How To Be Your Best Advocate At Work

be your advocate at work


Sep. 18 2019, Published 4:20 a.m. ET

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For some it may be the simple act of saying no to an extra project or unpaid task. For others it may mean speaking up and demanding a change. Advocating for yourself in the workplace can sometimes be challenging, intimidating and confusing.

Advocating for yourself as an employee exists in many ways, such as asking for a raise, a promotion, for credit, respect or—especially in the #MeToo era—from freedom of sexual or gender-based harassment.

It can also come in smaller forms such as saying an affirmative ‘no’ to taking on a project when you’re overwhelmed or not taking on the emotional and/or invisible labour in the workplace.

Identify Your Objective

What are you seeking? What do you want? While this might appear redundant, identifying your objective can be extremely clarifying and propel you forward towards a succinct goal.

Identifying ones objectives doesn’t have to mean laying out a plan of your big dreams or lofty goals. Instead it can be simply stating (and therefore affirming) the outcome you are advocating for yourself in a given situation at work.

In short, before you can communicate for what you want you have to know what you want.

Take Self-Inventory

Advocating for yourself in the workplace may involve initiating a difficult or confrontational conversation. For some women this may trigger symptoms of stress and/or anxiety.

Before entering into a conversation like this take stock of your personal mental health and consider if or how these types of situations can be challenging for you.

Consider taking a walk outside, breathing techniques or drinking a glass of water before you do something personally challenging.

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Know Your Rights

Federal, provincial and civic governments have labour laws and employment standard acts with mechanisms for enforcement.

If you’re being underpaid, you can contact a government employee for advice on your situation and how to proceed. Consulting with workplace right organizations is a good first step towards building a case and having concrete information you can bring to your manager.

Set Boundaries

Setting boundaries regarding your own limits and abilities is an important aspect of advocating for yourself in the workplace. Similarly to identifying your objectives, identifying your boundaries allows you to enter into negotiations with a boss or supervisor with confidence.

When you ask for what you want, you can do so with greater ease because you are conscious of your boundaries of compromise.

Moreover, being aware of your work-based boundaries will help you be firm and steady, additionally it will help you avoid being manipulated or guilt-tripped into a compromise you’re not comfortable.

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Consult Literature

books for working women

Many powerful women have written books and articles on how they successfully advocated for themselves in workplace environments—how they carved out a ‘seat at the table’ for themselves. There are also helpful online platforms that provide information, fact sheets and resources for women.

Finding solidarity in the journeys of other women can be affirmative and comforting. If you’re struggling to advocate for yourself in the workplace try reading about how or what worked for other women. One example of this is Elaine Welteroth’s 2019 book “More Than Enough“.

Find Your Tribe

finding your tribe at work

Identify and gather people in your life who support you and will be ‘in your corner’ when you decide to advocate for yourself at work.

Trusted friends and family are key, but if you lack people like that in your life consulting with a therapist or career counsellor may be a valuable and needed step towards achieving your goal.

Furthermore, if you’re advocating for yourself in a difficult workplace situation where abuse and/or harassment is involved, reach out to an anti-violence organization that can assist and provide you with support.

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Validate Your Self-Worth

self worth

Your personal and professional happiness and fulfillment is important. If you’re in a situation where you need to advocate for yourself at work because these needs are not being met, validate your own self worth. Acknowledge and affirm what you want and allow yourself to believe you deserve it.

Acknowledge and affirm what you want and allow yourself to believe you deserve it.

In many workplace environments female employees have to advocate for themselves so they don’t end up carrying out unpaid emotional and/or invisible labour. If you find yourself in this situation acknowledge that it is fair and valid to advocate for yourself.

There’s No ‘Right Way’

Every circumstance and individual workplace and profession is different and unique—this means that there is no ‘right way’ to advocate for oneself in the workplace.

Furthermore, advocating for yourself can mean many things and take place in ways both large and small. For some it may be the simple power of saying no to an extra project or unpaid task. For others it may mean speaking up and demanding a raise.

The common thread is that in these situations women are attempting to obtain a definitive something. To manifest, achieve or obtain that which they do not currently have.

Understand that this is a continual process of growth and that the first time you advocate for yourself at work you may not achieve your desired outcome. This is not a sign of failure.

Remind yourself of the platitude: “the journey is the destination,” meaning that the ongoing process of learning how to self-advocate in the workplace is goal in and of itself.


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