Are You Prepared to Advocate for Yourself at Work?

Despite your incredible work ethic and near perfect attendance record, you probably find yourself in situations where you feel underappreciated at work. Perhaps you want to negotiate more paid time off or you notice a colleague receiving credit for your work in company projects. In these situations, self-advocacy is critical. So why do people avoid standing up for themselves?

Some people dislike confrontation because they assume it will result in nonproductive arguments, but for a lot of women, the reasons for avoiding self-advocacy run deeper.

Overall, women are less confident in their work performance than men and are therefore less likely to self-promote. For the women who do find the confidence to advocate for themselves in front of their higher ups, there is a chance they will experience social and economic backlash for failing to adhere to gender norms. In contrast, men who self-advocate are praised for being self-assured and confident in their abilities.

Women who are aware of this discrepancy usually avoid self-advocating entirely, but dodging difficult conversations in the work place will only leave women underpaid, underappreciated and unsatisfied at work. If you are playing with the idea of advocating for yourself at work, there are benefits to speaking up, like:

  • It may benefit your career. Standing up for yourself in the office may be what’s separating you from moving forward in your career as well as the recognition you most likely deserve as an employee. Remember, you may not be offered the raise you deserve or that extra paid time off unless you ask for it.
  • You will gain a lifelong skill. The first time you advocate for yourself is the hardest, but once you get used to making your needs known at work, you should be able to do so in other aspects of life. Knowing how to prompt, navigate and conclude healthy confrontation is an essential life skill both inside and outside the workplace. If you finally want to confront your passive aggressive neighbor, the skill of navigating conflict will be useful.
  • People need to know if they’re acting unfairly. While most employers know when an employee is undercompensated, your colleague may not realize that they are cutting you off in meetings. In most cases, people will not know that there is a problem unless you speak up. If your coworkers is aware that they are bulldozing you in meetings, they need to know that their actions are inappropriate.

Even knowing these benefits, it can be intimidating to stand up for your self. Here are a few tips to prepare you for the big ask.

Choose your battles

Before sending your supervisor that meeting invite, ask yourself if the issue at hand is worth advocating for. First, decide if the outcome you’re seeking is possible at your company or organization. If your ideal outcome is indeed possible, consider if the benefit of the ask will outweigh potential backlash. If the change you’re advocating for could benefit other people in the organization, it is probably worth advocating for. Ask your colleagues if they want to support your ask either in person or in writing.


Regardless of what you’re asking for, you should conduct research on the topic first. This way you can ensure that your ask is reasonable and also provide information for your employer if they have questions about the validity of your concerns. If you are asking for an increased salary or vacation time, it could be useful to research what other people with your experience level tend to make in your position.

Similarly, do not be afraid to practice! These situations are high stress and it is not strange or uncommon to become anxious before a confrontation. If you practice what you want to say and how you wish to say it, you are less likely to trip over your words and clam up during the actual meeting.

Have a clear ask

You’ve identified the facts of the situation, now you need to succinctly state what you need. The most important aspect of a solid request is to have a clear goal in mind, as well as an idea of a means to achieve that goal.

For instance, if you notice your colleague is not crediting your research during presentations, you could ask them to include your name in a credits slide. Then reiterate that your end goal is that everyone in the organization receives recognition and open praise for their hard work.

Even if you have a desired outcome, in a lot of cases you should be open to suggestions. In the workplace, self-advocacy often results in compromise the first time around.

Know your worth.

 Confidence and self-worth will motivate you to advocate for yourself, but will also help you achieve your desired outcome. If you’re struggling to find your confidence, write down a list of your strengths and contributions to your organization. Go over this list with yourself so that you can make it clear to yourself and your employer that you are a valuable part of your team and therefore worth a compromise. Your confidence will come through in your meetings and will make your ask sound more convincing and professional.

Let’s say after you muster up the courage to stand up for yourself, your employer isn’t willing to compromise. First of all, don’t be discouraged. A no upfront may not mean you won’t achieve your desired outcome down the road.  But in some cases you may have to weigh whether or not your desired outcome is a workplace deal breaker.

How do you move forward when your ask is rejected? We’ll cover that in our next GovFem post.

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Nya Jackson

Great post Danielle. I especially like the tip on preparing before going into a difficult conversation. For example, my sister usually practices her talking points for her annual review on me before her meeting with her boss. Practice makes perfect!

Steph Drahozal

These are such valid points and practical tips! I love the “Know Your Worth” section. I, too, find it helpful listing down how you have contributed to your organization, and then your confidence will build in yourself and you will know you deserve what you are asking for – which will show to your employer!