Self-Advocacy Pays: Seven Steps to Getting What You Want
This article is part of a series of blogs around the Five Behaviors Standing Between Women Leaders & Greater Success. This article dives deeper into Career Limiting Behavior #1: Avoiding Advocating for What You Need.
Advocacy is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal; the act or process of advocating.” Self-advocacy is the act of applying advocacy to me, myself and I, rather than a cause or organization.
Why advocate for yourself? Only you know what you really want and need. You are your own best advocate. And, cold-hard truth here: If you don't do it, no one else will either.
>> Yet, for many women, self-advocacy is anything but simple. <<
The “whys” behind our hangups around self-advocacy are important, and could also take up well over 10,000 words in this blog alone. A semi-short summary: Like most of the career limiting behaviors that stand between women and greater success, the data says that our early childhood experiences and the norms of our larger society are mostly to blame. For many of today's existing and emerging leaders, gender norms were clear: girls were rewarded for qualities centering around beauty, academics and community, while boys were rewarded and recognized in ways related to competition, including traditional leadership roles and athletics.
Further, there can be very real penalties when women push for what they want. A quick summary from Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: The stereotypes that are associated with men ("providers, decisive, and driven") are also the same traits that are highly correlated with what we deem as "successful" in business in our society. The stereotypes that are attributed to women ("caregivers, sensitive and communal") are highly correlated with family and our broader community.
When a woman begins to lean into the male traits that are more closely correlated with upward success in the business world, the data (and a lot of my own personal and coaching experience) says that women are perceived as not nice, self-serving and much less likable. There can be very real "social penalties" for women if you lean into the very behaviors that are often rewarded in men.
What's more, many of the barriers to gender are so engrained in our current workplaces, that many people don't see the problem. According to the 2017 McKinsey Women in the Workplace study: "nearly 50 percent of men think women are well represented in leadership in companies where only one in ten senior leaders are women."
That leaves us here: Smart, savvy women are forced to walk a tightrope between their authentic self, the skills they need to deploy to “play in the big leagues” and get things done, and society’s need for women to be communal and play nice.
A quick note: No victim narrative meant here. And, I certainly don't mean to imply that I condone the aforementioned current state. We need to work together to improve so many aspects of the modern workplace. So, until there is progress, here is pragmatic advice for navigating the world that is...
What is a woman to do? My advice: Advocate for yourself and follow the steps below to greatly enhance the chances you get what you want and deserve:
Get Clear: Determine exactly what you want and what you are willing to settle for. Do you need more time off, an increase in pay, a new title, a new desk location, or increased work flexibility?
Be very specific about what you want. Define that you want a 10% pay raise, the ability to work from home on Tuesdays, or the title of Vice President of North American Supply Chain. Don't ask for "a pay raise" or "a new title."
Think about what you are willing to accept and any trade-offs you would be willing to consider. For example: Would you take a title change and no raise? Would you take a title change and then a revisit of the raise discussion in 3 months? Would you take a 5% raise and a title change? Do a gut check around the minimum you are willing to accept.
Think about the cost/benefits of each ask. What are you willing to do if you don't get at least your minimum ask? Be honest. You need to know how hard you can hold a line.
Know and document your worth. You need to know what value your bring to your role, team and organization. Take your time here and really build your case.
Take a moment and consider this question: What tangible value do I bring to my role, team and organization? List out successes and wins over the last year, highlighting any projects or initiatives you led or those where you played a significant role. Try to quantify the value what your role has brought to the organization. Make a list of everything and then pick a few of the top projects to highlight (And then keep this list to share at your upcoming annual review).
Do your homework. The more hard data you have, the better.
For best practices in your industry, visit the website of your industry's association or search for recent news articles on the specific topic about which you are advocating.
Consider how your ask will impact your boss, your team and the company. Start with your boss. Think about your boss' needs and possible reactions. Really dive into how your ask will impact your boss, team and organization. Ask yourself these questions to get started:
How will this request impact my boss and team directly and indirectly?
What obstacles will my boss and team face?
What will my boss face when advocating for my request to his/her boss or HR?
What about this request may annoy or irritate my boss or team? (Examples: boss/team may have to do more work if I get an extra week of vacation, boss may have to navigate cumbersome HR policies to make the pay or title change) Then ask: What can I do to mitigate these challenges?
Problem-solve around challenges. What can you do to ensure your boss, team and organization is minimally impacted by this request? (Bosses are busy. The easier you make it on the boss, the more likely it is to get done.)
Understand that the workplace expects you to be communal. A wealth of recent research has found that women benefit when they are seen as communal, rather than self-serving. (I don't make up these crazy rules. I just report on the data.) That is our present world - so use this knowledge to your advantage.
You can do this by phasing your well-researched ask in a way that uses "We" and "Us" language rather than "I" language. A great video that shows you exactly how to do this can be found here.
Do not use threats in your first ask. Be clear about what you want, why it is important and any disappointment you may feel if you don't get what you want - but do not resort to threats.
For your first ask, it is a good idea to be clear that you have a well-thought out request that you are passionate about and will be disappointed if you do not receive your request.
In a communal ask, flexibility on your part will be rewarded. This mean that you should consider going in high for your first ask and then aim to settle on what you really want.
Statements like "If I do not get what I want, I will walk" should be a last resort and avoided in a first meeting.
Put it Together & Practice Your Ask. Pull it all together. A few tips when you craft your request:
Note how you have problem-solved for the challenges your boss/team may encounter (You have are willing to take your requested additional week of vacation during the slow season or are willing to do the work to draft a new job description for the promotion you want.)
Note your research. Bring it with you.
Clearly note the value you bring to the organization. You are awesome! Make sure your boss knows all the aspects of your awesomeness.
Remember tip #4. If you can make your ask into a "win-win" for your boss or the organization - do it.
If you are new to self-advocacy, practice is very, very important (and still a good idea even if you are good at advocating for yourself). Only through practicing can you begin to erode any fear that has firmly entrenched itself in your brain.
Make the Ask & Ask First. You know what you want. Ask for it. Be very clear in what you want and ask for it first.
LeanIn.org cites a stat that people who make the first offer receive an economic outcome that is 30% higher than men or women wait for the employer to make the first offer. So, don't ask for a raise, ask for your specific 10% raise - and then use the data you collected to back up your ask.
Be Clear on Next Steps. If you don't get what you want, be clear on the reasons why and next steps. Define when you will meet to talk again. Be clear on the reasons you boss cited for not meeting your request so that you can address those issues directly in the future (if you cannot in the meeting). Define next steps, roles, responsibilities, and deadlines. And then follow up - as scheduled.
If you are new to self-advocacy, start small. You don't have to walk in tomorrow and ask for a raise and new title. Maybe you can ask to leave early next Friday or request being placed on a new initiative that will grow your skills. Self-advocacy, like all new skills, is a new muscle for most of us and muscles take time to grow and develop.
And, reach out if you want help. We are here to help you thrive!