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Speaking Up to close inclusion awareness gaps

Updated: Jul 24, 2023

Exclusion in the workplace is very often unintentional. The norms and attitudes in our teams may create an environment where some team members feel othered or inferior. We might fail to tune into or understand the how our words, actions or gestures might impact those around us. And bias may become so ingrained into our processes that do not notice the factors leading to unfair outcomes. But how do we fix something if we don't realise we are getting it wrong?

Speaking up is one of the most effective and impactful ways to close inclusion awareness gaps, but speaking up is something many of us find incredibly difficult to do. Through our work with organisations across industries, we have identified a number of common barriers to speaking up in the workplace:

  • Fear: We are often afraid speaking up will damage relationships or prospects, or lead us to being othered

  • Power dynamics: It can be particularly difficult to challenge senior figures, or those who hold influence

  • Protecting the perpetrator: Some people choose silent because they don't want to embarrass the offender

  • Conflict: If we feel we may encounter defensiveness, our fight or flight response can kick in

  • Someone else will do it: We can justify silence by hoping or assuming someone else will speak up

  • Nothing will change: If we have spoken up before and nothing changed, we may not see the point in doing so again

It takes a great deal of courage to speak up. Here are our tips on some of the different approaches you can take:

  1. Call it out: If you feel safe and empowered to speak up in the moment, this can be a powerful way to intervene if you or a colleague are excluded. It is important to put the person affected by the exclusion at the heart of your approach. If speaking up in the moment might make them feel more vulnerable or draw attention to the situation, while calling it out may feel like the right step, you may want to consider alternative options.

  2. Call it in: Calling it in usually involves having a one to one conversation with the offender after the event. This can create opportunity to have an open dialogue in a safe space, where the offender feels less exposed.

  3. Seek help: If you don't feel safe to have the conversation, or if you feel the feedback may hold more impact or gravity if delivered by someone who holds influence (for instance, the offender's line manager), ask for help. Delegating responsibility is not a sign of weakness, it reflects a considered approach. If the behaviour is serious, you should seek guidance from HR or speak to a manager.

  4. Other ways to help: If you see an uncomfortable situation play out, and you don't feel safe to speak up, there may be other ways you can intervene. Something as simple as changing the subject, or providing the individual with a way to exit an uncomfortable discussion can prevent a difficult situation from escalating.

It is crucial that leaders and managers develop listening skills, and work to foster a psychologically safe environment, where staff feel safe to speak up without the fear of embarrassment or reprisal. To help them to do just that, Inclusive Group offers workshops on Active Listening and Psychological Safety, which equip your people with insights and practical tools to create an inclusive and respectful working environment. If you would like to find out more, please get in touch!

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