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

Monday, July 27, 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Abbey Kwiat
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We asked eight professional women in Chicago tech what has helped them overcome fears or doubts that accompany advocating for themselves in a typically male-dominated space. 

Many of their initial responses? They haven’t. 

“I don’t actually think I’ve resolved that fear,” Bounteous’s Visual Designer Allison Catuira said. “It’s both a personal struggle and a systemic byproduct of the misogyny that is baked into the fabric of most workplaces and society,” she added. 

For Catuira, as well as Neighborhoods.com engineer Megan Lyle and Fetch Rewards engineer Glenda Adams, self-advocacy is an ongoing process. 

That said, they and other women suggested a few strategies for staying true to themselves and fighting for what they deserve. For example, they lean on both personal and workplace allies for support and keep an ongoing list of accomplishments with quantifiable outcomes handy to share with higher-ups when appropriate.

“Sharing achievements isn’t tantamount to arrogance,” Haley Altman, global director of business development and strategy at Litera Microsystems, said. 

 

SnapSheet:

 

“What did I learn and what can I take with me to my next endeavor?”

It’s one of a few questions that Manager of Strategy and Implementation Stephanie Acker asks herself after finishing a project or volunteering for an assignment. The Snapsheet team member said she’s learned to speak positively and proudly about her accomplishments from mentors and peers alike. 

 

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

For me, the first step was realizing that advocating for yourself doesn’t mean that you are arrogant or entitled. It means that you deserve to be seen and have recognition for what you’ve accomplished. Men are much more normalized to talking about the value and insight that they bring to the table, simply because they’ve been brought up to think and talk that way about their accomplishments.

I started my career at a large professional services firm. I was fortunate enough to have both male and female mentors who provided me with guidance and support to feel like I could speak confidently about my own abilities. The biggest (and simplest) thing that helped me was practice. I check in with myself after every opportunity I’m pursuing and ask myself a few questions: What did I learn and what can I take with me to my next endeavor? What would I do differently when faced with a similar situation in the future? How has this helped me progress and grow as an individual and a professional?

To the women who are nervous about the perception that comes with self-advocating: use your previous experiences, understand what you’ve learned from them and where you want to go, and be confident that you have the background and knowledge to get there.


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

If you feel like your contributions are being overlooked in the workplace, take a step back and ask yourself why.

Diagnosing the reason you may be feeling overlooked will help you come to a solution. If it’s because no one knows the work that you’re doing, then you probably need to start advocating for yourself and strategically building your network. If it’s because other people on your team are quicker to speak up, then challenge yourself to contribute more frequently and take the lead. If it’s because a teammate or superior takes credit for your work, have a conversation with them. Ensure they aren’t the only person who knows the work you’ve been doing. If you do identify that what you’ve been working on isn’t adding value toward your company’s goals and objectives, then switch gears. Find an area where your company does need help and be the go-to person to solve that problem or close that deal.

 

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

I recently wanted to get involved with an opportunity that sits outside of my current role. I knew that I had the appropriate skill set and knowledge to assist with the effort, so I started meeting with a number of different team members and C-suite executives to understand our overall objectives and action plan for the opportunity. Based on my previous experience and leveraging my existing network, I was able to establish myself as a go-to person for questions and assistance, even though it wasn’t part of my normal day-to-day.

In this specific situation, I did face opposition in the beginning from different team members, since it was technically outside of my normal responsibilities. You have to be willing to accept push back sometimes to make a little progress. Creating conflict or addressing confrontation is not for everyone. However, if it’s for the right reason and moves you toward the greater good, I’ve learned it’s worth having a few difficult discussions.


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