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How to master the art of self-advocacy

Five tips for unleashing your inner rock star at work through effective self-promotion

Whether you’ve climbed to the top of the corporate ladder or have already made a splash just a few years into your career, advocating for yourself often doesn’t come easily, especially for women – and that hesitancy to self-promote can cost you in terms of pay raises and promotions. If you’re ready to unleash your inner rock star at work, here are five tips to master the art of self-advocacy:

1. Be willing to self-promote. Self-promotion is not about taking a megaphone out when the CEO walks by to shout, “reduced costs by 43%” or “launched new software system under-budget” like a used car salesman. However, thoughtfully sharing your ideas and accomplishments in the service of others is effective. Let’s say you have been asked to speak at an industry conference. Internally, send an email or report about how this speech will benefit the business, thanking everyone who contributed to the innovative program you’ve been asked to present. Notify your firm’s communications team, offering to write a blog post or newsletter content about key learnings from the conference. Post updates on social media about this activity. Consider presenting a webinar to others in the company about how your topic could be used to ignite ideas or improve performance.

2. Make data your BFF. Looking for a raise or promotion? Salary surveys benchmarking the role you hold in your geographic market can easily be obtained online to substantiate the ask. For example, you can see the value of starting a data analytics team in your company and would like to lead it. Talk to three to five comparable organizations about how they handle data analytics, the benefits and drawbacks of specific approaches and then craft a compelling memo about managing this area in your organization, including why you are qualified to generate maximum ROI. Just remember that the delivery of your message matters as much as the content behind it.

3. Aim high. Understanding your skills, strengths and weaknesses, where do you see yourself headed in your career? Now, what happens if you aim higher? Over 25 years ago, a friend of mine enrolled in community college classes took a temporary accounts payable job in a Fortune 500 company. In this first exposure to a professional work environment, he started dreaming about one day becoming a department director. But over time, as hard work and smarts lead to new, bigger opportunities, he started aiming higher. Today that individual works at the C-level of a billion-dollar company, running its highest performing division.

4. Build a career/life strategy. Taking the long-view of your career, which includes breaks for maternity leave or sabbaticals, can help in planning a career path that meets your professional and personal needs. In this Wall Street Journal article called “What’s Holding Women Back in the Workplace?” Microsoft Corp. executive Julie Larson-Green noted “There’s no such thing as work-life balance. There’s only life.” The key is being proactive. Accenture’s Getting to Equal 2017 report found that building a proactive career strategy is one of the critical accelerators in closing the gender pay gap for women. Whether you are just entering the workforce or already work in management, you can consciously design your professional experience at any point. Look at others whose career/personal trajectories you admire – people at all levels of the organization, not just those in more senior roles – and ask for time to obtain their insights.

5. Give your inner saboteur a time out. In the professional executive coaching world (yup, we have one – think of a bunch of individuals who get excited about human potential, sort of like how Comic-Con enthusiasts view pop culture), that internal voice that sometimes holds you back is called the “inner saboteur.” It might have started many years ago to help keep you safe in some way, but now the saboteur chimes in with thoughts like “what if you fail,” “maybe you’re not good enough” or “don’t rock the boat,” when you strive to make big, positive changes in your life. We’ve all had them at some point. Unfortunately, trying to ignore these thoughts can be ineffective. Instead, listen to what they say, thank them for any benefit gained from their protection in the past, explain why you have decided to behave differently now – and then take the major leap forward. I have seen people do this effectively in a journal entry, as a visualization exercise or as an imagined conversation in their head. Whatever the case, giving an inner saboteur a time out helps activate your potential. 

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