Do You Know Your Worth? The Art of Self Advocacy
November 14, 2023
In the rapidly evolving professional landscape we all live in, competence and diligence are no longer enough to ensure professional growth and development. Self-advocacy has become not only a must when seeking to advance one’s career but a delicate skill that needs to be cultivated and developed in its own right.
In the Equity Expert Podcast, we sat down with Kathy Son, Director of Equity Programs at OpenAI, and discussed how this very topic relates back to her own career and the perspective she holds on self-advocacy as a manager.
Self-advocacy is the gasoline that will fuel your career to new heights. Self-advocacy is about knowing your value, your strengths, and the direction you want to go. This concept transcends mere self-awareness; it's an active, dynamic process of positioning oneself to achieve set goals and aspirations.
For Kathy, this meant leveraging her position as an equity administrator at Uber to propel herself into situations where she could not only contribute but also grow. Kathy saw the opportunity to wear multiple hats at Uber and get involved in ways not
typical of normal stock administrator duties, and she took full advantage of this.
Because I was at a startup, you were able to wear so many hats, and are involved in so many other projects that aren't always in your normal stock administrator's scope. And, you know, my strategy was really just raising my hand and taking opportunities as I saw them, and especially if there are deficiencies in other teams, take that opportunity to raise your hand and help those teams to not only learn more, and grow, but also build great relationships with your stakeholders. And it really got me a lot more cross-functional exposure, which I thought was a great strategy for my own growth. - Kathy Son
As demonstrated by Kathy, the cornerstone of self-advocacy is proactive engagement. Volunteering for projects, especially in nimble and fast-paced environments like startups, is not just about helping others within your organization but also skill acquisition, network building, and showcasing your capacity for additional responsibility.
Communication With Managers
A significant facet of self-advocacy is fostering robust communication channels with those who oversee your professional development—your managers. Kathy discussed the importance of this approach by offering her own perspective as a manager and what she looks for when discussing additional responsibilities with her direct reports.
She mentioned that in order for her as a manager to be able to help her direct reports get to where they want to go in their careers, one of the first steps is to vocalize exactly what that is. Kathy recommended taking the time to have frequent touchpoints
with your managers to discuss what interests you and what you would like that next step in your career to be, because a good manager will listen to what it is you have to say and will work with you to develop a performance plan to get you there, but
without that open communication, you’re essentially operating in a vacuum and hoping your manager already knows what your goals are. Self-advocacy is about taking control of your career and owning your own narrative and Kathy and I are both
in agreement that these discussions should happen at minimum on a quarterly basis if not more frequently.
It's a two-way street where you have to meet 50-50, and really be advocating for yourself, because your manager might be busy with other things and it's just really important to have those frequent touch points with your manager to focus on your growth, and I think quarterly should be the minimum when getting feedback from your manager or from other peers. - Kathy Son
Gaining More Responsibility
With growth naturally comes additional responsibilities, but other than just communicating your desire to take on more responsibility, how do you go about showing that you are in fact ready to do so?
Kathy and I discussed the need to build trust first, and not only with your manager but other stakeholders within your organization. You need to show that you are excelling at your core responsibilities first before adding more on to your plate. For my football fans out there, it’s a similar approach to what Deion Sanders at the University of Colorado has taken with his stance on players that want to play on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball, which is not the norm at the collegiate and professional level, but something he is open to if his players have proven themselves ready.
In order to take on more responsibility and expand your career, other than communicating this desire to your manager, you need to first ensure that you are currently operating at a high capacity within the current scope of your role and those quarterly meetings with your manager are a great time to discuss this.
I think first off, be really good at your core responsibilities. You really need to build trust first by showing to your manager and stakeholders that you can do your job and you can do it really well. And then from there, try to figure out what you actually want to focus on what you want to learn. And you know, try to vocalize that with others, whether it's your manager, or other stakeholders that you work with peers who can actually help you get there. - Kathy Son
In order to effectively advocate for yourself, you need to be confident in your own ability. It can be easy for imposter syndrome to set in whenever you’re entering a new situation, and that can cause you to shy away from growth opportunities and prevent you from speaking up and asking questions when things aren’t looking right.
I would say, be more confident in yourself, do not have impostor syndrome, you are hired for a reason you're there for a reason. And you deserve to be there. I think that was always a big thing for me is not having as much confidence when I was younger and being able to speak up. If something doesn't look right, speak up and ask questions versus just doing something because that was in the process document. So, I highly recommend that as well. - Kathy Son
Why Hard Work Isn’t Enough
Hard work is the expected baseline, not a differentiator. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but in the work force, visibility is as crucial as the work itself. It’s a reminder that while your work may be exceptional, without self-advocacy, it may continue to go unrecognized. Advocating for yourself is a skill that many professionals currently lack, and it can feel uncomfortable to do so or overtly braggadocios, but this is a skill and a necessary component of professional development, and below, we’ve provided a checklist that we hope helps you in your career and can serve as a guide when seeking to further understand the art of self-advocacy.