Some women are reluctant to speak up for themselves on the job—and that can hurt their careers. Researchers at Harvard Business School and Wharton found that men are significantly more likely than women to give their own performance a high rating, and that women’s hesitance to speak well of their work may cause them to miss out on promotions, better pay, or simply getting hired in the first place.
If you’re not used to advocating for yourself, it may not be possible to transform into your own best cheerleader overnight. But there are several strategies you can use to become more assertive and advance your interests in the workplace. If you apply them consistently, you may find that they start to come naturally.
Some women have found that their colleagues ask them to do more “office housework,” tasks that benefit everyone at work and that might have been stereotypically seen as women’s responsibilities in the past. Office housework might include wiping down a break room table or making coffee before a meeting. If coworkers assume that you’ll take care of these tasks (and they’re not your assigned duties) then it’s important to speak up and set limits. There are often many ways to draw boundaries, depending on what you’re most comfortable with. For instance, if a coworker is always asking you to take notes at meetings when that’s not part of your job description, you might speak with that person, discuss the situation with your manager, or propose a new arrangement where a different person takes notes each time.
Before asking your employer for a raise or promotion, collect evidence. It’s easier to speak up for yourself when you have some facts handy to build your case on. This makes for a more compelling argument and can boost your confidence in asking for what you want. For example, if you want a promotion to marketing manager, you might want to note that RevPAR increased by 5 percent after your company implemented the marketing campaign you created.
Deliver an elevator pitch
Drawing on the evidence you’ve collected, craft a succinct summary of why your achievements deserve to be recognized or why you’re the right person for an opportunity. Practice your elevator pitch with a friend, or try saying it in front of a mirror. Then ask for a meeting with your manager to discuss your request.
Put ideas in writing
Have you ever suggested an idea at work, only to have a male colleague make the same suggestion later and take the credit? Many other women have experienced that, too. Researchers have found that men are rewarded more than women for sharing ideas in the workplace. You may be able to prevent this by writing your ideas down. Depending on your company’s procedures, it might be appropriate to create some slides, send an email, or print out a summary of your idea to distribute at a team meeting. Whichever method you choose, make sure your name is on it! This creates a paper trail and establishes that the idea originated with you.
Find a mentor
A mentor can help you identify your best achievements and personal qualities. This is especially helpful if you tend to be self-critical or if you often overlook things you’re good at. A mentor can also help you brainstorm new ways you can advocate for yourself and can answer any questions you have about the right way to go about it. Plus, if you find a mentor who works at your company, they may be able to back you up and advocate on your behalf.
Take negative feedback in stride
Everyone experiences some setbacks at work now and then, but some people take them harder than others. If you’re someone for whom a negative comment feels like the end of the world, you may lose the confidence you need to advocate for yourself whenever you receive some critical feedback. Try to put things in perspective by asking yourself, “How does this feedback fit in with my job performance as a whole? Does it reflect the entirety of my work, or just one small part? What are some things I’m doing well? Have I made positive changes in the past, and could I do that again?” Remember, you don’t need anyone else’s approval or permission to speak up for yourself, and you don’t need to wait for a 100 percent perfect review to start building confidence.
Look for small wins
If your end goal is a raise or promotion, the thought of requesting it may be intimidating. Work up to it by asking for some smaller things that are easier for your manager to say yes to. You could ask for your employer to support your completion of a certification program or to send you to a hospitality conference. Once you’ve made a few requests successfully, you’ll feel empowered to ask for the things that matter the most to you.
Make it a habit
Build momentum by advocating for yourself frequently. Set a goal to advocate for yourself at least once per week, and look for opportunities to speak up. It’s okay if most of those opportunities are fairly minor at first. As it becomes a habit, you’ll begin to view yourself as someone who asks for what she wants, and your colleagues will recognize you as a confident professional. Then the next time you need to point out the value of your contributions at work, it won’t be a surprise to you or anyone else when you rise to the challenge.