5 Ways Every Woman Can Self-Advocate at Work

Women's experiences in the workplace are as varied as women themselves. Still, the unifying truth is that we often face challenges and barriers to success beyond our control, especially when compared to the professional experiences of men. According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR), women likely won't reach pay parity with their male counterparts until the year 2059. Research from the IWPR also shows that when women ask for a raise, they are only awarded 15 percent of the time, while men successfully obtain raises 20 percent of the time.  Closing the wage gap, being acknowledged for our expertise, and being seen as capable are constant battles we will likely continue to fight for years to come. That being said, there are practical steps we can take to claim our power in the workplace today while the larger battles unfold over time.

1. Keep an ongoing list of your accomplishments and contributions

This tip is at the top of our list because it's an often overlooked and undervalued tool. Unfortunately, women tend to downplay their accomplishments or contributions at work as just part of their jobs. We are often far less egocentric and boisterous about our professional accomplishments when compared to men. In fact, according to the Harvard Business Review, men apply for jobs while only meeting 60% of the listed qualifications or requirements, while women only apply when they meet 100%. These statistics indicate that beyond the crisis of pay inequality and role inequality in the workplace, women are experiencing a crisis of professional confidence compared to men.

Keeping a running list of even minor accomplishments will give you a solid foundation with which to negotiate a pay raise, promotion, or when you're eventually looking for a new role elsewhere. The more facts you have, especially when data and profit-driven, the more value you can show when the time comes. Keeping this list is also a good exercise in owning our power and practicing mindful confidence in our careers – embrace your contributions and know your value.

2. Find a mentor

Mentors come in many forms, and while it can be intimidating to reach out and make a connection, the advice and connections found through a mentor are often invaluable. According to a study conducted by Sun Microsystems, tracking the career progress of about 1,000 employees over a period of 5 years, those with mentors were five times more likely to be promoted than those without a mentor.

When facing a challenge in the workplace, chances are a mentor has experienced similar circumstances themselves – at the very least, you may find inspiration and guidance in a mentor. At best, you could secure a fierce advocate willing to go above and beyond to foster your success. If you haven't found someone that you feel you can connect with as a mentor, there are endless resources online where real women share their knowledge and wisdom.

3. Refuse to be dismissed or ignored

We can all recognize that when push comes to shove, this is far easier said than done. "Refusing to be dismissed or ignored" can come in many forms: speaking up in meetings, claiming credit where its due, not taking no for an answer when pursuing a raise or promotion, or even holding ground and saying no to projects and requests that are either beyond the scope of your position or would otherwise be an inconvenience in the execution of your duties.

While we may think of specific situations in which we can actively self-advocate, our daily interactions in the workplace truly set the tone for how we are seen by our peers, bosses, and employees. We can make small changes to our body language that fundamentally change how we are perceived by those around us. Amy Cuddy's TED Talk is a fabulous introduction into a world of self-awareness that may give you that extra leg up in your professional realm when you need it most.

4. Learn how to effectively negotiate for a promotion, raise, or starting salary

In her book, Women Don't Ask, Linda Babcock explores the fact that only 7 percent of women negotiate their salary upon receiving a job offer, while 57 percent of men do. Those who did negotiate were able to increase their salary offer by over 7%. Additionally, according to a 2017 study "Women in the Workplace," conducted by McKinsey & Company, women are 25% less likely to ask for a specific dollar amount when negotiating a pay raise. There are small ways to increase your potential to negotiate successfully – do your research and be specific.

Find out what a competitive salary is for your position by using online resources or even asking someone with a comparable position at another company via online professional networks such as LinkedIn. Historically, discussing salaries has been taboo, but having the confidence to pursue that information is an invaluable tool when it comes time to negotiate. It allows you to be specific in your expectations and knowing your value is one of the most professionally empowering things you can do.

Confidence in your wording is also key to effective negotiation. Instead of requesting a promotion, come to the table with hard facts that can't be ignored. For example, "I've been with the firm for X years, and in that time, I've accomplished X. I would like to discuss my future here and how I can further contribute to our success."

When negotiating for a raise, be as specific as possible and highlight your accomplishments: "In my time with the company, I have accomplished X, which has resulted in X improvement. As a result, I think a salary increase of X is appropriate.

5. Know your Workplace Rights under the law

Even during the interview process, women are often unknowingly at a disadvantage by being asked unfair and sometimes unlawful interview questions. Knowing your rights allows you to recognize these, often subtle, moments of inequality and address them head-on. Seemingly innocuous questions like "Do you have kids? Or "Do you prefer Miss or Mrs.?" feed into discriminatory hiring practices. You are under no obligation to entertain them. You may not be able to refuse giving an answer outright without risking coming across as uncooperative, but redirecting and deflecting onto topics such as your experience, work ethic, or simply pushing back slightly by asking why the question is being asked are effective ways of advocating for yourself in the moment.

Knowing your workplace rights is equally beneficial once you've been hired. Simply familiarizing yourself with discrimination and harassment laws in your state is an empowering practice. Beyond that, documenting as much as possible may be the key to protecting yourself and the women around you in your workplace. Keep records of interactions, make notes of moments that make you uncomfortable, ask for clarification on potentially problematic workplace requests via email, and remember - always have some form of paper trail. If the worst is to happen and you become involved in any kind of workplace legal proceeding, documentation is often the key to a positive outcome. 

The truth is many women will have to work harder and longer to get where they want to be in their profession, especially when compared to their male counterparts. These tips may seem basic on their surface, but when applied, they have the potential to create profound impacts on your ability to claim power in your career, influence over your financial standing, and in your life beyond. While much about workplace inequality feels larger than us and out of our control, it’s important to remember that we have the agency to shape our futures – from the start of our careers until they have evolved into something extraordinary.