We may like to think that our career will develop organically in correlation with the amount of effort we put in. But the reality is that to have a fruitful career, you have to fight for yourself. Your growth and development will only be recognized when you advocate for yourself.
In this article, we’ll discuss
What it means to advocate for yourself in the workplace
Examples of self-advocacy
What skills you need to advocate for yourself at work
What is self-advocacy in the workplace?
Advocating for yourself in the workplace is an important skill. There’s a saying, the squeaky wheel gets the oil. The idea is that if two wheels on a car are loose, but one of them is squeaking and making a ruckus, that’s the one that’s going to be repaired. Because it was loud, it got attention.
Applying this theory to the workplace gives us our first look at the benefit of self-advocacy.
Advocating for yourself at work is basically saying, “I am important here, I am helping this machine function, and I deserve to be recognized and appreciated”.
Why is it important to advocate for yourself at work?
It happens all the time: the colleague who doesn’t make the career advancements that their peers are making. While there are many reasons why someone might be in that position, self-advocacy is one thing you can do to be sure that doesn’t happen to you.
To show the breadth of how advocating for yourself at work can go, let’s take a look at some examples.
Examples of how to advocate for yourself at work
Stacy is a college intern at a local non-profit, working in the marketing department. While sitting in on a team meeting, the director mentioned a drop in memberships in the young adult demographic. They were looking for ideas on how to better reach the audience. Stacy raises her hand, explaining that she recently worked on a needs analysis for that demographic relating to the project and that she has a lot of fresh ideas as a result of her findings.
Stacy is put on the project, increases young adult memberships by 30% the following quarter, and is hired full-time the following year.
While Marcus’ writing team is handed out their monthly assignments, he is disappointed that for the fifth month in a row, Marcus is assigned to sports articles. He asks to meet with his editor to discuss this. Marcus lets his editor know that while he appreciates the recognition, his true passion is cooking, and he thinks he could bring an energetic voice to the local flavors section. Marcus’ editor admits they completely misjudged Marcus’ interests and they’d be happy to change his assignments moving forward.
After acknowledging their mistake in making assumptions, the editorial team asks all writers to submit a list of their top three topics to write about.
Jorge has worked for the parks service for three years. His team just received funding for a new community project. After working alongside his colleague for months, the two presented their proposal. Their proposal was selected and the two were put in charge of its deployment. Jorge felt that he needed recognition for doing 90% of the work to create their proposal. He asked to sit down with his supervisor privately.
Jorge said to his supervisor, “I appreciate the opportunity to take on this project, and wanted to elaborate a bit on everything we’ve achieved so far. While my colleague and I presented the final proposal together, I personally conducted a community needs analysis, surveyed 150 park visitors, compiled the data and found themes, brainstormed, and outlined parameters for success. Based on all that background work, I am certain this project will do great”.
Jorge was named project lead the following day, and for future projects as well. Within a year he was promoted to project manager.
What skills do you need to advocate for yourself?
The road to self-advocacy takes self-awareness, confidence, and asserting yourself, among many more interpersonal skills.
As far as tangible skills go, consider the following.
There is an unspoken code of conduct that lives in every professional environment. Professional communication is important to maintain always, but especially when asking for something. Advocating for yourself is essentially asking for recognition and appreciation, so it needs to be addressed professionally.
To ensure that you are speaking professionally, you need to stifle your emotions and lean into logic. Bring statistics, data, and accomplishments when you go to speak with a superior. If you are speaking up for yourself in a meeting or around a group of people, use this same strategy.
Instead of saying, “Hey, I helped too!”
Try saying, “While my colleague was working on the [their part of the project], I was developing [your portion of the project].”
The timing for advocating for yourself should be strategic. Wait until a natural opportunity to engage about your contributions. If you feel like an opportunity won’t arise organically, ask your supervisor for a performance review. Ask to discuss it privately in their office. During this time, if your supervisor doesn’t initiate a conversation about your specific roles on projects, it’s up to you to mention it.
Try saying something like, “I wanted to take a moment to share my biggest achievements this quarter”. Afterward, conclude it by saying how grateful you’ve been for the opportunity to grow professionally, and that you’re excited to continue developing in those ways.
Determine your value
With determining your value, more than an interpersonal dialog, we’re talking about the literal numbers that your work is valued at.
Look up online what your position makes on average across the country, across your state, and across different industries.
Once you have an idea of what your position is valued at, also think about how the company values you. If you are the only person in charge of a project or department, or if you possess knowledge that is esoteric, then you are in a position of power. Leverage your value when you are practicing self-advocacy.
Self-advocacy and protected classes
One type of advocacy that should come with no strings attached is in regard to protected classes.
Protected classes include race, color, religion, age, sex, gender, marital status, and disability.
Although you should never be discriminated against while at work, you have a legal right to not be discriminated against for any of the reasons listed above. An employer would be committing a crime in such a situation.
If you have been discriminated against, you need to tell someone.
Should I go to HR?
Any company with more than 10 employees should have specialized HR personnel. It’s true that HR is there to protect the staff, but primarily, HR protects the company. Because of this, only turn to HR for issues regarding payroll or benefits, medical needs, or discrimination based on a protected class.
How will self-advocacy grow my career?
Every individual is responsible for their own professional success. Unfortunately, it’s unrealistic to believe that if you keep your head down and produce good work, you will be recognized by your superiors.
Advocating for yourself is one of the quickest and most fool-proof ways to develop your career. If you’re doing the work anyways, gaining recognition for it should be straightforward. It might seem scary at first, but it’s an important step in every professional’s life, and it’s one that you’ll feel the benefits from for many years to come.
If you want recognition for your work, you need to ask for it.
Conduct yourself professionally while advocating for yourself with a superior.
HR is good for some forms of self-advocacy, but not for all.