self advocate

During a coaching session today, my client set a goal to be better at self-promotion. After we explored the term, we determined ‘self-advocacy’ would be a better description. We’re not talking about narcissistic behavior and proclaiming our greatness everywhere. We’re talking about “the ability to speak up for yourself and the things that are important to you”. Our definition included:

“ Selfadvocacy means you’re able to ask for what you need and want, offer your expertise honestly and authentically, and share your thoughts, feelings, experience and accomplishments without feeling superior or inferior .”

Many women have a problem with speaking up, speaking out, being seen, and being recognized for what they’ve achieved. One reason is that women tend to give credit to those that have helped them and members of their team, rather than take credit personally.

In 5 Reasons Women Leaders Need to Give Themselves More Credit, they refer to studies highlighting this practice:

“We’re becoming mind-numbingly familiar with study after study that highlights two facts about women in business:

  1. Companies with more women in leadership do better
  2. Women (in nearly every scenario) give themselves and receive less credit for their achievements than men do.”

How do we change that?

We need to make a cultural change in the area of women’s self-advocacy. A successful change in culture would include the expectation that every woman would be both heard and respected for her input, her accomplishments, her advice, and her opinions, regardless of her role in the organization. And every woman would view her accomplishments as a normal thing to share, much like we share success stories when mentoring someone. We don’t need to scream it from a mountain. We DO need to find more opportunities to work it into the conversation in a relatable way. Here are 5 ideas.

  1. Focus on being more visible.

Speak up at meetings, and share your ideas. Show up at those after-work events. Take any opportunity to speak or present. You HAVE to speak and be seen.  There’s no way around it. Be authentic. Make sure when you speak, you’re adding value to the discussion, but be yourself as well. If you’re spending too much time trying to be someone that you’re not in order to fit into your culture, then you are in the wrong workplace.

self-advocacyWork your self-advocacy into your language and conversations. Relate to people in a real way. What I mean here is to look for ways to share stories that are relevant to the topic, and where others can identify with you or someone in the story. I once shared a story about my lack of work/life balance involving my son, Halloween candy, and the Emergency Squad. No worries—he’s fine. But the story gave everyone something to relate to, and I was able to work in some information that increased my credibility. It was natural, not self-promoting, yet advocated for my experience and expertise.

Now it also can’t all be about us. Your speaking or storytelling has to first and foremost be valuable to your audience. Otherwise, it’s just noise—or real self-promotion.

  1. It’s OK to take credit for your work!

Yes, there was a team, and you’re not taking anything away from them. Admit your role in the success. They can each take credit for theirs as well.You just don’t need to blow their horn, when you should be playing yours.

This isn’t an either/or situation. It’s a BOTH/AND situation. You may have the belief that if you take credit, others won’t get any. You can change that paradigm. You can take credit, AND others can take credit as well—-each where it is well deserved. You DON’T need to hide the credit because there was a team.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you steal credit from others, or never acknowledge the contributions of others. Do that when and where it’s appropriate. But never minimize your contribution. Stand tall in it instead.

  1. Use your annual review meetings to your advantage.

Toot your horn LOUD! You’re talking about your accomplishments, right? It’s the one time when you CAN freely talk about them. It’s a safe space during the year when you are expected to BRAG. So bring it on. Do your best. Be as bold and as arrogant as you can be when you’re writing your first draft of accomplishments.  Then go back and see how it sounds.  Is it really arrogant?  Chances are you aren’t even close.

  1. Act as if.

self-advocacyThink of a time in your career or life, when you were sure of yourself, proud, and confident. Perhaps you won an award, were recognized for something, achieved a stretch goal, or married the love of your life. Remember how that felt. Take yourself back to that moment and feel it. This is the memory, energy, and presence you need to take with you each time you attend a meeting, present to a group, or are in any position that may require you to advocate for yourself.

Along with that feeling, ensure your posture is straight and tall, and you fill your space properly. No one sees confidence in anyone standing with their feet together, hands folded in front and slouched shoulders, appearing as small as possible.  Fill your space. Stand tall, shoulders back, feet naturally apart and arms comfortably at your sides. Act as if everything you say matters. If you believe it, others will too.

  1. Ask for help.

Think of one person that you trust completely, who will be completely honest with you, and is supportive of your success. Tell them you are committed to being a strong self-advocate and you’d like their help. Ask them to be an observer of your behavior and look for instances where you should have spoken up, you could have inserted yourself and provided value, where you could have tooted your own horn while benefitting others. Ask them to provide you that feedback so you can continuously raise your awareness and change your behavior.

BONUS: Praise those women who have found their voice and stood in their own self-advocacy. Recognize it when you see it and cheer them on. Don’t be jealous. Be grateful that they are finding their way to shift the culture. It takes one step at a time.

We need to be the change we want to see in the world. Instead of thinking of the risk you’re taking in tooting your own horn, start asking yourself what risk you’re taking by staying silent!

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