Safe Space Principles at Wunder – building blocks of inclusion and psychological safety

Published: 10.12.2022
Author: Akira Ahola, Head of Marketing, Zane Ābelīte, Communications and Brand Manager
Categories: Culture
Reading time: 6 min
People outdoors dividing into teams and showing five with fingers

To enable a diverse and inclusive environment for Wunderers, we have created a Safe Space Principles – a set of ground rules on what actions are and what are not OK. In this article, we are revealing all the whys and hows, so keep on reading.

In August 2022, we finally had a chance to organize the WunderCon – our company-wide internal gathering – and bring all Wunderers in one place to strengthen the connections and keep and build up the Wunder spirit. This live event was the highlight of the year for many of us – long-time Wunderers were happy to meet long-time-no-see friends and colleagues and new Wunderers – excited to finally learn what this epic event they had only heard of but never experienced is.

The need and the solution

As in most companies, the past few years were spent working remotely, thus limiting personal contacts to a minimum. Sure, we meet each other online daily, but let’s be honest, meetings online quite differ from the ones taking place on-site. So the question of whether we should have this event online wasn’t even considered – WE REALLY WANTED TO MEET IN PERSON!

And so we started to plan the Wunder-wide gathering in Latvia. But the closer the event came, the more clear it was that after two years of “isolation” and also the world growing more inclusive and diverse, people were not entirely sure how to behave. For example, how to greet others (hugging has been a very common way of greeting at Wunder) and what they could do to make everyone feel welcome and psychologically safe. These concerns made us couscous, and we understood that we wanted to find a solution. If not, the long-awaited event might not be as pleasant as expected. And creating Safe Space Principles would not hurt anyway – many IT companies already have them, and since we also want to walk the talk, creating these principles really made sense.

For over three years, Wunder has had an active Psychological safety group that spreads the knowledge and practices around this topic throughout the whole company. Since the very first level of psychological safety is the feeling of inclusion, the idea of having some guidelines on how to behave, what to expect from others, and what to do if everything does not go as wished has been bubbling under for quite a while already. Their discussions and suggestions on how to overcome communication barriers, cultural (and multiple other kinds of) differences, and other essential matters have made a significant impact on Wunder culture already. Also, the idea of a “Code of Conduct” and “Safe space guidelines” had popped up in this group several times, and the upcoming WunderCon was a valid reason to formulate and implement commonly agreed principles.

Our Talent team together with our DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) Ambassador made the first draft, and the final wording was put together in collaboration with the Psychological Safety Group. The Safe Space Principles and the reasons for having them were introduced to the whole company prior to the WunderCon event. Since it’s highly important that everyone understands why these principles are needed and how to interpret them, the Psychological Safety Group also hosted a discussion and Q&A session for everyone willing to learn or ask more about the topic.

Wunder Safe space principles

So, what are the safe space principles exactly? In short, it is a set of ground rules on what actions are and what isn’t OK to ensure respectful, inclusive, and caring communication among diverse Wunderers. Our five principles are:

1. Respect

Respect the diversity of people. Respect their different views, experiences, and backgrounds. Respect other people’s choices and identities, as well as their personal space and boundaries.

At Wunder, we don’t tolerate any form of racist, sexist, offensive, violent, or threatening behavior and do not tolerate discrimination or harassment.

For your own safety & wellbeing and the safety & wellbeing of others, do not touch anyone without their consent.

For example: when meeting a person (especially for the very first time) IRL, it’s polite to ask whether or not they want to hug vs. just hugging them. And if you prefer some other way of greeting than the proposed hug, offering the alternative in a friendly way, e.g., “Today I feel more like giving a high five,” makes the situation easy and comfortable for everyone.

If someone tells you they are uncomfortable due to your behavior, make a genuine apology, and learn from your mistake.

To err is human; to apologize and accept the apology is civilized.

2. Care

Care about the people around you. Care about how they feel and how your words and actions affect them. In addition to people, care about your surroundings. Take care of yourself, others, and the surrounding environment.

3. Think

We are all unique individuals, so we are not all pleased with the same things. In short, don’t force anyone to do anything. What you find amusing can create a feeling of distress in another person. Joking about minorities that you do not present is disrespectful and lame – we all can do better.

4. Communicate – don’t assume

Be kind, polite, and open. Listen, talk, ask. If you do not know or are not sure, ask. Do not generalize or assume. If anyone asks, do your best to be helpful.

If something bothers you, have the courage to say it out loud – giving feedback is the first step towards change and development. Do your best to promote an open and conversational atmosphere as well as a trustworthy community.

Worthy of keeping in mind that many conflicts ignite from misunderstanding or lack of information. If you feel mistreated or verbally attacked and feel safe enough, it’s recommendable to ask what the other person meant with their message.

5. Do your part, support and stand up for others

Behave in the best possible manner and demand it from others. Do not hesitate to intervene if you see or hear about improper behavior.

Do not hesitate to act, and do not hesitate to ask for help if you feel you need it in the slightest.

Principles put into practice

So WunderCon 2022 was the first event where we applied the new Safe Space Principles. On top of those being introduced to the whole company before the event and posted on the venue wall, we also ensured that there were go-to persons in case someone felt the boundaries were breached or if they had any other issue that made them feel not comfortable – or if someone wanted to discuss or ask anything about the Safe Space Principles as such. Worthy of mentioning that this particular WunderCon gathered the most extensive diversity and the highest number of participants of all time. Based on the feedback from the WunderCon participants, the level of inclusion was higher than ever – for example, persons not drinking alcohol or being in the spectrum of neurodiversity cherished the principles and practicalities that made them feel more included.

Still, the interactions take place not only in events. Interactions are a significant part of our daily routines as collaborative and creative experts, regardless of whether we meet with colleagues and clients on-site or remotely. Instead of just claiming our offices are safe spaces (which of course is way better than doing nothing at all!), we did the same as many other organizations have found highly beneficial – having the Safe Space Principles printed and posted at our offices. This not only reminds everyone that we have them but is a clear signal for everyone on how we expect people to treat each other.

Going through and discussing the Safe Space Principles is also part of our onboarding process. This helps the newcomers adapt to Wunder culture faster and enhances the feeling that at Wunder, the persons representing minorities should have a non-discriminating work environment – and that if someone faces a stressing/discriminating situation, how to act and who to contact.

It is important to state the desired behavior clearly, and it’s at least essential to ensure everyone knows what happens if undesired behavior appears. We as a company are eager to work hard for a higher level of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion – even if we know that with this “project,” there will never be a day when we can say, “This is now totally ready.” But we wish to grow our culture towards being more inclusive and supportive with small yet concrete steps and challenge all other IT companies to do the same.

Do your values match ours? If yes, check out our open positions and drop us a line if you are the expert we have been looking for!

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