How to Self-Advocate With Confidence, According to 6 Women in Tech

July 13, 2020

Too aggressive or too quiet?

In a co-written New York Times column, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant from the Wharton School discuss the “tightrope” women walk in the workplace. If they fall off balance, they might be seen by other coworkers as either of those negative labels.

However, Sandberg and Grant write, when men say the same idea, the judgment doesn’t apply. The “tightrope” is exhausting and leads to fewer women speaking up. 

To change that, women leaders across Boston are actively looking for ways to self-advocate. Promoting oneself may sound intimidating, but it does not need to be a solo mission. Enlisting trusted coworkers and managers for feedback, studying the tactics of admired peers and working with human resources and D&I groups within their companies to enact transparent hiring practices and implicit bias training are just some of the ways the six women leaders we talked to are using their support circle for professional growth.

As these women leaders rise, they said it’s important to use their platform to help support other women. A more balanced leadership team will help eliminate the “tightrope.”  

 

YiYi Liu
Design Research Manager

Design Research Manager at online catering marketplace ezCater YiYi Liu said that, in order to be a leader, women need to actively work on self-advocacy. If she doesn’t know where to start, she observes other self-advocating team members and takes notes. As well, self-advocacy only works if talents are being recognized. Make sure the manager has visibility into your work.

 

How have you gotten past any fears or doubts about advocating for and/or promoting yourself, your accomplishments and your abilities?

Shying away from advocating for yourself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can mean you’re thoughtful and compassionate. To be honest, I still shy away from advocating for myself from time to time because I don’t like attention. But I want to be a leader, so this is something I have been working on. 

I find it easier to advocate for others than for myself, so I advocate for people in my community. By lifting my community, I lift myself.  For example, I’m part of the design research team. When others understand how our team works and talk about what great work we’ve done, my own impact is more visible as well.

Some of the worry and fear around advocating for ourselves isn’t whether to do it, it’s about how. I observe how other people like me do it. Then I start to practice the tactics I’ve learned.   

 

Get your manager or mentor’s help to identify opportunities to share your work with a broader audience.”

What advice do you have for women who may feel like their contributions are being overlooked in the workplace?

You are not alone. Studies show that women tend to stay out of the spotlight at work and their contributions are systematically overlooked.

Make sure your manager has visibility into your work. If they don’t, work with them to find the best way for them to see your work. Get your manager or mentor’s help to identify opportunities to share your work with a broader audience.

Work with human resources or the D&I group in your company to make them aware of this situation, educate leadership at all levels about implicit bias and ensure promotion criteria and processes are clarified and transparent. Getting leadership buy-in is critical. 

 

Share an example of a time when self-advocacy paid off. What did you learn from this experience?

Early in my career I worked in a company where I was the only person in my function. After a year, I wondered how I could get promoted. There were no career conversations, and I had no idea what level I was at, even though I was receiving good feedback from my manager and peers. I wanted to talk to my manager but didn’t know what to ask or how to bring it up. 

I asked people I know in other companies what they would do and did some research online. In my next one-on-one, I asked my manager if we could schedule time for a career conversation so I could learn more about how to progress in the company. A few weeks later, he shared a career ladder and promotion criteria with me. 

 

Quick Tips for Self-Advocacy

  • Gather support. 
  • Know your company’s process and your role. 
  • Lean on your manager. 
  • Speak up. 
  • Be direct. 
  • Be intentional.
  • Write down a list of accomplishments and compliments.
  • Help other women.

 

Jasmine Jackson-Irwin
Senior Enablement Manager

Senior Enablement Manager Jasmine Jackson-Irwin, who works at CircleCI, a continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) platform, said when women see other talented women in the workplace not receiving proper recognition, they should take it upon themselves to have their work recognized by leadership. If women don’t find any support when self-advocating, it might be time to start looking at other companies. 

 

How have you gotten past any fears or doubts about advocating for and/or promoting yourself, your accomplishments and your abilities?

My parents encouraged a strong work ethic in me that pressed me to never shy away from a challenge and to act independently from a very young age. At 18, I moved to Europe alone and became even more aware of how only I could determine the fate of my happiness and success. Working alone in a foreign country, in my non-native language, forced me to become creatively self-sufficient and intrinsically motivated. 

That experience imbued in me a sense of tenacity to take risks and know that sometimes it might result in a different outcome than desired. Every internship, scholarship and job opportunity came from a process of trial and error and knowing that I was the only person who had the power to get me to the next step. No one can know your own lived experience better than you can. We should all feel proud and excited to tell our stories. If we don’t, who will?

 

We should all feel proud and excited to tell our stories. If we don’t, who will?”

What advice do you have for women who may feel like their contributions are being overlooked in the workplace?

Find a new job. I’m only half kidding, but I would encourage anyone struggling in a harmful work environment to develop an exit plan. My advice is less for the woman feeling overlooked but rather the folks working with her. If you see a colleague who routinely delivers high-quality, timely work and goes above and beyond with little recognition, you have an obligation to speak up on their behalf. 

If you have access to leadership, find ways to incorporate your colleague’s work into those discussions. Don’t shy away from asking probing questions that uncover why this person’s work is not centered more frequently. If power structures exist that limit your voice, find ways to partner with that colleague and uplift their voice and work. Let them define what help or assistance they want, and allow them to lead you in determining the best channels to bring greater visibility to their accomplishments. You can hold the megaphone without speaking on their behalf.

 

Share an example of a time when self-advocacy paid off. What did you learn from this experience?

When I relocated to the Bay Area from Boston, I made a pretty major negotiation misstep by underselling my value during salary discussions. A year and a half later, I was unexpectedly laid off from that company and found myself unemployed in the most expensive city in the country. I proceeded to spend the next three months tirelessly interviewing, asking for feedback, and updating and tweaking my resume on a near daily basis. Eventually it worked out; I landed a great opportunity, in a new role, with greater responsibility and a huge bump in compensation. I went into those negotiations clear minded with an understanding of what terms I could and could not negotiate on. 

More importantly, I was candid with my future boss in explaining the environment I had come from and what I needed in my next workplace. I knew that I was not in a position to turn down that opportunity, but I did as much beforehand to ensure that, once an offer was extended, it would be what I wanted. We can only move through those processes aware of our limitations but hyper aware of our strengths, and know that, ultimately, the place where you land is the place where you should be. The tech industry has a long way to go in dismantling the systems within it that require self-promotion as a singular path to success. Until then, we’re all we’ve got.

 

Paola Chadwell
Senior Director, Customer Success Management

Paola Chadwell, a CSM senior director at security company Rapid7, said, from personal experience, it’s uncomfortable for women to negotiate salary. However, candidates will never get more unless they ask. Highlighting specific accomplishments helps with negotiations.

 

How have you gotten past any fears or doubts about advocating for and/or promoting yourself, your accomplishments and your abilities?

Above all else, I'm driven by a passion for my customers, my team and the business. That passion leaves no room for insecurity or self-doubt. In my experience, insecurity and self-doubt have no positive pay-out for anyone. That doesn't mean it's easy. I've had to practice advocating for myself in small ways to keep that muscle strong for when it really counts, when the pay-off is much higher. I look at every day-to-day interaction as an opportunity to build the muscle memory of asking for what I need. And when advocating for myself professionally, I’ve found the most success when I stick to the facts and keep emotions out of the situation. I’ve also been enormously fortunate to have been surrounded by strong women along the way, who gave me the support and inspiration to drive forward every day.

 

Speak up. Be direct. Be intentional.” 

What advice do you have for women who may feel like their contributions are being overlooked in the workplace?

Speak up. Be direct. Be intentional. Seek out specific and direct feedback. Be persistent about highlighting specific accomplishments you are especially proud of, and look at every one-on-one, every hallway conversation and every meeting as an opportunity to build your brand as a competent, talented and imaginative contributor. 

 

Share an example of a time when self-advocacy paid off. What did you learn from this experience?

Everyone knows the uphill battle women face with regard to salary. Once, when considering an offer, I was convinced that the second I asked for more money the company would rescind the offer. But I’d been inspired by the example of a friend who had successfully negotiated a higher offer, and I decided I couldn't let myself get in the way of my own success. The payoff was that I negotiated the salary I deserved and I came into the company from a position of strength. The recruiter even complimented me on my tenacity. She said, “I love it when a woman asks for more!” And that’s been my motto ever since. 

 

Hiral Shah
Lead Technical Consultant

Lead Technical Consultant at healthtech company Perficient Hiral Shah said research and preparation help ensure she is confident for presentations. Teamwork and strong relationships with peers also allow Shah to advocate for herself and grow professionally.

 

How have you gotten past any fears or doubts about advocating for and/or promoting yourself, your accomplishments and your abilities?

There are a few driving forces that help me feel comfortable advocating for myself. My family is a big driving force behind me. Because of them, I feel supported to believe in myself and keep pushing myself forward. I also think about what is in the best interest of my teams and clients. This empowers me to be clear, persistent and to assert myself to deliver high-quality work. Through this type of hard work and dedication, I had the opportunity to present at Sitecore Symposium in 2019, and I am very proud of this accomplishment.

 

Never feel hesitant or diffident in sharing your concerns, opinions or achievements...”

What advice do you have for women who may feel like their contributions are being overlooked in the workplace?

Never feel hesitant or diffident in sharing your concerns, opinions or achievements with your manager and teammates. Try to appreciate your colleagues, and look for ways to make your work more visible. If you are managing a team, it’s important to explain to others the work your team is doing and the efforts you are putting in to make it work. 

Teamwork, self-validation and communicating often with peers helped me to advocate for myself and grow professionally.

 

Share an example of a time when self-advocacy paid off. What did you learn from this experience?

When I’m presenting my work, I’m able to confidently advocate for myself when I’ve done the right research. There were times earlier in my career where I was not able to effectively take a stand for my opinion because I was too shy and introverted to reach out. Later on, I started to collaborate and communicate more with my colleagues. I participated often in professional events to be able to connect with co-workers, and it has really helped me in the long run. I started to feel more confident in myself and my abilities, which helped me grow professionally.

 

Liana Leahy
Senior Product Manager

Senior Product Manager at foodtech company Indigo Liana Leahy said keeping a list of accomplishments and compliments are good ammo for self-advocacy. Before speaking with managers, she writes out a script to make sure she feels confident, calm and knows directly what she wants to ask. 

 

How have you gotten past any fears or doubts about advocating for and/or promoting yourself, your accomplishments and your abilities?

Keeping a list of accomplishments is invaluable. I also keep a list of the compliments I receive. When I have a big ask from my manager coming up, I write out a script and practice it. Sprinkling in what others have said about my work makes what I’ve done feel more legitimate and less like I’m bragging.

 

Make your goals known as you’re reaching for them, and others will help you get there.”

What advice do you have for women who may feel like their contributions are being overlooked in the workplace?

Early in my career, I just waited for others to notice my hard work and guess how I would like to be rewarded for it. I didn’t realize that talking to my managers about my ambitions early would help them visualize me in the project or role or pay grade that I wanted. Don’t wait until you feel you deserve recognition. Make your goals known as you’re reaching for them, and others will help you get there.

 

Share an example of a time when self-advocacy paid off. What did you learn from this experience?

When I’m upset, nervous or worried, I find it difficult to communicate effectively. So I started writing down my feelings first. It helps me organize what I want to say and distill my ideas into a list of possible resolutions to fix an issue. Once I learned to advocate for myself by bringing actionable items to a conversation with calm and focus, I found that folks were willing to see me as a leader who could effectively advocate for a team.

 

Elizabeth Hackenson
Global CIO

Elizabeth Hackenson, Global CIO at energy company Schneider Electric, said praising others has helped her become successful. As well, speaking to managers about projects and keeping them informed on accomplishments helped keep her top of mind when it was time for promotions.

 

How have you gotten past any fears or doubts about advocating for and/or promoting yourself, your accomplishments and your abilities?

Be humble. When discussing accomplishments, my style is to speak about others who have helped me be successful. Routinely I have experienced that good leaders understand your humility and recognize your contributions. 

 

It is important to speak to your manager routinely about what you are working on...” 

What advice do you have for women who may feel like their contributions are being overlooked in the workplace?

It is important to speak to your manager routinely about what you are working on, progress you are making, roadblocks and how you are thinking about risks and mitigations. During these sessions you can discuss accomplishments and include how other team members contributed, including yourself. 

 

Share an example of a time when self-advocacy paid off. What did you learn from this experience?

I have learned that it is better to compliment those who have helped achieve my goals, and in the end, it has paid off.

 

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