How do I speak up at work?

A common question (especially from women and young professionals).

I get asked often: “How do you have, find, use your voice to stand out or make an impact and to shine a light on issues, like sexism, discrimination and others?”
While there are consistent best practices in speaking up, the answer to this question can be affected depends greatly by the details: environment, dynamics of a group, confidence, experience and more. These questions often come from individuals (often women) trying to balance being seen as impactful business people while wanting to press for progress in areas of diversity. Here’s a recent example of a related question that came in through LinkedIn’s #YouAsked series:
“I am a woman in a predominantly male industry. My new company claims they want me to speak up and call them out on their sexism. I've heard this before, and acting upon it has reaped negative reactions in the past. How do women earn respect [without] being labeled combative?” #YouAsked #Equality #MeToo- Laura Slocum, Software Engineer
My answer: These are two separate, but related issues. 
First: Women earning respect and not being labeled combative is a big one in and of itself. By definition, if you are being (perceived as) combative, either you believe you are fighting/pushing something that isn’t welcome or they/others feel what you are saying (or how you are saying it) is unwelcome. Companies should have ‘respect’ as a value as to how people are treated, but on top of that, respect for one’s role, expertise and value is earned through experience, reputation and work over time. My shortest answer is — be authentic to you, the moment and the situation. Act with deep care and clear perspective, and the positive intention should shine through in most scenarios.
Second: How to bring up sexism as requested by the company without negative repercussions. The answer involves several dynamics: your delivery and timing (immediate, done with care, with a goal to correct), the offenders (overt and reckless vs ignorant and unintentional, tribal and rampant vs clearly isolated), recipients of the feedback (open, genuine desire to listen, learn and grow or not, power to affect change or not) and overall company culture (feedback and candor desired, welcomed, expected, overt mission to address that and like issues or widely permitted sexist behavior). Any change in one of these variables would affect my advice — but generally, even if these variables are negative, low or non existent, speak up with respect and with a heart to make a difference.
You have to look yourself in the mirror each day. You don’t want to be a silent observer and certainly not an enabler of sexism. So that leads you to speaking up, even if your environment isn’t ‘ripe’ for it. You can frame the feedback with a reminder of the request to be vocal: “I was just in a situation where I witnessed/heard/saw/experienced exactly what you asked me to call out, and I would be failing the organization (and person, team, etc.) if I didn’t bring this to your attention." I love using that perspective: "I would be failing you if..." Share the facts and offer to be a part of the solution as appropriate. 
A technique I use in any situation that feels sensitive in the moment is to ask myself, "when I look back in 2, 5, 10 years… how do I want to be able to describe how I handled this?"
I let that forward perspective guide my present courage — seems to work every time. 
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