In a workplace, speak-up culture is about how employees perceive the opportunities to - and the consequences of - raising their voice. Without a speak-up climate, organisations will fail to reap the benefits of diversity of thought and perspectives. Ashuman resource(HR) anddiversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) leaders we need to do more to boost the speak-up culture in our organisations.

Jotun was founded in a small Norwegian town in 1926. Today, the paints andcoatings manufacturer isa global market leader with 10, 000 employees and a huge product assortmentin all continents.Norway is among the most egalitarian countries in the world. The power distance in society is low, and this is naturally manifested in the workplace also. We accredit much of our success from a flat organisational structure where two people facing a problem speak directly to each other, independent of reporting lines,and where authority is delegated so that decisions can be made on the lowest level possible. This is so detrimental to our business culture that one of our four values, boldness, is dedicated to behaviour that fosters a speak-up culture.

● Take initiatives to create the future;

● Initiate and nurture change; Communicate openly, honestly and with integrity;

● Be proactive;

● Address difficulties constructively.

Several of our branches are progressing well with regards to diverse representation. The employees also give feedbackwhich makes them  feel appreciated in an inclusive working environment. However, levels of speak-up culture vary, especially in countries where the working environment is far more hierarchical. If this is the country norm, then why is it important to work on challenging this?

The true value of diversity and inclusion is apparent when different voices are heard in the innovation, improvement, and decision-making process. A good climate for expression in the workplace is characterized by a high ceiling for the exchange of opinions. In such a workplace, suggestions, criticism, and other expressions are welcome as a basis for improvement and development.

When employees assess the speak-up climate in their workplace, they ask themselves two questions:

● Is it safe to speak up, or will there be negative repercussions if I speak up about objectionable conditions or suggest improvements?

● Is it useful to speak up? In other words:  will my concerns – my speech – be considered and given a proper assessment?

Further reactions to employees speaking-up can vary based on in-group/out-group and bias. Therefore, it might very well be that although we believe we have a good speak-up culture, this is only applicable to certain groups of employees. If this is the case, and we are not aware of itand working to improve this, then our DEI programs are causing more harm than good.

For this reason, it is paramount that we do not only have key performance indicators (KPI) for quantifiable DEI parameters,e.g., gender balance, generational balance, ethnic representation etc. We must also have KPI regarding inclusion. Without a healthy speak-up culture in our business, many of the great DEI initiatives around us will stumble on the finish line.

"Without a Speak-Up climate organisations will fail to reap the benefits of Diversity of thought and perspectives"

When unpacking the fear, employees report on for speaking up, negative labelling and reduced chance of promotions are the main factors. For a speak-up culture to be authentic, it is important that we make sure that we are walking the talk and discouraging one behaviour while rewarding another behaviour.

So, here are three key steps for DEI leaders who want to boost their organisations’speak-up culture:

1. Measure and map the speak-up culture’s prevalence across the organisation.

There are several ways to do this. In Jotun, we have introduced an Inclusion Index. Here the employees are askedsix questions, where “do you feel safe to voice your opinion without fear of negative repercussions” and “do you trust that your opinion will be taken into consideration”are two of them. The employees score on a Likert scale, making us able to filter the results based on different diversity variables to assess how well speak-up culture is implemented across our organisation.

2. Create good arenas for employee participation

All workplaces should have arenas for participation. Examples of such arenas are meetings with safety representatives, shop stewards or the working environment committee, or staff meetings and employee interviews. Ask yourselves: do the employees and the employer have a conscious relationship with these arenas, and with how they can use them? If the answer is no, it is also not easy to use the participation arenas correctly.

3. Leadership expectations

Trust is an important prerequisite for psychological security. Therefore, managers should also work to build trusting relationships with and among employees.

Managers who wish to contribute to a better climate of expression in their department or organisation should ensure that employees participate in the work processes. Inclusive leadership is one of the most important means through which a leader must improve the climate of expression.

Inclusive managers encourage employees to express opinions, give input and make suggestions, listens to, evaluates, and takes employees' statements seriously before decisions are made.

Managers should be aware of their own behaviour and reactions when employees speak up. The way managers react, regarding both body language and choice of words, affects employees' psychological safety and the likelihood of them speaking up next time.

Diversity is of little use to us if diverse voices are not heard..Employees challenging the status quo in a constructive manner must be viewed as a resource, not a problem.