Despite some recent progress when it comes to gender equity, women still face distinct disadvantages in the workplace. But rather than waiting for sweeping, systemic change to come and remove these barriers, there's one thing every woman can do to get the support and recognition she needs to thrive: ask for it.
Learning to advocate for oneself with confidence can be a powerful tool for turning professional accomplishments into opportunities — and a key way that women can push to close the pay and promotion gap. Yet, for many women, it isn't that simple. Seven in 10 women say they'd rather downplay their accomplishments than highlight them, according to “The Self-Promotion Gap,” a study commissioned by women’s advocacy groups.
We spoke to five women in LA tech familiar with both the difficulties and triumphs associated with self-advocacy. They said that it’s not a skill that’s picked up overnight. It can feel awkward and requires practice. There’s also a fear of it being misinterpreted as arrogance. However, if women self-promote with objectivity and remain authentic to themselves, they can get closer to their goals.
A major part of practicing self-advocacy is incorporating others into the process. Advocating on behalf of female colleagues can create a network of individuals who openly support one another. Women shouldn’t feel afraid of rejection in asking for whatever they need in their career. And if it’s determined that their accomplishments are being unfairly ignored, women should seek out employers that will champion them.
Sarah Mayo stresses objective communication in self-advocacy. The director of patient services at online pharmacy Honeybee Health said speaking impartially to leaders and co-workers about their accomplishments and goals can help women get what they deserve.
How Mayo overcame a fear of self-advocacy: I learned to trust in my work and let it be the foundation on which I advocate for myself and others. Letting the work speak for itself is not enough on its own. But a person knowing their worth and the value they bring can help alleviate fears of how they may be perceived.
Advocacy isn’t just about being a leader but also elevating others. It creates shared strength and develops a community to share in victory. The people that advocate on your behalf can be your best advocates. Those other advocates can help drive your success on days when you don’t have the strength to fight for yourself. The longer you let the fear of advocating for yourself linger, the harder it is to do gracefully.
Advocacy isn’t just about being a leader but also elevating others.”
When self-advocacy paid off: I was a part of a decision-making process on a topic that was dear to me. I had strong opinions rooted in personal experience. When putting my case together, I removed personal experiences to make it accessible and logic-based. Throughout multiple meetings, I drove the initiative home and was ultimately successful in gaining the support to implement it. However, I worked at it a little more than I needed to.
I learned that when introducing a new idea, people occasionally need time to process the information, so take a beat to reflect on your effectiveness and re-read the room. While my idea wasn’t ideally received the first time, it doesn’t mean I wasn’t heard, which is often half the battle to begin with.
Advice for those who may be overlooked: Do a self-audit. Ask whether your contributions are recognized in a way that they haven’t seen or what type of acknowledgment would make you feel differently. Define what “enough” looks like. Then have the conversation based on those needs. Direct communication is almost always better than making an assumption about how a person’s value is received. Talk to managers and team members about what’s missing and see if they can provide it. If after doing the work you’re still not getting what you need, evaluate whether it’s time to move to a healthier environment.
Mentors can be excellent sources of professional knowledge. Catherine Silvestre, product owner at game publisher N3TWORK, recommends women find two mentors: one to assist with company-specific challenges and another for more general professional support.
How Silvestre overcame a fear of self-advocacy: As a product leader, I need to advocate not only for myself but also for my team. Finding the courage and approach to advocacy is something I struggle with constantly. I want to make sure my voice is heard in a way that the listener will receive.
About five years ago, I realized that I was often holding back in meetings for fear of how my comments might be taken. Fortunately, I had a co-worker say, “They want your perspective or they would not have hired you.” Then I worked on my confidence to speak up and found ways to ensure my message was received. It’s been a long process, and in all honesty, I’m still working on it.
We always need to ask for what we want, in a way that is true to ourselves.”
When self-advocacy paid off: A friend’s experience taught me a lesson. She was running a department on her own with no support from management and with no recognition for the work. She put a presentation together for leadership on why she deserved both a title and salary increase. She did it in her playful tone, but used research and asked for what she deserved.
Initially, I was surprised at everything she requested because it’s been ingrained in many of us that asking for too much might offend someone. But I soon realized we always need to ask for what we want, in a way that is true to ourselves. Otherwise, we will never get what we deserve.
Advice for those who may be overlooked: The most important thing is to be authentic. You can always work on how a message is crafted, but it’s important that the message is coming from a place that is true to who you are, not something you think others want you to be. Also, come prepared with facts. Keep conversations about objective results and remove biases.
I highly recommend finding mentorship both inside and outside of the company. An internal mentor can provide guidance on how to navigate systems unique to your company. While an outside mentor can help with more neutral guidance and give industry-wide perspectives. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from people you trust.
A Game of Self-Advocacy:
“I learned that self-advocacy can lead to opportunities that bring me to the next level in my career,” said Anne Rynearson, senior product manager at data insights platform DISQO.
Speaking up for herself — in an environment that welcomed it — helped Rynearson advance her skills and reach her potential.
How Rynearson overcame a fear of self-advocacy: I tackle my fear of coming across as arrogant by reminding myself that I want to work with and for the type of people who will respond well to self-advocates. If promoting my accomplishments and abilities isn’t well-received, that’s a sign that this isn’t an environment I want to spend time in.
Additionally, I recognized that my self-advocacy is rooted in a desire to have a positive impact and help those around me. People are much more likely to appreciate self-promotion — rather than finding it boastful — if that promotion helps them and fosters a culture of mutual acknowledgement and appreciation.
Fear of self-promotion can hold you back from reaching your full potential.”
When self-advocacy paid off: My first manager told me, “If an opportunity scares you, that means you should pursue it.” Applying for jobs or taking on projects outside our comfort zone is a great way to grow. The best way to get involved with such opportunities is to self-advocate.
I asked my manager if I could conduct user research on our product. The company I was working for hadn’t done any user interviews on an upcoming product, and I didn’t have a background in research. So taking this project on meant a lot of learning and work. Conducting the research taught me more about the kind of work I wanted to do in the future.
Advice for those who may be overlooked: Consider whether you’re being overlooked because you haven’t been promoting yourself and other contributions. Managers and leaders need people to let them know when they’ve done something worth knowing. Fear of self-promotion can hold you back from reaching your full potential.
When discussing accomplishments, provide the context around why what was done is important, including quantifying contributions, just like on a resume. Acknowledge the accomplishments of others. And if steps are taken and contributions are still overlooked because of politics or an unhealthy work culture, consider moving onto a different company.
Fostering a network of self-advocates helped Chief Marketing Officer Rachel Trindade grow in her career. In fact, the leader at warehouse management system provider 3PL Central said her colleagues even teed her up to discuss her wins in meetings so she could practice more self-advocacy.
How Trindade overcame a fear of self-advocacy: Sometimes it feels awkward sharing accomplishments, but if a person doesn’t advocate for themself, often no one else will. I started asking myself, “Am I bragging or just stating facts?” If I increased lead volume by 50 percent, then that’s a fact worthy of sharing.
The best advice I ever received was, “Always ask for the order.” It sounds related to sales but applies to everything in life. You can’t get what you want if you don’t ask. Take the fear out of “no.” When someone compliments you for doing something well, share it with your manager then file it in a special folder. Sometimes it’s easier to use someone else’s words when you advocate for yourself. Imagine using awesome quotes from all of your colleagues as you fill out a performance review.
Sometimes it’s easier to use someone else’s words when you advocate for yourself.”
When self-advocacy paid off: Years ago, I was seeking a promotion. I met with our VP of HR, VP of ops and our CEO to talk about my aspirations, why I was ready for the next move and to get feedback on my options. Each person encouraged me to explore my interests and brought me new opportunities in other departments. When an opportunity intersected with my skills and interests, I applied and was promoted to the director of sales ops. I learned that vocalizing what I want and asking for support in advance can open up new opportunities.
Advice for those who may be overlooked: Have a conversation with a manager. Ask them their impression of your work. Tell them that you feel like your accomplishments get overlooked. Use specific examples of projects or programs where you feel like your work deserved recognition and ask them for what you want.
If they don’t agree, ask for specifics and understand what they view as success. Regardless of how it goes, you will know where you stand. If you don’t see a path to recognition and appreciation, know that other companies and leaders will value your efforts, and consider making a move.
Stephanie Drejerwski wants women to keep using their voices. The HR generalist at gaming app Lucky Day said women should keep making their accomplishments and goals heard. And if they’re being silenced, find a company that will amplify their work.
How Drejerwski overcame a fear of self-advocacy: I never feared coming off as arrogant or entitled. However, I know that others have perceived me in such a way. I think my issue is allowing others to make me second-guess myself. To get past that, I’m always prepared to be told I’m wrong.
It’s a shame that I and many other women have to prepare to be told “no,” but it’s helping me understand business beyond my roles. At a previous company, I was told that there was no growth for me, but I continued to do more than my role required. I kept voicing my opinions and learning new skills, and it prepared me for a new company that appreciated me more.
I can do anything when I stop second-guessing my abilities.”
When self-advocacy paid off: When I started in HR, I attended weekly meetings with little to contribute. Eventually, that changed and I was added to projects. This change led me to creating the company’s volunteer program. I learned two things: I can do anything when I stop second-guessing my abilities and that I was capable of contributing long before I felt comfortable enough to speak up.
Men in tech don’t wait until they know every detail before sharing their ideas and opinions, so why should women? I think women have been silenced for so long that they lose confidence in the workplace. The best thing for us to continue doing is to use our voices.
Advice for those who may be overlooked: Where a person is now isn’t the end of the road. If you are consistently being overlooked or ignored, go somewhere where you will be appreciated. Women are needed in tech. You will be appreciated and heard elsewhere. Keep speaking up. A woman’s ideas and skills are important and needed.