How to Be an Effective Self-Advocate, According to Women in Tech

July 10, 2020

According to a report from Hewlett-Packard, men apply for a job when they meet only 60 percent of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100 percent of them.

While some articles responding to this study have suggested women need more confidence in their abilities, the report’s data speaks for itself: both women and men’s most common reason for not applying to jobs they weren’t 100 percent qualified for was that they didn’t think they would be hired since they didn’t meet the qualifications and didn’t want to waste their time and energy.

What this actually highlights, as pointed out in an insightful HBR article, is that many women might not understand the impact influential relationships, self-advocacy, and even a creative framing of one’s previous work experience can have on one’s ability to get hired. Maybe the most exciting takeaway is that “following the guidelines” doesn’t always pay off. And sometimes, playing the game differently does.

According to women tech professionals across Colorado, effective self-advocacy begins with women understanding and communicating their professional strengths to peers, mentors, leaders, and yes, future employers.

But championing yourself takes time.

“The self-advocacy conversations I had came after building up skills, solidifying relationships and learning the business,” Anne Zelenka, director of engineering at personal growth platform Gloo, said.

And from Amanda Lee, VP of corporate communications at  Pax8, a company that simplifies buying and selling in the cloud: “This did not happen overnight. Over the years, I had built trust and a reputation as a problem-solver and someone willing to put the work in. It is about driving results, following through, and doing what you say you will do.”

 

Amanda Lee
VP of Corporate Communications

Vice President of Corporate Communications Amanda Lee said that before self-advocacy comes finding a role you truly love. Women should experiment with different roles and projects until they find the work they’re passionate about. At Pax8, a company that makes buying and selling in the cloud easier, Lee helped form the corporate communications division and, because of a trusted reputation, was asked to lead it. 

 

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

We should be proud of our achievements and celebrate our wins. It is not only important to celebrate your accomplishments but it is equally important to recognize others for their successes. 

To gain confidence, understanding your workplace values and how you contribute to those in your role is essential. This all starts with ensuring you’re in the right job. I encourage my team members to experiment with different projects in order to discover what they love to do and define their career around that. When I first started out in my career in marketing communications, I was lucky enough to find a mentor who believed in me and taught me about the trade. As a manager, it is my commitment to do the same. 

We should be proud of our achievements and celebrate our wins.

 

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

For a project to succeed, it takes a team. However, it is also important to make sure the projects you’re working on are known by your manager or supervisor. Below are three key pieces of advice to help you navigate the landscape and ensure you are being noticed in the workplace for your efforts.  

Be confident. Share your point of view because it can help the organization. However, be ready to be questioned because your points will be tested. Your confidence can convince others to trust you. 

Invest in yourself. You should think about ways to invest in yourself and your career, including continuing your education. Knowledge is power, it promotes confidence, and it is something no one can take away from you. 

Stay positive. Keep a smile on your face and always take a positive viewpoint. Remember, we are a team—the company’s success is your success.

 

Share an example of a time when self-advocacy paid off.

In working for Pax8 for more than four years, I saw a need for the company to form a corporate communications division. When presenting the idea to leadership, we created a strategy for the new department, goals and objectives, and built a comprehensive plan. Because we took on the project and had the background and experience to run it, being asked to lead the new division was a natural fit. 

But this did not happen overnight. Over the years, I had built trust and a reputation as a problem-solver and someone willing to put the work in. It is about driving results, following through, and doing what you say you will do. 

 

Claire Sunderland
Salesforce Administrator 

Salesforce Administrator Claire Sunderland said women shouldn’t be afraid to leave their job if the workplace doesn’t value them. Sunderland recommends finding a company that offers challenging problems to solve and brings out one’s personal best. After teaching herself Salesforce at Matillion, a company that helps load data into the cloud, Sunderland’s employer empowered her to get her admin certification at Salesforce.

 

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

Against other people’s recommendations, I chose to start my career over from scratch at 26 years old. I applied for over 40 jobs at tech companies and only received interviews at two. But I had just traveled alone through several foreign countries where I didn’t speak the languages. I was confident that I could learn and that I would be a great asset to both companies. I advocated for myself and explained how my unique skill set for both positions would contribute to the companies’ goals. And I got both job offers. 

Since then, I’ve worked very hard, been successful in my career and contributed a lot to the companies I’ve worked for, but I still find myself doubting my accomplishments and abilities. Sometimes it takes someone else telling me what a big accomplishment a project has been to give myself credit for the impact of my work. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have had extraordinary women peers, mentors and leaders that are paving the way for women in tech. They’ve taught me to not only advocate for myself and my own accomplishments but also to do the same for all of the women around me.

Do not be afraid to leave a company and find a new job.

 

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

First, don’t stop fighting for yourself or making those contributions because others aren’t recognizing the value you’re bringing to the company. You owe it to yourself to continue working hard and in the long run, that hard work will absolutely pay off.

Second, don’t be afraid to leave. So many people stay in a workplace that doesn’t value them or their contributions because it’s easier than finding a new job and learning a new company and its processes from scratch. 

Do not be afraid to leave a company and find a new job. There are companies out there that will value your contributions. These are also the companies that are going to take chances on you and will give you the opportunity to learn, grow and thrive in your career.

 

Share an example of a time when self-advocacy paid off. 

Nine months after starting in an entry-level position during my career change, I was promoted to the operations team. While in my role as an ops analyst, I had the opportunity to work a lot with Salesforce and really enjoyed messing around and building things in the software. 

I wanted to move into the role of Salesforce admin and it took months of me learning and advocating for myself before I was given the opportunity. I was entirely self-taught and was able to prove this to my leaders. I have been a certified Salesforce admin for over  2 1/2 years now and have been successful in this role. Through this experience and over the course of my career, I have learned that the skills a person has today don’t really matter. What does matter is a positive attitude, motivation and confidence in your ability to learn. If you have those attributes, you can learn how to do any job.

 

Leah Russell
VP, Experience Design, Product Management

Self-advocacy doesn’t have to be done alone. Vice President of Experience Design and Product Management Leah Russell said she asked for feedback from trusted co-workers on public speaking. She took notes and practiced until her presentation style conveyed confidence. From there, she felt more comfortable speaking up at insurance software company Vertafore.   

 

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

Preparation and practice. A big part of my preparation was asking for feedback from people I respected and trusted and who were able to observe me in meetings. For example, if I was participating in a meeting where I might be concerned about how I came across, I would seek out my trusted observers and ask how they thought I was perceived by the audience. I would ask what they thought I did well, what I could have done better and what I should never do again. I made notes and practiced until I found my style and felt secure that I could strike a balance between confidence and arrogance. 

Make sure that your view of your contributions lines up with how others see you.

 

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

Speak up. Make sure that your view of your contributions lines up with how others see you. If you can, have a quality conversation with your manager where you provide clear, quantifiable examples of what you’ve done and how you feel you have contributed. Discuss if she feels the same or if somehow your expectations and hers are not aligned. Be prepared for those conversations. 

Don’t just say, “I think I’m doing a great job.” Be ready to show how you have done a great job and the impact it has had on her, the team and the company. And be prepared for the feedback that may come out of it. Ideally, the outcome will be beneficial for both of you.

 

Share an example of a time when self-advocacy paid off. 

A great career opportunity came along which required temporary relocation overseas. My boss asked me if there was anyone on my team who I thought was qualified to do the job and I said that I was. She assumed, because I just got married, I didn’t want to do it. 

After taking a few deep breaths to calm myself I said, “ I don’t think my personal life should be a part of this decision.” She took a step back and said, “You’re absolutely right. Would you like to take advantage of it?” 

I said, “yes,” and that temporary assignment changed the entire trajectory of my career. If I had not advocated for myself, my career would have been drastically different. That experience taught me that people can make well-intentioned assumptions and inadvertently make decisions for you that are not necessarily in your best interest. The important thing is to not be afraid to speak up. Don’t be shy.

 

Anne Zelenka
Director of Engineering

Anne Zelenka, director of engineering at personal growth platform Gloo, said professionals should first show how they can benefit their company, rather than seeking to understand how their company benefits them. Her advice to women included building a diverse skill set, creating strong relationships and participating in opportunities.  

 

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

Ample research suggests that when women negotiate or otherwise advocate for themselves, they may be punished or judged harshly in a way that men are not. The fear that women have around advocating for themselves reflects very real bias against women asserting themselves in the workplace, whether in salary negotiations or other career conversations. There is no one right answer for handling this.

That’s because the best way to self-advocate is by focusing on how you can be as valuable as possible to a company, rather than worrying too much about what your employer does for you. The phrase “self-advocacy” makes me think of going to your manager and asking for a raise or promotion. Instead, put your efforts and critical conversations toward how you can have a maximum impact on company outcomes.

My three rules for success are: build a portfolio of useful and unique skills, create strong relationships with co-workers, and be on the lookout for opportunities to contribute in highly valuable ways that promote business goals. The most important conversations you will have will be those in the third area, about how you can contribute.

It’s not enough to simply put out quality work.

 

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

If your contributions are being overlooked, it could be because they are not important enough to the business. It’s not enough to simply put out quality work. You need to identify critical gaps and opportunities and get yourself in a place to be able to contribute there.

At any given company, there is important work that is being left undone. How can you create personal capacity to do critically important work? Do you need to add some new skills? Can you reach out to someone in another part of the organization and collaborate with them? Is there a customer that needs someone to go the extra mile for them right now? Should you move to a different role, possibly even a lesser role for the chance to contribute better? If you figure out how to have an impact on the business, the company will ask what they can do for you.

 

Share an example of a time when self-advocacy paid off. 

I had been working as a software development manager at a small startup in Silicon Valley that fell on hard times. A college friend offered me a job at a very large and successful company and said he would make me a development manager if I wanted, based on my then-role in management. Instead, I took a role as a line-level software developer on a complex, old accounting system. I learned a new programming language. I learned the basics of accounting. I fixed nasty bugs in the software. I built close relationships with the other software developers. After that, I was rapidly promoted three times, shortly thereafter running a product team of 15 when I was just 30 years old. 

The self-advocacy conversations I had came after building up skills, solidifying relationships and learning the business. I could have advocated for the manager-level position when I started, but I instead chose the route of focusing on building up my capacity to contribute, which led to success beyond what I could achieve through negotiation and conversation alone.

 

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