics. These responses are mainly triggered within male-dominated organizations where women experience social identity threats due to negative stereotypes and gender discrimination. Some women, on the other hand, in the same workplace situation will be motivated to work harder to support women’s programs and be a mentor/support to junior women. These women are more apt to be those who tend to identify more strongly with their gender at work. It is also important to note that the Queen Bee Phenomenon can also be see within other minority groups which are negatively stereotyped in the workplace. “Self-group distancing” is a term used for this.

Queen Bee behaviours can have a negative effect on women senior leaders, junior women, and on the organization overall. Amongst other effects, women leaders who have distanced themselves from other women in the workplace may miss out on the psychological benefits of identifying with other women who can provide support in relation to gender discrimination. Junior women are negatively effected by missing our on having senior women leaders as mentors, roles models, and as support as they climb the organizational ladder. Junior women may feel disheartened by the inability to relate to and receive support from the Queen Bee leader. Organizations can also be negatively affected by the Queen Bee phenomenon as it may limit their growth in diversity within the highest levels. As Queen Bees show more stereotypical masculine leadership styles, due to trying to assimilate themselves in the male-dominated workplace, and since this phenomenon can often stifle the career of junior women, the organization misses out on the diversity of perspective in leadership roles, which would surely benefit organizational outcomes. This also illustrates how having just several “token” women leaders, who are Queen Bees, can actually be detrimental.

This has been a short overview of the Queen Bee Phenomenon, as I have understood it from reading research on the topic. There is plenty more depth and research to dig into if it interests you, starting perhaps with the references below.

Have you seen these behaviours exhibited around you within a male-dominated workplace? Can you identify them within yourself? Better understanding our own behaviours and what factors can contribute to them is a good step towards change. The Queen Bee Phenomenon, of course, is not just a women’s issue. As this phenomenon is a consequence of gender discrimination and negative stereotypes against women, especially within a male-dominated work environment, and as it can have personal and organizational impacts, it is a workplace concern for us all.


Derks, B., Van Laar, C., & Ellemers, N. (2016). The queen bee phenomenon: Why women leaders distance themselves from junior women. The Leadership Quarterly, 27(3), 456-469.

Queen bees: Do women hinder the progress of other women? (4 Jan, 2018). BBC News.

Rindfleish, J., & Sheridan, A. (2003). No change from within: senior women managers’ response to gendered organizational structures. Women in Management Review.

Psychological Safety in the Workplace

During the past year, in my work context at DND/CAF’s Chief, Professional Conduct and Culture, I have been hearing about, thinking about, learning about, and strategizing about “Inclusion.” What is it? How can we, as a Defence Team, become more inclusive? What behaviours can I practice in my everyday life to make those around me feel more included?

One definition of inclusion that has been used in the DND/CAF is as follows: “a collective culture in which people feel valued, respected, connected, psychologically safe, involved in decision-making, recognized as having unique characteristics that contribute to organizational success, and empowered to bring their authentic selves to the workplace.” (CPCC, 2021)

This is a great vision of a preferred future state for us to work towards, and as I have witnessed over the past year, these efforts are already well underway in DND/CAF. Let’s pull out one term from the definition of inclusion to consider further: “psychological safety.” According to Timothy Clark, psychological safety is the ability to interact with others without fear of negative consequences. In other words, it’s not socially, emotionally, politically, or economically expensive to be yourself.”

As shown in his diagram below, he proposed 4 increasing stages of psychological safety. First, we could feel 1) included, then 2) safe to learn, then 3) safe to contribute, and then, ultimately, 4) safe to challenge the status quo without feel of reprisal or being made to feel embarrassed. As shown in the diagram, this fourth stage is where innovation can take place. What a worthwhile goal when, frankly, we don’t already have all the solutions figured out! When we understand that new, creative, and valuable solutions can come from all levels across a diverse workforce, we start to understand the immense value of what can come from a psychologically safe workplace, in which even the ultimate stage of this model, “challenger safety,” is assured to all individuals- regardless of rank, trade, gender, age, sexual orientation, country of origin, etc.

So, how can we build psychological safety in our workplaces? I will share some brief examples of actions you can take, to grow the four stages, as suggested by Timothy Clark (2020).

#1: To make others feel included: introduce yourself; ask twice as much as you tell; express gratitude and appreciation; ask for feedback and for help; create bonding opportunities; and ask about others’ needs and challenges.

#2: To make others feel safe to learn: make learning collaborative; share what you have been learning, your past mistakes, and your learning goals; de-stigmatize failure (it’s often the most effective way to learn!); ask for feedback and embrace it- regardless of where it comes from.

#3: To make others feel safe to contribute: recognize accomplishments; celebrate small wins; shift from tell to ask; give “stretch” assignments; help others see their strengths; accept bad news; and reward those who take on additional responsibilities.

#4: To make others feel safe to challenge the status quo & innovate: assign the role to someone to dissent/ to challenge a certain course of action i.e. give them license to disagree; model and reward vulnerability; create diverse teams; challenge your own decisions; put a hypothesis on the table; and bring in additional outsider views.

If we wish to advance towards a more inclusive workplace environment that is more welcoming to diverse people with different skills and experiences, we must all make deliberate efforts, both personally and organizationally, towards increasing psychological safety. Whether the context is in a field unit, a hanger, on a ship, in a school, within the HQ cubicle farm, or at home in a video-conference with colleagues, we can all make small behavioural changes, such as those recommended by Clark (2020) above. These types of small efforts can strengthen our teams. On the larger organizational scale, these multiplied efforts can, indeed, lead to advancing towards a more inclusive workplace and the overall cultural transformation so many of us are now seeking.


Clark, T. (2020) The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: Behavioral Guide.

CPCC. (2021). Initiating Directive on the Integration of the Measurement of Inclusive Behaviours in the Defence Team.