Self-advocacy at work is critical to career advancement. Yet, it can be a difficult thing for women to achieve. We were taught to play nice, be humble and let our achievements speak for themselves. But that’s not enough to get ahead at work. Women need to feel safe and supported in order to feel confident enough to speak up and self-promote. In fact, a two-year study at Google found that psychological safety was one of the five key dynamics that set successful teams apart from others. Employees need to feel like they can take risks and share ideas without feeling insecure or embarrassed.
Women are also concerned about how they are viewed when practicing self-advocacy at work. According to a study conducted by Indeed, 73% of the women surveyed expressed fear over how women are perceived when self-promoting. This statistic isn’t surprising, given that several past studies show that assertive women in the workplace experience backlash. Leaders are supposed to be bold and confident. But when women exhibit these traits, they are often viewed negatively. This phenomenon is often referred to as the double bind dilemma and was explored in a study called Managing the Double Bind: Women Directors’ Participation Tactics in the Gendered Boardroom. The research revealed that women are constantly adapting to gendered expectations. Over time, managing these stereotypes is not only exhausting but also creates a no-win situation for women leaders.
If women are going to excel in their careers, they need to feel comfortable self-promoting and asking for what they want. Here are five ways women can embrace self-advocacy at work.
Know your worth
A Pew Research Center analysis confirmed that in 2022 women earned approximately 82% of what men did. To ask for the salary you deserve, you need to know your worth. That means educating yourself. Now that pay transparency laws are being implemented in more states, it should help level the playing field. Check out websites like Payscale.com, Glassdoor.com and Salary.com. Also, talk to friends, colleagues and mentors to understand the salary ranges in your line of work. If you receive a job offer, remember that this is the moment when you have the greatest leverage. Make the most of it.
Before you ask your manager for a pay increase, you need to be able to explain why you deserve one. For example, maybe you’ve been taking on responsibilities beyond your job description. Or perhaps you can highlight how you’ve made the organization more profitable. Sometimes your boss isn’t even aware of everything you’re working on, so it’s a good idea to create a presentation they can share with internal stakeholders. That will make it easier to sell your proposal to the rest of the leadership team. Finally, be specific with your request and explain how you arrived at that number. Your manager will be impressed that you’ve done your homework. Ultimately, the stronger your case, the more likely you’ll achieve a positive outcome.
How you ask for a promotion or pay raise is as important as what you ask for. Rehearse your request and ask friends and colleagues for feedback. Practicing will help you feel prepared and confident. Then schedule a meeting with your boss—preferably in person. In the meeting, tell them the increase or salary figure you’d like and back it up with data. Also, give examples of your work that justify a raise. Then be ready for questions. If you are immediately rejected, ask questions to understand why. You may even want to be prepared to request alternatives like flexible hours or vacation time. If your manager agrees to consider it, wait a week or so. If you haven’t heard anything by then, follow up again.
Focus on respect rather than likeability
Being liked is obviously important. After all, we want to work with people we enjoy being with. However, it can become a problem when you sacrifice respect for likeability. Once you lose the respect of the people you work with, it’s much more difficult to practice self-advocacy at work.
Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?
- You try to please everyone
- You have a hard time saying no to projects
- You remain quiet in meetings in order to avoid conflict
If you find yourself agreeing with co-workers even though you may have a very different viewpoint, you may have people-pleasing tendencies. Unfortunately, when you give up your power at work, it leads to a lack of respect. That’s because when you don’t acknowledge your boundaries, your colleagues follow suit. By establishing healthy boundaries, you’ll be more likely to be considered for the raises and promotions you deserve.
Celebrate your achievements
Self-advocacy at work can feel awkward—especially if you’re not a natural self-promoter. But it’s necessary to get ahead—especially for women. Learning to celebrate your achievements is a skill that takes practice. First, you need to put aside the idea that you’re bragging. Instead, think of it as simply sharing the facts. Then practice self-promotion with people close to you. Once you get comfortable voicing your accomplishments out loud, it will be easier to share them in a team setting.
It can be tricky for women to embrace self-advocacy at work, but not impossible. Simply identify your needs, determine how getting your needs met will benefit the organization and plan your approach. Ultimately, if your company can’t give you what you deserve, it might be time to look elsewhere.