I give a lot of talks about what gets in the way of folks speaking up, and fear always comes up. Fear that no one really wants to hear what we have to say. Fear of being judged by the audience. Fear of damage to one’s reputation. Fear of being the only one who speaks up. Fear of being wrong. Fear is a real silencer for people, especially when they are in some way the only in the room: the only woman, the only Black person, the only gay person, the only one with a visible disability. If there happens to be someone who represents multiple underrepresented identities, like the only Black trans woman in the room – these folks can feel like speaking up for any reason is a risk and opt out entirely. Naturally, humans inherently open up so much more when they are aware they are represented. That is a big part of why a lot of leaders in the equity and inclusion space talk a lot about representation. It is not just that people aren’t getting equitable access and opportunity, it is also that when there isn’t representation, people are fearful of sharing their thoughts and ideas.
In fact there is data from Coqual, formerly the Center for Talent Innovation, that says employees at diverse companies are 75 percent more likely to see their ideas move through the pipeline and make it to the marketplace. Additionally, Coqual determined that respondents that had high belonging scores are far more likely to have senior leaders with whom they have a lot in common, or who serve as role-models for them. Fear isn’t really false evidence appearing real; it is indeed evidenced by data.
That said, fear can be overcome, even when you are the only in your identity in the room. Let’s talk through some considerations to help you overcome the fear of speaking up.
When folks tell me they are afraid, the very first thing I ask them to do is to consider what happens if you say or do nothing. Is anyone hurt by your silence? Who? Does anything change for the better or worse if you speak up? Is your silence worth it? I think it is important to ask these questions of ourselves because fear is such a powerful emotion that if we don’t question it, we simply react without any thoughtfulness about the repercussions.