September 30, 2019
Below is a lesson from Harvard Business Review on why it’s difficult to speak up against a toxic culture, as well as our key learning.
The Blue Courage team is dedicated to continual learning and growth. We have adopted a concept from Simon Sinek’s Start With Why team called “Learn, Share, Grow”. We are constantly finding great articles, videos, and readings that have so much learning. As we learn new and great things, this new knowledge should be shared for everyone to then grow from.
Why It’s So Hard to Speak Up Against a Toxic Culture
By Francesca Gino
Frustrated by the behavior of some men in their workplace, a group of women working at Nike anonymously surveyed other women colleagues a few months ago about their perceptions of sexual harassment and gender discrimination at the company. The results painted a clear picture of a workplace where women often felt marginalized, disrespected, and discriminated against. The survey reached the hands of the company’s CEO. What followed, as covered in the media, has been a serious wave of changes: Top executives at the firm resigned or are on their way out, and bias training and other remedies are being introduced.
The gesture by the Nike workers may seem dramatic, but it was the result of women being ignored by HR as they voiced their concerns. Their experience is not unique. Those working in HR departments have the responsibility to assure that people are treated fairly at work. But they may not give an employee’s complaint the attention it deserves when it is targeted to powerful executives, as a way to protect both the executives and also the company from negative media attention or even from a lawsuit. But as research tells us, an unfortunate consequence of not taking action is that more harassment is likely to take place later on as the perpetrators know they can get away with their behavior.
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- One reason people don’t speak up is the significant risk of doing so. Challenging the status quo threatens people’s status and relationships with supervisors and coworkers, research shows. Speaking up can also result in negative performance evaluation, undesirable job assignments, or even termination.
- The bystander effect: When a person is in trouble, others who are present often fail to intervene, whether because they assume other people will or because they think it’s not their place to act. The more costly intervening would be, the less likely we are to do so.
- When we do speak up when others are being treated unfairly or hurt, we not only demonstrate courage, we also influence others to follow suit. Bravery — can motivate observers to overcome their fear of repercussions.
- We’re especially likely to follow others’ actions when there is ambiguity about the appropriate way to behave.
- We follow suit when people help others or behave generously towards them, especially when we feel similar or close to the people engaging in these behaviors.
- Authenticity — when we encouraged people to be authentic they were more likely than those in a control condition to speak up.
- Silence is pervasive in organizations due to the widely shared belief that speaking up about sensitive issues is futile or even dangerous.
- Organizations need to convey to employees that they will be protected and valued if they share suggestions, opinions, and concerns — and that those who harmed them will face serious consequences. By doing so, leaders can encourage those who are being mistreated to find their voice.