When Things Feel Grey, It’s Time To Act
When Sally Croft was told about an experience that her friend's daughter had on her first day in a new job, she was shocked. But it was also a reminder that things in life are not always neatly black or white - they’re grey. In this blog, Sally reflects on the importance of creating a Speak Up culture in the workplace, for when things don’t feel quite right.
Recently a friend messaged me for some advice. So, I invited her over to my house one evening. Her daughter had just started her first job. On day one she’d had an experience in the office that she wasn’t sure about. My friend wanted some clarity about what had happened to her daughter - she couldn’t work out whether it was right or not.
Without going into details, the experience in question concerned an interaction between my friend’s daughter and her boss. When my friend told me about it, I immediately felt uncomfortable. In my mind there was no question - what had occurred was definitely wrong and needed to be reported to the company.
After I’d waved my friend off, I sat on the sofa and reflected on the evening. First, I was shocked by what I’d been told. But secondly, I was reminded that things in life are not always neatly black or white, they’re grey. Grey is that feeling we have when we’re niggled or unsure; we might try and rationalise it’s only something small, it doesn’t really matter. It’s not a big deal. But when we start doing that, it’s a sign. When we start questioning whether something is right or wrong, when it falls into an unclear - grey - area, then it signals that actually, it’s more than likely wrong. Otherwise, why would we have that doubt in the first place?
Why ‘speak up’ is important
Doing the right thing - acting with integrity and ethically - is important at Ericsson. Working with ethical companies is an increasingly important part of our customers’ procurement strategy. And having integrity and purpose at the heart of the organization is more important for employee engagement than ever before. It’s right at the top of the list when employees decide where to work.
So, we place a lot of importance on a speak up culture here for good reason: we want to help make our colleagues feel as comfortable as possible when calling out a behaviour or action that doesn’t feel right.
There are three principles that are at the heart of that culture we’re looking to create:
- Speaking up always helps. When you’re working in a big organization like Ericsson, it can be easy to think that a lone voice can’t make a difference. But you absolutely can. Whether you’ve made a mistake, or you’re concerned about the actions of a colleague, speaking up allows the company to make sure you or your colleague get the best possible help, as quickly as possible. Of course, speaking up doesn’t need to mean that you think someone is deliberately breaking the rules or being dishonest, sometimes people just make mistakes. Being vocal about your concerns is the first step in getting it resolved.
- We don’t tolerate retaliation. This one is particularly important to me. No one will ever be punished, pushed-out or side-lined for trying to do the right thing. Your concerns will be addressed professionally, and you’ll be protected. Guaranteed.
- Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Often, speaking up can be uncomfortable. Humans are social creatures with a natural inclination to avoid conflict and to just get along. But the hard conversations are often the most important ones – and once you voice what’s difficult, relationships usually become stronger, and the environment becomes better for everyone. Silence can often be interpreted as agreement, or at least acceptance. To make the world a better, more inclusive place, we must step into a little discomfort and speak up.
It’s not always black and white
Human behaviour cannot always be easily compartmentalised. There are many cloudy areas to tiptoe around when it comes to making judgements and decisions. Lots of situations don’t fit into a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answer.
That’s why I want to flash a torch onto that greyness - make them clearer so they’re not an obstacle. If you have any doubt at all that something might not be right, you absolutely should raise it. As the story with my friend shows - if you have to think whether it's right or not, it's a sign you need to take action and let someone know about it.
My own daughter has recently started her career. I hope she doesn’t experience any toxicity, bullying, misogynistic, sexist, or unethical behaviour in the workplace. But if she does, I hope she can feel she can speak up about it.
Wouldn’t we want to create that environment for all our daughters and sons? For all those important relationships - whether it’s my daughter or the people in my own team - I would be sad to think anyone is struggling with this on their own. Because you don’t have to: we’ve got your back and will always support you.