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Annabelle Cao: Fostering psychological safety

Annabelle Cao: Fostering psychological safety

Reading time: 11 Minutes

Wearing a yellow outfit for a professional group photo while everyone else is wearing black – if standing out at work seems simple to you, it can be a sign that you work in a diverse and healthy work environment. However, not in all companies individuality and differences are encouraged as a part of a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (short: DEI) strategy. BSH launched the campaign “Nominate Your Diversity Champion” to create visibility for each colleague who fosters these values as part of their daily occupation. Today, we present the interview with one of our nominees, Annabelle Cao, Head of Human Resources Greater China, about the importance of psychological safety for our teams.

1. How do you feel about being nominated as Diversity Champion and what does the nomination mean to you?
It is wonderful to have the honor, and I am eager and passionate to do even more. Personally, I am a firm believer of DEI and convinced that DEI plays a huge role in organization development and business success. I am more than willing to advocate it within a much larger community to maximize the impact.

2. How would you define Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI)? 
DEI is an integral part of culture which means that the employees of the company or organization enjoy high psychological safety to give full play to individual strengths, make their voices heard and be their best. 

3.Do you want to share your personal motivation for pushing DEI at your workplace?
Looking back to the days when I was born and grew up, many families set clear targets for their kids, and instructed them step by step. Thanks to my grandpa, a dedicated educator, I was granted freedom and authority to the full extent, benefiting from grandpa’s distinctive parenting methodology. As a child, I had the authority to decide on learning, majors, development opportunities and other things based on my strengths and inclination. Gradually, I grew up to be confident and was adept at discovering my strengths and potential. My childhood experience made me feel inclined to DEI, this is the first touch point. What’s more, during my past working experience, I have ever worked with quite a few DEI-embracing business leaders and I am greatly inspired, and obtain diverse development chances in the process. Therefore, it is a pleasure for me to advocate DEI in a much larger community and pass on its magic impact.

4. What was your first impression concerning DEI at the workplace when you started working at BSH one year ago?
It is impressive to see that BSH is really supporting DEI, which is in essence the foundation of BSH’s values. However, there are still opportunities to do more to boost the seed of DEI to take root and sprout in every single business unit, organization, country and even region. 

5. You actively promoted DEI activities right from the start of your employment. Can you please give us a few examples?
Early in my career, I have taken on roles like HR Business Partner and talent acquisition, much of it is to support business heads set up teams including startup teams. Interestingly, I noticed that managers tend to offer jobs to people they have something in common with, such as the same graduation university, similar working experience or others. From then on, I consciously suggested to managers hiring different talents so that the team members can be more diverse in graduation university, experience, gender and others. More importantly, we encourage and cherish different voices. As a result, we can find a galaxy of talents stand out and blossom within the organization. This was a good trial of DEI in my early career. Furthermore, I firmly believe that we should utilize our strengths in working, and I myself am a good example. I am good at leveraging personal strengths, and in my team, I can easily dig out individual’s strengths and leverage various strengths in the team set up. DEI is far from merely being about gender, internationality, age and related issues, it is respecting the uniqueness of every single individual. DEI has the magic power to highlight and integrate individual’s strengths and uniqueness. In addition, I hope to drive job rotation mechanisms to help employees discover themselves in various areas and obtain more diverse perspectives, so that cross-functional collaboration and exchange can be more smooth and barrier-free.

6.  At your session in the BSH Diversity Week, you shared a personal story about the importance of being oneself and appreciating differences. Can you please explain it a bit?
The story was about how I was encouraged to be myself in my earlier career: around 10 years ago, I wore a yellow outfit for a group photo when our global CEO was visiting China, while everyone else was wearing a black suit. I thought that it is better to wear black to fit in and so, I went back to my office and changed for the group photo, but the global CEO came to me after the photo and encouraged me to show my true self instead of sticking to the same pattern as others. The deeper meaning behind is that I can be myself in a psychologically safe environment. Everyone is unique, having totally different life experiences, hobbies, and strengths. If we hope to unleash their full potential, then we have to provide an environment where they are at ease, so that they can feel free to express their own voices and differences. People tend to have the same opinion after working together for a long time. To avoid group thinking, we need to foster psychological safety to encourage people to say something different, make different decisions and then become courageous and willing to take risks. This is in essence what lies behind the story.

7.  What do you think is the biggest challenge of fostering the incorporation of DEI?
Making everyone understand what DEI truly means to them and the “Why”, this is the biggest challenge. Regarding DEI, most employees think DEI is a broad topic and are at loss what to contribute. In fact, everyone can make a difference. If everyone can voice different opinions, be their true self and understand that it is good that everybody is different, then we will become more tolerant, inclusive and forward-looking, and the culture of DEI can make a well-grounded impact on actual practice. 

Besides, there exists another challenge that we have around us: a small group of employees who believe DEI is HR’s or management‘s responsibility and company requirement. Actually, DEI is penetrating everyone’s daily life and behaviors, namely, say what you want, share your unique experience and thought, unleash your uniqueness, think on the stand of business partner, try doing things that you may have hesitated before, and are willing to rotate to other value streams, to experience different tasks and challenges. These are all the practices of DEI, and what we can do to contribute.

8. DEI has many dimensions – we know that you focused a lot on gender, national and generational diversity. From your experience, which aspects of DEI are the most progressive?
In BSH China, we have done a good job in the diversity of gender, nationality and generation. In Region Greater China, female leaders are never lacking opportunities and platform because of the social structure and our focus on females. Regarding the diversity of generation, we are also leading as we have fresh blood like the post-00s as well as experienced veterans of the post 50s, all of them have their peculiar platform and blossom within the organization.

Concerning DEI, if there is something that is easily overlooked and needs improvement, I think it is in leadership level. We can do more to enable managers to help employees discover their strengths, so as to leverage organizational effectiveness and build a high-performing team. Currently, we focus more on employees‘ experiences and competences, while employees‘ strengths mean infinite potential and possibilities. Sometimes, we can find the same team delivers quite different performances under the management of different leaders. Why? The deciding factor, I believe, lies in the leader, whether they respect the team’s differences, know how to make the best of them to unleash every member’s potential and then make up team strengths. This truly counts.  

9.  If a person wants to start fostering DEI at the workplace but does not know where to start – do you have any tips for first actions?
Let me share with you an easy trial. Most employees tend to have lunch with familiar peers. I have a habit that every week I will have lunch with at least two colleagues whom I rarely know  or cooperate. Therefore, my tip is maybe we can start by having lunch or exchanges with colleagues from different backgrounds or value streams and make it the first DEI attempt.

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BSH Hausgeräte GmbH, with a total turnover of some EUR 15.6 billion and 62,000 employees in 2022, is a global leader in the home appliance industry. The company’s brand portfolio includes eleven well-known appliance brands like Bosch, Siemens, Gaggenau and Neff as well as the ecosystem brand Home Connect and service brands like Kitchen Stories. BSH produces at 40 factories and is represented in some 50 countries. BSH is a Bosch Group company.