Why is it so hard to advocate for ourselves? It’s such an important skill that can benefit us in many areas of our lives, but we often don’t do it effectively. If you think about it, the opportunities exist every day, even in the most mundane tasks. I remember being embarrassed when my mom would return to the store because the clerk accidentally overcharged her a small amount. Little did I know, she was teaching me an essential skill that would have significant consequences; After all, every penny counts!
In a world where Latina women earn .55 cents to every dollar a white man earns, this skill is vital. There is too much to lose—too much at stake.
Advocating for yourself can be done in a variety of ways, and for a variety of reasons. I wanted to further explore this topic with one of our readers. Patricia Diaz has worked at Goldman Sachs for seven years, and throughout her career, she has advocated for herself in different ways. As you can imagine, working in a male-dominated industry, where you most likely are the only Latina in the room, can be challenging. Here is her journey:
1.Why do you think advocating for yourself is an important skill to have? Knowing how to advocate for yourself is essential because you are setting boundaries. You are telling people how you want to be treated and setting expectations for future communications. When you self-advocate, it shows others that you respect yourself enough to express what you want. You also show that you have respect for others. One of the most impactful ways I advocate for myself is telling people what I want out of my career and where I want my career to go. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that “you won’t know unless you ask.”
2. Would you say you have always known how to advocate for yourself? There were times in my life when I didn’t advocate for myself. When I didn’t stand up for myself, I would become frustrated with the results. When I started my career, I realized I was doing myself a disservice by not expressing myself effectively. I would allow others to speak for me or over me. That’s the worst. If you don’t speak up, people will speak up for you—whether you like it or not. My silence would result in being mad at myself. For example, there was a time when someone stole my idea, and they got all the credit. When you are not speaking up for yourself, it affects your confidence and self-esteem.
3. When did you realize you perhaps were not advocating for yourself effectively? Not being promoted last year was an eye-opener for me. Despite taking all the appropriate steps to get that promotion, including meeting monthly with my manager and participating in extra-curricular activities, I still fell short in the end. I had been advocating for myself all year. I worked on various projects, led a team of three, and stepped up in my manager’s absence. I kept thinking to myself, “what did I do wrong?” I started seeing others, who didn’t have the same skillset as I did benefit from speaking up, and I realized I needed to speak up more. I realized that although I was advocating for myself, or so I thought, I wasn’t doing it effectively. I also realized that I wasn’t putting myself in front of the right people—the people who were part of the decision-making process.
4. In what ways have you advocated for yourself at work? I didn’t want anyone to know that they didn’t promote me. To be honest, I knew it was a long shot, but I still wanted to ask for it. It’s a very competitive process, and you have to be nominated. I secured a nomination but didn’t make it to the next step. This year, I qualify for the same promotion for the second time. Now that I know that talking to my manager isn’t enough, and I need to do more, I’m also speaking to his manager. This year I wanted to do something different, and now I have quarterly conversations with the people in charge of the decision-making process.
Working in a male-dominated industry, I have noticed that often I will say something during a meeting, and then someone—usually a man—will repeat what I said, verbatim, minutes later. Early on in my career, I would stay quiet, but now I am no longer afraid to speak up and say, “That’s exactly what I just said five minutes ago.” I’m comfortable enough in those settings to say something now. Sometimes they don’t even realize what they are doing, but I’ll still speak up.
5. What has helped you self-advocate at work? Anytime I have a meeting, whether it’s with a group or with my manager, I make sure that I’m prepared. I go over what I want to say beforehand, and I say it out loud. When I hear myself saying it, I can listen to the tone I’m using. I usually tell myself I only need two seconds of insane courage to do this, and once those two seconds are over, I’ve already said what I needed to say. I also like to observe what others are doing and how they behave. For instance, if I’m meeting a new person, and I’m in a group setting, I let others talk to understand their communication style.
6. What are some tips to keep in mind when advocating for yourself?
–Nobody is going to advocate for you, or as much as you will for yourself. And if they do, you shouldn’t let them do all of the talking for you. To make an impact, people have to hear it from you.
–Have a plan whenever you have a meeting or conversation. Always state the objective so the other person knows what you want to get out of it.
–Remain calm at all times. There’s nothing worse than letting others see how frustrated you are. You need to remain calm because you can’t be in control if you are upset or emotional.
–Be confident, stand firm, and use powerful words.
7. What’s the one step our readers can take to start advocating for themselves? Reframe your mindset. If you go into the conversation thinking you will be confrontational, the outcome might not be as favorable. It’s a matter of telling yourself that advocating for yourself is a good thing and will benefit you in the long run, even though it’s uncomfortable at the time. When you change your mindset, you can drive the conversation better and be in control.
Special thanks to Patricia for sharing her self-advocacy journey with us, and I wish her the best on her journey in pursuing her career goals.
Patricia Diaz has a B.S. in Finance and Economics and an M.S. in Finance. She’s an Associate at Goldman Sachs in their finance division. She has been at the firm for seven years and has recruited for them for the past three years. She is the founder of Latinos Empowered, a page that aims to be a resource for Latinos to understand their potential and power in the U.S. The page provides information and resources on finance and health, as well as reflections and stories—all to drive action and change in the Latinx community.