When and Why We Speak Up and Speak Out

January 26, 2021

In communications, we talk a lot about what to say. How to be inspirational and succinct. How to be engaging and clear. How to be relatable and future-focused. It’s critically important, and we have resources available to help you find your voice and connect with your people (start here and here).

However, sometimes a bigger question is if you should say anything at all. Again, as communicators, we’re faced with this challenge often. We serve an important role in (attempting) to filter out noise for the organization so that everyone can balance being in the know with blocking out distractions. Yet, in our cultural and political climate, talking to employees about the outside world is getting more complicated and more essential by the day.  

DECIDING When to Speak Up

Throughout 2020, we saw companies speak up publicly about a myriad of issues, including systemic racism, the Black Lives Matter movement, mental health, the contentious election and runoffs, the capitol riots, and more. We also saw companies getting flak for making public statements that didn’t align with internal messaging or practices. How should you decide what issues you need to address with your people?

Here are the two measures I use:  

  • Is it against your organizational values? First and foremost, you can check an event against your organizational values. Using your values as a guide can help you look beyond your personal biases and evaluate situations fairly. If an event or action is vehemently against your values, consider speaking up about the issue internally.  
  • Does it affect your employees? Do you see extra chatter on Slack? Are your ERGs sounding the alarm? Have you been asked about it by trusted colleagues? If something affects your people, even a small percentage of your people, consider addressing it.

When it comes to making a statement, Ben & Jerry’s, long-known for bold statements on a wide range of issues, puts it this way:  

“We do these things not to sell more ice cream but because we care about people and have values. All businesses are collections of people with values; it’s a force that’s always there.” - Matthew mccarthy, ceo

Ben & Jerry’s is an excellent case study in speaking up. We encourage you to check out this interview on Harvard Business Review with the CEO and Head of Global Activism Strategy at Ben & Jerry’s.

Testing our Measures with the Capitol Riots

Now, we recently faced this all-too-common dilemma on Jan. 6, 2021. We’d been outspoken and transparent about the Black Lives Matter movement and anti-racism in the workplace, and we were leaning into our role in fighting systemic racism. We also made a big push in the fall of 2020 to encourage voting among our clients, colleagues, employees, and friends.  

But the capitol riots felt different. While it was predictable, it was also jarring and triggering. Our entire team was vocal on Slack, commenting about the horrors we saw and processing it in real-time. We were shocked and not shocked. Shook and deadened to the dread and unease that the last year has conditioned us for.  

It took a day before our brilliant colleague, Gabriel Galdamez, brought up the idea of saying something. It knocked our internal marketing team out of our haze and into action. We realized the events of Jan. 6 were completely and utterly against our values, and we knew firsthand that our team was deeply affected.  

In short order, we drafted a statement that went out to our employees first, then our brilliant team of partners. Next, we created a note to our entire mailing list, and posted it on our website, along with publishing another post on a related topic. Plus, we continue to discuss it on team calls and through our Slack channels.

We didn’t have a detailed coup-comms plan in place, so our process was a tad clunky. However, we took time to think it through, dug into our feelings, understood our position, and spoke with conviction.


I should say here and now that we weren’t always like this. Sure, we felt strongly about social justice issues – but say something? *GASP* Like many companies we were nervous. Is it our place? Does anyone care what we think? Will it ruffle our clients or our vast team of contractors and vendors – all of whom are critical to our business?  

Over the past few years, we’ve made slow and quiet progress – getting more assured of who we are as a company and what we stand for. And then in the summer of 2020 when many (including myself) were horrified at the blatant examples of systemic racism that flooded our feeds and streams, a horror that no one of color was at all surprised by, we started to unlock our voice.  

Thanks to the exquisite partnership of Dorianne St Fleur, we understood and were able to articulate where we stand. Brilliant Ink is a company that cares deeply about people, so much so that we dedicate our entire business to improving the experiences of those people at work. Yet, caring about people means caring about all facets of them, and it most certainly means fighting systemic racism at work and driving for equity within Brilliant Ink and our clients.  

I’m proud of how we’re responding and showing up for our community, all while continuing to learn and deepen our understanding of different perspectives and experiences. I’m also proud knowing that when an issue so clearly affects our team and violates our values, we plan to raise our voices again.  

For more support as you navigate issues like anti-racism and civic engagement, visit our resources page. Looking for more bite-sized brilliance? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter, the Inkwell, and follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Sara Forner Howland

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