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A Year-Round Guide to Self-Advocacy

A Year-Round Guide to Self-Advocacy

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Speaking up for yourself is not a once-a-year event, only to be brought up during the performance review cycle. As a matter of fact, that is probably the worst time to start talking about your accomplishments, because it can be lost in all the shuffling and positioning that happen during that time period. Most of your colleagues are tooting their own horns and falling all over themselves to impress the boss.

Women are not great self-promoters. Girls are taught at a young age not to draw attention to themselves. A Women in the Workplace study led by Sheryl Sandberg’s and McKinsey consultancy concluded that women fall short of men in getting their first promotion. And that trend continues as women advance in their careers. There is not just the gender pay gap, but a gender mindset gap.

Think of self-advocacy as a public service. The people around you need to know what you can bring to the table. Why do you exist? What value do you bring to the organization? Your managers should not have to prove your value, which is what most managers do during annual review time.

You have a responsibility to understand and justify your place in the organization. You have a responsibility to yourself and your family to make sure that your value is recognized and rewarded appropriately. Not speaking out does not do you or your organization any favors.

Self-advocacy should go beyond the interview. People have no problem talking about their accomplishments when applying for a job. (Interestingly, an internal Hewlett-Packard study reveals that women apply to jobs that they are 100% qualified, while men go for jobs where they meet only 60% of the qualifications.)

Going after a promotion is just another job interview; you are applying for your next job. It entails impressing upon your manager why you should do more and that you could do more.

[Related: Tips on Asking for a Raise]

First, you need a positive sense of entitlement and healthy dose of confidence.

Entitlement because you have earned it with your hard work, your skill-sets, and your track record. Confidence is not about knowing what you have done, but knowing what you CAN do.

“Confidence is the stuff that turns thoughts into action,” said Richard Petty, psychology professor at Ohio State University, who has spent decades on the subject of confidence (The Confidence Code, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman).

Volunteering for special assignments is also a form of self-advocacy.

It is telling others that you can stretch yourself. This will help you to learn new skills and get special recognition.

Special assignments are a great way to expand your network and work with people outside your normal circle. It also expands your circle of influence, since most special assignments involve change and decision-making. Special assignments will make you stand out.

Get uncomfortable, often.

Leaders must learn to adapt, to change, and to lead people through change. You cannot grow by being afraid of new things. How is this self-advocacy? You have to show people what you are made of, and to do that, you have to go outside of your comfort zone.

The surprising fact about self-advocacy is that you need to recruit other advocates. Your voice is powerful, but add other voices and it is not just a boast, but a referral.

[Related: How to Seize the Driver Seat of Your Career]

Raise your profile among other managers and execs.

“Rank and yank” is not a popular concept, but organizations practice some type of methodology to share the annual merit and bonus pot. If your boss wants to promote or reward you, she will have a stronger case if other managers recognize your value as well.

Other managers are also putting forth their own candidates in the race, and if they do not know who you are, they are likely to support a more well-known contributor. Your manager is just like any other human being. She wants and needs validation from others that you are worth fighting for.

Give credit where it is due.

Chances are your successes came from a team effort. Do not be afraid to recognize your team members. Share the spotlight and your team members will remember you fondly.

Support begets support. It is not just good karma; it is the decent thing to do and is good for overall team morale.

Lastly, know what you are worth.

Update your resume every year, or every six months. I encourage my staff to take the mid-year and annual review cycle to document what they have accomplished and freshen that resume. I know that if they feel confident about themselves and their jobs, they are happier in those jobs.

Do market research on your job in your industry and region. Glassdoor and other career sites allow you to do preliminary market analysis for free. You can even request your manager conduct a market survey through your HR department. Knowing your worth is a confidence booster and also helps your manager advocate for you.

Self-advocacy does not come naturally to some people, as they feel like it's bragging or not being a team player. And it can come across as arrogant or conceited if it is not based in facts and a measure of self-worth. You have to build your credibility and reputation year-round and help others advocate for you.

[Related: Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Visibility in the Workplace]


Trinh Abrell is the Director of Project Delivery at Paysafe Group. She loves getting people to move in the same direction, envision the same goals, and accept or embrace change.

Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.


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Community Discussion
Monica Antohi

Trinh, this is such a great article! I'd love to read more, and maybe work on something together for the magazine?

October 7, 2020