Why we need to self-advocate
Recently, I've had quite a few conversations with women who have been looking for progression to new roles (both within their existing organisations, and outside of them). Whilst trawling through job descriptions and scaring themselves half to death with all of the areas they didn't feel competent at, it became apparent that feelings of discomfort around self advocacy was at the core of the challenge.
What is self advocacy?
Basically, self advocacy is having the ability to speak up for yourself! It's being comfortable with and standing up for what you believe in, your values, and most importantly, how you are represented by yourself and others.
People that self advocate tend to be seeking regular change and improvement in their lives. They'll tend to command more from people and situations (and often, they'll get it....)
Being an advocate for your own decisions and abilities when it comes to your career path is so important, yet it is something that we (typically as women) struggle with. And backing ourselves to move forward with things is something else entirely. You may have heard this statistic before, but research shows that men will scan a job ad and if they are comfortable with 60% of the criteria, they'll apply. Us ladies want to be sure, and so tend to only go forward if we meet ALL of the criteria! 100%...!
Being able to vouch for yourself is so important for many reasons, but I think the one that we often forget when going for internal roles/promotions is that we assume that the person recruiting knows "how good" we are. In the same way that we have built up whatever perspective of them in the time working for the business, we assume they'll know all about us.
Spoiler alert: they don't. In fact, a lot of the time we expect our direct line managers to just "know" how much effort we are putting in without us directly bringing it to their attention. Since we've all been working from home, its nigh on impossible for line managers to get a fair understanding of your true work/life balance. In fact I'll give you an example of this.
Back in my corporate days, I was often guilty of really throwing the extra hours in, doing research over the weekends, and generally going over and above in my role.
Each week my boss didn't seem to acknowledge this, I grew more and more frustrated. Why didn't they appreciate it?
Eventually my attitude must have become (let's say....) more noticeable and my manager asked me if everything was OK.
I was livid. I said, "last week I worked an extra 8 hours, I've invested in all these extra materials to do my job better, and broken my back to hit these deadlines. And NOBODY CARES or has even said THANK YOU.."
Now, I should add that I was in a relatively autonomous and trusted role, "running your own day" was pretty much the norm. My boss seemed quite surprised and thanked me for my diligence and for the extra time, but was a bit confused. "I didn't know you were struggling for time on this. Did anybody ask you to work the extra hours?"
I immediately felt a bit stupid. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to meet this deadline, when the more sensible thing to do would have been to let them know I needed more time, and adjusted my schedule accordingly. He was right, there was no need for me to have worked extra and there I was, getting myself all het up about not being appreciated.
The reason I share this story is to highlight the importance that communication plays in self advocacy. This seems obvious, but without consistently being transparent about the work you do and the effort levels involved, not only does your line manager not necessarily see that, but it's quite easy for you to forget when reflecting a year down the line.
When you know you have got so much potential, but really don't know where to begin in articulating what you bring to the party, it can be so frustrating! As with most things, it won't feel natural straight away. Follow my top tips to help you get started on making a habit of shouting about how great you are!
Tip 1: Get feedback. Ask friends, family and colleagues what your strengths and weaknesses are. It can make you feel a bit vulnerable to open yourself up in this way, but it's so important to get some guidance on these areas to help you grow.
Tip 2: Start practicing. This might sound strange but start practicing saying things out loud such as "I'm a really strong in communicator"or "I'm great at organisation". Pick your best strength so that there is conviction behind the statement. You can start off weaving this into conversations with friends and family, and then try slipping it into a team meeting or more formal conversation at work.
Tip 3: Vocalise your life decisions. If catching up with a friend for coffee, practice stating with intention the direction you wish to go in, and why it is a good fit for you. This is helpful as they will likely be pleased for you and ask further questions. Having a safe platform to showcase your decisive nature is great to help you become accountable with what you wish to achieve.
Tip 4: When considering looking at a new role, before you begin to look at any new job descriptions, get a copy of the job description for your existing role. Seeing your day to day tasks listed in more formal language will help you get used to this so you don't feel overwhelmed. You KNOW you can do these things as you do them every day!
Tip 5: A personal statement or "cover letter" is always a fantastic inclusion when expressing an interest in moving ahead at work. Research what is expected in the new role, and take the time to send a letter talking about which areas you know you excel in, and how you plan to add incremental value once in the role. Sometimes, self advocating in writing can be a lot easier than verbally/in person. If you get invited for an interview following this (likely...) then this should re-enforce your confidence as the interviewer has already been given examples of your talent.
Some of us are lucky enough to have a senior sponsor in the workplace, which is really helpful from a progression perspective. But if this is you, don't rest on your laurels as this person may not always be at the organisation, and neither may you, so learning how to self advocate is a transferrable skill that you can continue to grow throughout your career!
Going for a new role but a bit out of practice with your interview technique? Need some help overcoming confidence blocks or limiting beliefs?
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