Amplifying Unheard Voices - Towards Inclusive Innovation and Development

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School of Engineering | Doctoral thesis (article-based) | Defence date: 2024-06-19
Degree programme
83 + app. 77
Aalto University publication series DOCTORAL THESES, 126/2024
An increasingly diverse engineering workforce supports innovation and creativity. However, whether diversity translates to improved organisational performance depends on whether employees are able to voice issues and ideas. Voice is conceptualised as employees' ability to speak up and be heard. While much research has been done by industrial relations, human resource management, and organisational behaviour scholars, their different ontological assumptions have made it difficult to integrate the learnings. As such, much is still unknown about how socioorganisational factors influence employee voice, particularly in a more diverse workforce. Building on existing literature, I argue that motivation at work and assessment of voice opportunities are key indicators of employees' resolution to voice or not. Both work motivation and voice opportunity assessment are influenced by collaborative sensemaking and former voicing attempts. In this dissertation, I dive deeper into the nuance and intricacies that influence diverse employees' experiences in creative contexts. Based on semi-structured interviews with 130 designers, engineers, and hospital employees targeting job motivation and voice opportunity assessments, I identify patterns across different contexts that might apply to other contexts worldwide. One study applies an action research approach, teaching design to the hospital employees to shed light on changed perceptions and frames as a result of a participatory design intervention. Each study highlights the highly social context of creativity and innovation, influenced by continuous interactions with people around them. Indeed, my results suggest that both motivation and voice opportunity assessment were influenced by stubborn beliefs present in collaborative sensemaking, disproportionately impacting historically unheard voices. Additionally, spirals of silence might hinder attempts to amplify unheard voices due to ingrained silence as a result of previous failed attempts by employees similar to them. In conclusion, I argue that more attention should be paid to the role of collaborative sensemaking in employee voice in order to leverage diverse voices toward inclusive innovation and development.
Supervising professor
Björklund, Tua, Prof., Aalto University, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Finland; Kocsis, Anita, Prof., Swinburne University of Technology, Australia
diversity and inclusion, inclusive innovation, employee voice
Other note
This doctoral thesis is conducted under a convention for joint supervision of a thesis at Aalto University (Finland) and Swinburne University of Technology (Australia).
  • [Publication 1]: Björklund, T.A., and van der Marel, F. (2019). Meaningful moments at work: frames evoked by in-house and consultancy designers. The Design Journal 22(6), 753-774.
    DOI: 10.1080/14606925.2019.1655179 View at publisher
  • [Publication 2]: van der Marel, F., Björklund, T.A., and Sheppard, S. (2023). Moments that matter: Early-career experiences of diverse engineers on different career pathways. Engineering Studies 16(1), 33–55.
    DOI: 10.1080/19378629.2023.2272791 View at publisher
  • [Publication 3]: van der Marel, F. (submitted). Mind the gap: Comparing desk and frontline employees’ voice tendencies in participatory design.
  • [Publication 4]: van der Marel, F. (2023). How participatory design influences issue framing: a hospital case study. CERN IdeaSquare Journal of Experimental Innovation 7(3): 38-42.
    DOI: 10.23726/cij.2023.1473 View at publisher