While many strides have been made towards workplace diversity, inclusivity, and equality, there are still barriers to climbing the corporate ladder for women, BIPOC, the LGBTQIA+ community, and many others. Workplace discrimination, daily microaggressions, and systematic biases continue to stand in our way. But despite these hurdles, there are ways for us to advance in the corporate world. Here are some tips for how to advocate for yourself, build relationships that matter, and grow in your career.
Self-advocacy as self love.
Minda Harts, in a recent WiT Fireside Chat with Azhelle Wade, said “Self-advocacy, in my opinion, is a form of self love. We can show up for ourselves.” This statement holds particularly true in the professional environment. Everyone has their own unique experience in the workplace, including what transgressions and barriers they face on a daily basis. While we may look to our managers, HR, or other leaders to help solve these issues, ultimately, we must be our own self-advocate. We cannot wait for a prophetic person to solve workplace sexism, racism, and homophobia. Rather, we must have the courage to stand up for ourselves and let our voices be heard.
Let go of the guilt of success.
Women, especially women of color, have historically been overlooked for opportunities and undervalued in the workplace. Many of us struggle with voicing our opinions, because we’ve been conditioned to undervalue our contributions and second-guess ourselves. Worse yet, we often feel guilty when we find success. We’re used to putting everyone before ourselves, transforming into a caretaker for our loved ones, shouldering their burdens and expectations, and subconsciously taking on their definitions of success. With the Covid-19 pandemic, the pace of life has changed dramatically, and many women find themselves rethinking their career and life plans with a twinge of guilt. Putting your mental or physical health and happiness above a corporate career is not something to be ashamed about. It is not selfish, but rather self-less. We must put ourselves first and redefine what success looks like to us, without outside affirmation.
Build relationships in unexpected places.
Generally speaking, we seek out people that remind us of ourselves and strive to build connections with them. Unfortunately, not many of us have the privilege of having people in power that look like us, whether you are a woman of color, LGBTQIA+, or just identify differently from those around you. While it may be ideal to build relationships with those that understand the hardships and nuanced challenges you’ve experienced while navigating the corporate world, unexpected allies may be found in all parts of the workplace. Seize the opportunity to have more face-time with higher-ups or other colleagues. Ask them to meet for informal coffee chats to talk lightheartedly about work, your life, and even your passion projects.Relationship building is a long game, and those personal exchanges are what will distinguish you from others. While we’re not guaranteeing your career trajectory will change because you had a chat with the CEO, having your name spoken by others may open doors for you in the future.
Make working from home work for you.
There are many challenges associated with working from home, in particular for women balancing childcare and the nebulous work-life distinction. But there are also unexpected benefits to working from home. A survey from Future Forum has shown that 97% of Black workers wish to remain working from home, and have shown higher levels of work satisfaction, as well as an unprecedented sense of belonging in corporate America. Some of this can be attributed to a reduced need for code-switching and less interaction with coworkers, which ultimately reduces microaggressions and discrimination. In addition, being able to work from the comfort of your home allows for faster bounce back when those inevitable transgressions do happen.
Socializing while social distancing.
Even though we may be working remotely, networking is still necessary for moving up in the corporate world. Build your social capital by arriving a few minutes early to virtual meetings with your camera on. When you have the opportunity, unmute yourself, use the raise hand function, and chime in. If there isn’t an opportunity to speak, use the chat to add on to the conversation or provide suggestions. With everyone working from home, it may be easier to get short meetings with higher-ups, allowing them to get to know you on a more personal level. Think about who you would like to speak your name in meetings, and try to reach out to them. It seems tedious, but getting your name out there, being seen, and putting in the extra effort of being a part of the conversation, will create greater opportunities for you despite not being in the office environment.
While we recommend using all the aforementioned strategies collectively to advance your career, each person’s workplace experience is unique and requires a tailored approach. Ultimately, as your biggest advocate, you’ll need to find what works best for you. Watch the full Fireside Chat with Minda & Azhelle on YouTube.