Diversity and Inclusion

How to Build Psychological Safety in Mentoring


Top takeaways: 

  1. Psychological safety is the feeling that there will be no negative consequences from speaking openly, sharing critical information or being vulnerable. It can apply to our personal relationships and at work.
  2. It’s essential in mentoring for creating the right space to learn and grow together, which means taking psychological safety into consideration
  3. You can factor psychological safety into the design of your program by setting clear expectations, providing training, thinking about location and factoring in feedback 

In any relationship, psychological safety and trust are at the core of how and why that relationship works. This is especially true at work and in workplace mentoring. Unfortunately, psychological safety at work is a concept that you’re most likely to come across when you experience a lack of it.

By understanding what it is and how to build it, we can transform our workplaces and mentoring programs. This goes hand in hand with creating inclusive workplaces too, as we need to feel seen, valued and heard to feel included.

Sounds great right? But what is psychological safety in the workplace and how can we build it in mentoring programs?

What is psychological safety in the workplace?

Put simply, psychological safety is the feeling that there will be no negative consequences from speaking openly, sharing critical information or being vulnerable.

In the workplace, this means that employees can freely share their thoughts and ideas without fear of doing harm to their careers. A company or team with good psychological safety is one where everyone feels respected and accepted.

This is particularly important in relationships such as workplace mentoring, in which the purpose is personal growth and development.

When there is a lack of psychological safety, people don’t feel comfortable sharing ideas, expressing themselves or challenging one another. This leads to a loss of innovation and creativity and inhibits learning.

Find out more about embedding mentoring in your HR initiatives with Guider.

What are the benefits of psychological safety at work?

There are wide-ranging benefits to creating psychological safety in your workplace and in your mentoring program. In fact, a multi-year Google study found that the single biggest contributor to successful, high-performing teams was psychological safety.

And this makes sense, given that psychological safety makes people feel included, valued and connected, as well as encouraging people to share ideas openly, which leads to innovation. When we feel valued in our relationships we are much more likely to thrive. This also goes hand in hand with making workplaces more inclusive, as both activities share the same goal.

Further benefits include:

  • Increased confidence
  • Higher levels of trust
  • More room for creativity
  • Increased innovation
  • More engaged and productive teams
  • Improved mental health and lower stress
  • Faster learning and growth

It’s important to remember there are benefits to psychological safety at work for leaders and mentors too! Everyone needs to feel safe to ask questions, try new things and show vulnerability. When this happens, there is more space to build trust and rapport, leading to growth. In leadership, psychological safety is a powerful tool.

In mentoring, psychological safety between the mentor and mentee is essential for creating a space for learning and growth by allowing both parties to feel comfortable sharing and learning. On top of this, mentoring can increase perceptions of workplace psychological safety, making it an invaluable asset to your organisation’s culture.

When people feel psychologically safe in their relationships, the sky is the limit.

What happens when there is a lack of psychological safety?

Unfortunately, many people may have experienced a lack of psychological safety in the workplace, which has lasting impacts on how we feel at work and in new mentorships.

It can lead to:

  • Lack of confidence
  • Inhibited innovation and creativity
  • Culture of fear and blame
  • Stress and poor wellbeing
  • Lack of employee engagement
  • Higher attrition of staff
  • Avoidable mistakes and danger

As you can expect, teams and relationships in which people don’t feel safe to be themselves, share ideas or be vulnerable are detrimental in a number of ways. It can lead to poor morale, employee churn and, in worst cases, employee burnout. This is why it’s important to be aware of creating a culture of psychological safety and pro-actively work to do this.

So, why not implement a mentoring program to increase psychological safety in your workplace? Or factor workplace psychological safety into your existing mentoring program? With some careful consideration, it’s something that you can build into the very fabric of your mentoring experience.

📖‍ Read more on how to start a mentoring programme in our guide 📖

How do I create psychological safety in my mentoring program?

The good news is that you can level up your mentoring program to encourage psychological safety from the start.

Here are our top ways to build psychological safety in your mentoring program:

Set clear expectations

In order to commit to mentoring and open up to learning and growth, participants need to understand the boundaries and expectations of the program.

As a program lead, it’s important to communicate clearly what the aims of the program are, who it’s for, and what’s expected of participants. Make sure everyone is aware that mentoring is a confidential relationship and not related to performance reviews.

Mentoring relies on mentees being more vulnerable, so it’s crucial to remove it from their performance reports and distance it from their line managers, assuring that layer of privacy.” Megan Taljaard, Learning and Development Business Partner at ASOS

If there’s a lack of psychological safety in your organisation, you will need to do some groundwork to build trust in the program before asking people to join. To do this you can; run awareness events on mentoring, trial a pilot program, build up a bank of mentoring champions and identify strong senior leaders to spearhead your program.

Provide training

It’s the responsibility of us all to build psychological safety at work. To support this, you can provide both mentors and mentees with resources and training to help them to understand what psychological safety is and how to build it. If you’re using mentoring software such as Guider, resources such as this are built into our mentoring platform’s learning hub.

You can also encourage learning as a mentoring community. For example, bringing together mentors to swap stories and advice can help them to feel comfortable being vulnerable. Admitting we don’t have all the answers can be hard, but vulnerability is an important step in creating a culture of safety and trust.

Here at Guider, our new Learning Hub includes articles and videos on topics such as creating psychological safety and more. We also run training sessions at strategic points throughout programs from kick-off to close, to teach people how to be good mentors and mentees.

Guider mentoring software banner advert including a smiling woman looking at a screen


Think about location

Incorporating safe spaces for your mentors and mentees to meet is a great way to reinforce confidentiality. While psychological safety comes down to how people interact, it’s important not to forget how our surroundings can affect how we feel.

For some, speaking in a private room feels like the safest way to ensure confidentiality. Yet for others, a crowded coffee shop is the winner. Offering several dedicated spaces for mentoring is essential for allowing participants to build psychological safety together.

Don’t forget that you can also offer virtual mentoring for remote or hybrid workers and global teams to connect from the place that works best for them.

Read our guide to making virtual mentoring work for more.

Ask for Feedback

Admitting that we don’t have all the answers is a powerful tool in leadership and in building psychological safety at work. This starts with program leads too!

Factoring feedback into your mentoring program will keep you on track. It also shows a willingness to be vulnerable and ask others for input. Role modelling this behaviour in the design of your program shows your mentors and mentees that their feedback is valued and that it’s ok to ask for guidance.

It’s also a vital opportunity to assess whether your program participants have the psychological safety they need to grow. Using surveys at the beginning, middle and end of your program, or at regular intervals for an ongoing program, you can check in and make changes as needed.

Cultivating psychological safety in workplace mentoring takes thought and time. In the long term, this can be the single biggest way to ensure the success of your mentoring program and your workplace culture in general. By understanding psychological safety at work and factoring it into the design of your mentoring program, you’ll go a long way toward creating the right environment for your people to make the most of mentoring.

To find out more about how mentoring can supercharge your organisation, book a chat with us today.


Allyship in the Workplace, Inclusive Leadership and Microagressions with Chloë Gillard

The next episode of the Guided podcast is here! 

Join us for a chat packed with key takeaways from the fantastic Chloë Gillard, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging Manager at Version 1.

Chloë shares her insights into allyship, the responsibilities of inclusive leadership and managing microaggressions at work. Stream the latest podcast or catch-up with the series below

Diversity and Inclusion

Inclusion in the Workplace With Guider People Network

On Thursday 8th September, we held our first in-person Guider People Network event; a fireside session on inclusion in the workplace.

Run by our Community Manager, Danika, the event brought together professionals from a wide range of industries to discuss the key challenges, and solutions, to creating true inclusion at work.

It was a fantastic event. We were so impressed by how engaged everyone was and the ideas that came out of the session. To celebrate, we’ve put together the key learnings from our three fantastic speakers’ fireside conversations.

The Speakers

Priyaneet Kainth, Global DE&I Manager at Haleon 

Our first fireside speaker was Priyaneet Kainth who spoke to us about managing inclusion during periods of transition. She is a strong leader in D&I, delivering the global strategy for Haleon that has advocated and influenced change for those with differences, so their voices are heard.

Marcel De Jonghe, D&I Consultant at Capita 

Marcel De Jonghe, CMgr MCMI spoke to us about creating opportunities for groups who previously haven’t had the chance and privilege. Marcel is a D&I Consultant at Capita, who helps to challenge the norms to ensure that all colleagues have a safe space.

Chloë Gillard, Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging Manager at Version 1

Chloë Gillard was our final fireside speaker who spoke on how leaders’ roles are key in advocating for diversity and inclusion. Chloë has been working in the D&I space for about 6 years across various sectors and is passionate about the work she does.

Danika introducing the fireside event in front of a welcome slide

The Event

With a great turnout, we welcomed guests before digging straight into a group exercise. Each group was asked to identify key challenges in workplace inclusion that they face or are passionate about, before identifying what can be done about them and how.

As the groups moved around the tables, it was clear that everyone had plenty to say about the challenges and solutions to creating inclusive workplaces. After a networking break, it was time for the fireside chat with our panel of experts.

Below we share the highlights from each speaker’s presentation:

Priyaneet Kainth on ‘Managing Inclusion During Periods of Transition’

First up, we heard from Priyaneet, a DEI professional that transitioned from advocacy work to a full-time role in DEI. From her own experience she’s learned how to navigate the world as someone living with an invisible disability but it’s not always been easy. This is why she is so passionate about her work in DEI and how she can support others.

She kicked off by sharing that, during periods of transition, the first key point is the importance of getting senior sponsorship.

During her personal journey, Priyaneet volunteered to manage the UK disability network in her organisation. This was fulfilling but challenging as she had to push her own passion to management and get them on board. She now works closely to influence senior leaders and get their buy-in in order to drive inclusion.

Priyaneet also recommended mentoring and coaching as key ways to support inclusion during transitions:

“It’s all based on an individual’s values and beliefs on how you move forwards. Our stories are so different and there’s no right or wrong answer. It’s about being inclusive and not judgemental to understand people’s different perspectives.”

This leads to a wider point: it’s in everyone’s interest to work on inclusion, across departments, particularly when managing transitions it’s important to get buy-in from across the business.

As someone that transitioned herself from activist to DEI professional, she’s learned the importance of self-awareness to the process. You need to understand where you are on your journey and where your values and beliefs lie. This means checking your unconscious bias and prejudice, so that you can put your own feelings aside and focus on what’s right for the company.

“DEI is an enabler for our culture, not an add-on, it’s not a nice to have. It needs to be in the DNA of culture.”

She reminded us that we’re making a culture for future generations. You have to learn your company’s culture and values to drive change, instead of relying on your own. Avoiding emotional exhaustion as a DEI leader is important and a valuable lesson.

Thank you to Priyaneet for sharing your expertise with us in an interesting and insightful talk. 

Marcel De Jonghe on ‘Equity and Privilege’

Marcel’s talk focussed on privilege and how this informs equity. He began by defining privilege and asking us all to think about what areas of privilege we each have.

While conversations around privilege can be uncomfortable, particularly if someone misunderstands the conversation as an attack, he reiterated that understanding your privilege is important for seeing how you can help others.

“Privilege is the birth lottery. There are things which you are given that you haven’t asked for. The best way to explain is that it’s an unearned benefit. Some things we can change over a lifetime but for some we can’t.”

Using the metaphor of a hand that you’ve been dealt, Marcel talked us through examples of the different types of privilege we can have.

A graphic of a selection of cards identifying the different types of privilege: white, religious, gender, heterosexual and socioeconomic

Firstly, he reiterated that white privilege is not an attack, it is a fact that white people have privilege in our society and acknowledging this is not shameful. Similarly, we still live in a predominantly Christian, Anglican country, so there is a religious privilege to following this faith over others. We also know that gender privilege grants development opportunities and affects salary, among other things, meaning being born male is a privilege. There are also heterosexual and socioeconomic privileges, to name a few.

A lack of privilege then perpetuates. So, how can you push through the barriers placed around you and how can you change your cards? Well, that’s where privilege can actually help.

By understanding our own cards, we can use them to help others. Marcel told us to look internally, acknowledge our own privilege and understand that we can use that to empower other people. This is in turn means other people can break through barriers.

So, what do you do with this privilege? 

A graphic of how to pay privilege forwards: introductions, sponsorship, participation, education and elephant.

Thank you Marcel for a fascinating talk – we encourage everyone to take a moment to think about what privilege they have in life, and how to pay it forwards. 

Chloë Gillard on ‘How a Leader’s Role in Advocating is Key in D&I’

Our final speaker of the evening, Chloë Gillard, followed on nicely from Marcel’s talk about privilege and delved into a leader’s role in advocating.

Chloë is a global Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging lead for the tech company, Version 1. Her path into this wasn’t through D&I or tech but she began her career in sport and exercise science and, like many people, ‘fell’ into D&I.

Her first point was just that; D&I shouldn’t be something that’s lumped in with HR or one team, it shouldn’t be a niche that you fall into. It should be driven and filtered down across every team within an organisation.

“We might be the owners of D&I but that doesn’t mean the responsibility lies with just us. It is the responsibility of every single person within an organisation and until that’s the case it is not part of the culture.”

Getting company-wide buy-in on this takes a lot of difficult conversations. She said that a big thing as an advocate in D&I is that we have to understand our own privilege to be able to empower the voices of others.

“If you are a true advocate for D&I, you are not the one doing the talking. You’re the one holding the microphone so that others’ voices can be heard.”

This means that as an ally, you haven’t given yourself that label but it’s given to you through the actions that you are willing to take. Chloë also used the analogy that she is the train driver whose job is to keep the train on track. Her message ties in really well with the other speakers and shows how integral self-awareness and understanding your privilege are in D&I.

She then went on to make three key points:

  • That our role is to change the system, not to ask people to change to fit the system. To get that narrative up to the higher echelons of an organisation is really hard, but when it starts to truly filter into people, that’s when change really happens
  • When you start to understand your own privilege you realise that, to walk in someone else’s shoes, you have to take your own off. That level of self-awareness is needed to understand the work you need to do
  • As a D&I leader, your role is to lead from the back in what’s called servant leadership. It’s also important to understand that not everyone is ready to speak yet, but that when they are, it’s your job to ensure the mechanisms are in place to support them to be heard

Finally, Chloë reminded us that we need to embrace disagreement with empathy. We live in a world filled with unique people and D&I is not just a cherry on top but an essential. By leading with empathy we can create inclusive, psychologically safe workplaces.

Thank you Chloë for an engaging and memorable talk. 

We want to say a big thank you to all of our speakers and everyone that attended the first of many in-person events. Thank you to Danika, our Community Manager, for organising such an interesting event. We hope to see you all again soon!

Want to join us? The GPN is open! If you’re interested in joining a community of like-minded professionals across HR, L&D and D&I, then sign-up today

A banner for the Guider People Network to join the community with three people on it.



Inclusive Hiring, Skills-Based Recruitment and Accessibility with Joseph Williams

Welcome to episode 4 of the Guided podcast.

This week we’re joined by Joseph Williams, Co-Founder & CEO of Clu, the skills based recruitment platform. We dive into why inclusive hiring, skills-based recruitment and accessibility matters.

Joseph shares how current recruitment processes are broken and how businesses need to reframe the way they think about talent. Listen now for key lessons and ideas on collectively improving our workplaces


Representation in Leadership and Gender Equality in the Workplace with Mike Sealy

Episode 3 of Guided has landed! 

This week, Nicola and Danika are joined by Mike Sealy, Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Informa Markets, to talk about representation in leadership and gender equality. We learnt about Mike’s personal experience and passion for the topic, and how he’s seen gender representation in leadership develop over his time in the industry.

Listen and learn with us on Guided, and if you’ve enjoyed the discussion, why not hit subscribe?

Tune into Guided below