Being trauma informed is more than a buzzword; it is a non-negotiable part of the new world of work, and building a diverse, equitable and inclusive organization.

Why is this topic important to me? Well folks, I, as are many women, a survivor of gender-based violence and complex trauma and have experienced first-hand the impacts of non-trauma-informed institutions, workplaces, and systems, who react, rather than respond.

These experiences fuel my work to build gender equity within organizations.

Drawing on my work in gender equity, sexual violence and harassment prevention and organizational well-being, here are some reflections and tips.

I want to acknowledge that I speak from my experience and work and am not a mental health professional. Many folks can benefit working with a trauma-informed mental health care specialist. I also want to name that this is a complex topic, and these are my emerging reflections to share and hear about your approaches and thoughts.

First thing’s first, let’s normalize speaking about trauma.

Trauma is a normal part of our collective human experience.

According to a WHO Global Study, 70% of people experience a form of trauma in their life. Applying this to the workplace, trauma is incredibly prevalent with your staff.

What is trauma?

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health trauma is:

People can experience trauma responses when there is no longer an imminent threat. An person’s experience of events determines if it is traumatic; what may be traumatic for one may not be for another see: SAMHSA’s Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach

Trauma has three types:

  1. Big “T” trauma refers to a single event or experience.
  2. Cumulative trauma refers to the cumulative impact of a series of “small t’s” or events over time. The cumulative stress effect of cumulative trauma can be comparable to that of a “Big T” (major single event trauma experience). Complex trauma is in this type.
  3. Vicarious trauma. This refers to the stress/trauma reactions triggered when we see or hear about people who are suffering. Our own history, identities, and mental health affect vulnerability to vicarious trauma.

Being trauma-informed, and vicarious trauma is crucial in the context of DEIB; equity champions can experience and relive their own trauma in their work, and are exposed to it daily via social media.

It is also relevant for those working in front line social justice, client -facing work, for example, those working to service survivors of sexual violence and in the development/humanitarian sector. See: Vicarious Trauma Tip Sheet for Sexual Assault Centre Workers, Ending Violence Association of BC.

According to Dr. Bill Howatt in his article Leaders can Facilitate Trauma-Informed Workplaces, employees have varying experiences of trauma, from everyday encounters with racism & sexism, sexual harassment, domestic violence (which increased during COVID-19), or being a newcomer. A dysfunctional workplace can be a source of trauma or re-triggering.

What can Organizations Do?

First, understand a trauma-informed approach, guided by four assumptions, known as the “Four R’s (see: SAMHSA’s Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach)

  • Realize how trauma can affect people
  • Recognize the signs of trauma
  • Respond by having a system which can respond to trauma
  • Resist re-traumatization

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies six guiding principles for a trauma-informed approach: 1) safety; 2) trustworthiness and transparency; 3) peer support; 4) collaboration and mutuality; 5) empowerment, voice, and choice; and 6) cultural, historical, and gender issues.

In her article, We Need Trauma-Informed WorkplacesKatharine Manning simplifies these to (love this simplification, thanks Katherine!):

  • Acknowledgement (“I will be heard”)
  • Support (“I can get the help I need”)
  • Trust (“I will be treated fairly”)

According to Bill Howatt organizations can then develop their own trauma-informed framework, and integrate them into their DEIB, well-being, and human resources work following the above principles.

Tips I offer your workplace include:

1) Establish Emotional Safety: Many of you know I prefer this term – emotions need to be named and respected.

2)  Prioritize Relationships:

3) Build Trust: Be clear and transparent on policies and processes, how they are working (or not) and steps that are being taken to improve them (see: Trauma-informed Principles are for Everyone, Prevent Connect and Workplace Strategies for Mental Health: Trauma in Organizations).

4) Provide for Choice & Collaboration: Bring people into the process of making change and creating policies and ask someone what they need rather than telling them what to do see: the Workplace Strategies for Mental Health Supportive Conversation Library

5) Cultural, Historical & Gender Context: Trauma-informed organizations understand factors associated with risks of vicarious trauma and how trauma relates to oppression, history and identities including gender, race/ethnicity, and sexual orientation and implement measures to address bias, microinequities and discrimination, see:  Western University Centre for Research and Education on Violence against Women and Children Revisiting Vicarious Trauma In Gender-based Violence Work: Opportunities For Fostering Vicarious Resilience & Collective Wellbeing

A emerging focus of my work has been linking gender equity, sexual violence prevention with well-being.

The ALG Building Individual and Collective Well-being Workshop is a tailored interactive workshop to support organizations, particularly those working front line and involved in equity and sexual violence prevention, to empower staff with knowledge, skills, and tools to enhance individual and collective well-being given challenges inherent in their work. It is one of the ALG Foundations Workshops.

If you know me, you know I always aim to facilitate safer spaces for teams to help themselves and that you will have fun in my workshops, while learning about a serious topic (yes, you can do both!)

Reach out to me to book a free needs assessment to tailor this workshop to your team, and check out my other workshops here.

How are you integrating a trauma-informed approach into your DEIB work?

Until we meet, remember….let’s normalize these discussions around trauma, it is something most of us experience, and don’t forget to take care of yourselves, and each other.

This article was also published on my linked in newsletter, which you can subscribe to here!