People speaking up about a hairy issue is absolutely crucial for your business, for communities and for society. Because you want to know what really really goes on, and because you want to have the kind of place where people feel comfortable to speak up when something is not going right. Speaking up can feel very scary, you feel very vulnerable and you won’t be able to take it back once it is out. Having people in your corner and having role models creates a supportive culture that makes this easier.
For leaders and really any decent human regardless of job title or position on an org chart, this is a strong invitation to show up. Stand for something. Think: If I didn’t tell people what my values are, would they be able to guess from working with me? And when critical situations or big public discussions happen that test your values, speak to your team. Don’t be the last one to take a stand. On that note, hiding also counts taking a stand (just a lot less dignified). If speaking up feels scary, practice by starting small and expanding your comfort zone from there. This might never get to the point of feeling comfortable – don’t let that be an excuse.
Also, in most cases, this might not be not about you. Try to picture what an event might mean for members of your team that might not be your demographic and show empathy or ask how they are and if they need anything. It’s OK if it comes out a bit clumsy if you don’t know how to best bring it up or need help with terminology, pronouns and the like. If your intention is genuine it still works. It’s these open communication lines and the willingness to then do something about what gets raised (or hinted at) that make you a successful ally. There is something about you showing vulnerability that is going to allow everyone else to step up and show theirs.
Your team will experience you as being real and helpful (because you are) and that and will make your team feel safe. This also applies to you, you will start being in the loop what is actually going on. If you have strength, power, privilege, wisdom, connections or anything else useful to the cause, this is a good time to use it for something bigger. The amount of courage and relief this gives to somebody having a hard time is beyond what you might imagine. This can literally save lives.
(written October 2017, updated March 2021)