One of my most vivid memories was from when I was 16 years of age. My mother, believing that education was wasted on girls, marched herself down to the high school I attended and attempted to yank me out of my classroom, humiliating me in front of all my classmates. The best path for me she believed, was to be ‘barefoot and pregnant’ as soon as possible. I railed fiercely against her decision and, thanks to the support of my grandmother, I was able to graduate with my classmates.
As a result of my mother’s attitude, I learned at a young age that if I wanted to be in control of my education and career path, I needed the courage to represent myself with confidence within any professional scenario. While you may be fortunate to have mentors and cheerleaders throughout your career, you can’t rely on others to put you forward for opportunities or address issues that are preventing you from moving ahead. Other people can certainly help you along the way, but ultimately it’s up to you to take charge of your destiny.
Speaking up for yourself changes how others perceive you. It demonstrates that you stand by your beliefs and have the integrity to follow through. When I joined Stockdale & Leggo as COO, my appointment was controversial amongst some of the longstanding franchisees with many critical comments made about my appointment. I decided to face the criticism head on. I called a meeting of the franchisees and addressed each of their concerns, and asked that I be judged on my results. I presented myself as a strong leader and this helped shift not only their perceptions of me, but also the culture within the organisation.
Self-advocacy has been key for me in overcoming obstacles and ultimately becoming a successful leader. Here are some of the strategies I employed which helped me to become my own biggest advocate.
- Get clear on what you want and need
Clarity is the first step towards self-advocacy. You can’t go for what you want if you don’t know what it is. Make time to regularly take stock of where you are and where you want to be. What is working well in your life, and where is there friction? Where do you need to grow and what is your plan for achieving your goals? Be honest with yourself and shut out the voices telling you what you ‘should’ be doing. You need to be absolutely clear on your desires before you can transform them into action.
- Be confident and know your worth
In order to get someone else on your side, you need to back yourself 100%. I launched the Empowered Women in Real Estate communities have shown that women are less likely to negotiate their salaries and tend only to apply for promotions if they feel they meet all of the criteria. (Men will take a chance if they meet just 60% of the qualifications.) If you don’t believe you deserve what you’re asking for, no one else will.
- Initiate the conversation
No matter how supportive your manager might be, no one is a mind reader. Don’t wait around for higher-ups to recognise you and reward your value – make them see it, and ask for what you want. I’m a big believer in creating your own opportunities, being proud of your achievements and facing adversities head-on. Study the art of difficult conversations so that when it comes time to negotiate a raise or your working conditions, address an awkward issue or put yourself forward for an exciting new role, you know how to make your case with confidence and professionalism.
Whatever stage you are at in your life and career, know that you can still achieve your dreams. I have created a life that I love in spite of significant challenges in both my personal and professional lives. By being your own biggest advocate you can take control of the narrative, and gain respect for your confidence, clarity and authenticity. It’s your life – speak up.