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Five Steps Women Can Take to Self-Advocate

Five Steps Women Can Take to Self-Advocate

As I work with women in a diverse range of industry sectors, a common theme emerges. This theme is not unique to seniority, nor levels of service. We can label it as lack of confidence, a reticence to be bold, or a fear of taking risks. It is prevalent amongst many female leaders and is a significant contributor to their own apprehension.

As I conduct focus groups, as well as provide leadership coaching, I work to uncover what is holding women back. This is, of course, a multilayered challenge with not just one contributing variable.

Many of the factors include how women are raised, socialized, and educated, as well as how they confront cultural and organizational barriers. Despite these hurdles, it is imperative to press forward and challenge on all these fronts. Changing each and every one of these paradigms is paramount.

Women are notoriously poor at self-advocacy. The irony is that they excel at advocating on behalf of everyone else. They look after their children, direct reports, and colleagues. Women will go to bat and defend the value and contribution of others who are in their sphere. They actually excel at making a difference in creating better opportunities for those they defend.

Ultimately, women need to get noisier on behalf of themselves. Every woman needs to begin with the premise around a sense of deserving. In other words, self-care equals self-worth.

[Related: You Are Your Best Advocate]

One of my most successful clients explained how she got to where she is in her career. She runs organizations. She is at the top of the house. She stated that she always reached for jobs that she was not on paper qualified for and not the obvious choice.

Competing and throwing her hat in the arena allowed her to argue that her skills were transferable and that she wasn’t hoping to be successful, but that she was going to be successful.

It is imperative for women to have formal training on how to claim their space. This training and messaging should start early as part of the educational system, as well as internal to organizations for every female leader who aspires to more.

Women do acknowledge they hold themselves back. They are reluctant to raise their hands on many fronts. This includes sharing a bold new idea, taking on a new project, asking for a promotion, and negotiating compensation.

Despite having great ideas and valuable diversity of thought, they remain silent or fold their cards prematurely. This is a shame, as the important value of their contribution and place in society is diminished.

So what can women do? Here are some strategies.

[Related: The Power of Being the Only Woman in the Room]

1) Challenge inner thoughts.

Every person is entitled to get ahead or have a piece of the pie. Rather than accepting feelings of self-doubt, challenge these thoughts.

You must recognize that people in the room, or those who are sitting next to you, are not actually more deserving.

2) Intervene early.

Do not wait to be “polite." In business, employees jump in, interrupt, and cut each other off as a regular course of communication. Do not hold back.

3) Assume everything is negotiable.

This means you should not accept what is proposed to you. Most employers expect and see it as a normal course of discourse that you challenge.

This means asking for more on every front. Whether it is responsibilities, profile, mandate, title, or promotion, adopt the perspective that you can and should negotiate.

4) Take risks.

By staying safe, you preserve the status quo. Your leverage is your ability to take risks. If you fail, you will recover.

All women leaders who have been successful have failed. All women leaders who have achieved great things readily acknowledge that these failures were paramount to their success.

5) Align yourself with a power broker.

Find someone in your organization who will commit to challenging you and ensure you are thrown into the deep end. Women’s groups are important to create support and sharing of best practices.

Having a strong sponsor, male or female, means they can partner with you in overcoming your fears and support you in speaking up and getting ahead.

If we start at the very core of why many women do not get to the level they aspire to, it is very much related to self-esteem or a sense of deserving. We can change this by providing the right environment and training to equip women to navigate more effectively.

We are treated by others based on how we present ourselves. When we position ourselves as equally smart, capable, and worthy, we stop granting permission for others to treat us as any less than we deserve.

[Related: Four Easy and Effective Steps to Support the International Women’s Day 2020 “Each for Equal” Theme]

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Cindy Wahler, Ph.D., C.Psych. is a leadership consultant specializing in succession planning and talent management. She can be contacted at cwahler@cindywahler.com.


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