Women don't advocate for themselves. Yeah… no kidding!?!

I'm not at all surprised that this is one of the top challenges I hear from clients and potential clients. I would say the majority of women I speak with struggle to advocate for themselves.

And I get it. I've been there myself.

And that's why today's newsletter is dedicated to discussing why we struggle to advocate for ourselves and how we can start to make this important change.

First, let's unpack why we, as women, struggle to share our wins or ask for that promotion more than our male counterparts.

Conditioning, The Likeability Backlash and The Ambition Penalty

I can't speak for other people's experiences, but I can speak for my own and can share what I've observed and read. And that is, in general, women are taught not to speak up for ourselves and when we do, we're punished.

Unfortunately this is largely tied to the way we, as society, view women. We're conditioned to view women as nurturers who (*should) put everyone else (eg. family, kids) ahead of ourselves. And we tend to unwittingly condition young girls to fit this mold.

On top of it, we teach our girls to be modest and humble, and not to brag. And that's a problem!

These subconscious biases and behaviours follow us right into the workplace. And if you don't believe me, the studies are there to back this up.

The ‘likeability backlash' is something I first learned about when I read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. This occurs when women advocate for themselves (eg. that next promotion) or negotiate (eg. their salary) and are then seen as less likeable. Since then I've read additional studies that confirm this bias.

This is a REAL THING.

There's a similar phenomenon that I recently heard about called the ambition penalty, and it's not too far removed. It has to do with the way we punish women who willingly choose to advance their careers. Ie. women we see as ambitious.

The crazy part is that if the women are randomly assigned to leadership roles, they don't tend to be subject to this penalty. Meaning, we don't want women to want great careers!

So, as you can see, both of these biases centre around punishing women who are trying to advocate for the career they want. And it's so beyond unfair that I can barely believe this happens.

My hope is that as we continue to raise awareness around these biases, more and more of your managers will be self-aware enough to proactively fight against it too. But in the meantime… here we are.

So to sum it up, there are 2 elements that are creating a reluctance to advocate for ourselves: 1. the conditioning we receive growing up and 2. the interactions we experience as women in the workplace to reinforce this conditioning.

Often we sense this backlash and as a result.. unsurprisingly, we choose NOT to negotiate! I mean, do you really want your boss to like you less? Or to judge your ambition?

Of course not!

I've said this before – likeability matters when it comes to career progression. In some studies it was shown to be equally important to competence!

You may be thinking, okay… you're just confirming what I already thought. Advocating for myself is a losing game.

Wrong.

It's important to acknowledge the factors that may have held you back in the past, but I'm here to tell you that you NEED to be advocating for yourself, and you need to start doing it regularly. And unapologetically.

The trick is to be strategic about advocating for yourself and frame these conversations in a way that also minimizes the biases we know exist.

So how can you start doing this now? Friends, I'm glad you asked…

3 steps to start taking today

  1. Start keeping a ‘brag sheet'
  2. Create a regular cadence for sharing your wins
  3. Prep for these meetings to get your framing right

Let's jump in.

Your Brag Sheet

If you're not keeping a list of all of the great things you've accomplished in your current role and the impact they've had on the business, you're missing out on an opportunity.

The fact is, you're probably doing great things! So I have 2 questions for you:

  • Are you calling enough attention to these wins?
  • Are you reminding your boss on a regular basis about the impact you're having on the business?

If you answered ‘no' to these questions, start your brag sheet.

This is where you simply keep track of your wins, accomplishments and impact. Quantify where you can. Tie the impact back to company goals where you can.

This should be an ongoing list that you keep forever. Not only will it serve as a resource for conversations with your boss, you can use it when it comes time for your annual review, when you need to update your resume or even when you're feeling that self-doubt that creeps in and want to remind yourself why you are great and belong in this job.

I hope I've convinced you to open up a document, name it ‘brag sheet' and get started.

Sharing Your Wins

So now that you've got your brag sheet, how do you share it?

I recommend bringing something to your boss on a monthly basis. I was personally a fan of implementing a 30 day check-in with all of my direct reports, and when I reported to someone who didn't do this, I suggested it to them!

It's an opportunity to have a deeper conversation every month about priorities, wins and career development / direction.

Now, if it's not possible to implement something like this with your boss, you can simply make a note in your calendar that every month or so in your 1:1, you're going to share something impactful that you've done.

As I mentioned, when it comes time for annual review or merit increases, you'll want to put together this list and consider even sharing it in a more formal way (ie. sharing a document listing these accomplishments) in order to help frame your conversation about your raise or promotion.

The key here is not to make the mistake of listing regular job duties and thinking that will cut It. Instead, list things like:

  • A goal or metric that you blew out of the water (whether it was you, or a team you manage)
  • A great idea or strategy you implemented that had a positive result
  • A decision you made that turned out to be a winner
  • ROI – have you saved the company money or time, or made them money?
  • Company level strategic initiatives – have you had an impact on the success of these?

Framing

Great, but I haven't really addressed how to combat the likeability backlash have I? That's where framing comes in. Framing is the key to addressing this and good prep is the key to framing these conversations successfully.

Here are some DO's and DON'Ts when it comes to framing this conversation:

DO – Use positive language. Open up the conversation by saying something like,

“I'd love to share some results from the past month that I'm excited about.”

or

“I'm feeling great about my team's performance and the way these projects are coming together. I'd love to share an update with you.”

As you can see, this has a very different tone from the dreaded conversation that sounds like, “Here are the reasons I'm excelling in my role.”

It feels awkward. It sounds awkward. Don't force it.

If you're sharing these wins on a regular basis, your boss is going to start to notice, so you don't necessarily need to spell out the fact that you're telling him or her why you're great.

DO – Use objective data

When it comes time to advocate for a promotion, you'll want to frame it in reference to the impact you've been able to create in the business. As you can see, if you're keeping your brag sheet up to date, this is a lot easier!

So you may say something like,

“I feel this new role is a great fit for my skillset and and I'm excited about the impact I can make on the business. I've put together a list of my relevant achievements from the past year that will help demonstrate what I can bring to this role.”

The idea is to make it about the business instead of about you. Now… of course, it IS about you, but the conversation can be so much more effective and powerful when you focus it on the business.

And it's more likely to get you the result you want.

DO – Spend time preparing for these conversations

Maybe once you're in the swing of things, advocating for yourself on a regular basis will come easy to you. In the meantime, DON'T TRY TO WING IT!

You don't want the first time these words come out of your mouth to be in the 1:1 with your boss. You may want to write out what you plan to say. Practice on your partner, or your dog! But make sure you feel comfortable and confident with what you're going to say.

This not only makes you sound more professional and polished, but will also make you appear more confident, which is important when you're trying to position yourself as a leader.

The truth is, you CAN advocate for yourself and still avoid this bias. Does it take some work? Yep. Some prep? Yep. But this is your career and your life.

Don't wait for someone else to create your path for you.

Now… if you're feeling inspired about getting to that next level in leadership I want to let you know that I'm opening up registration for my group program EARLY for those who are already in my network and offering a $500 early bird discount for those who sign up before I officially launch it.

Ready to take control of your career and gain the confidence, composure and credibility you need to be a senior leader? If the answer to that is YES, book a call with me using the link below and let's get started!

Until next time friends… ✌️💜

Katy