How to Be an Effective Self-Advocate, According to Women in Tech

Janey Zitomer
July 14, 2020

All too often, Melanie Antoon, vice president of professional services at DISCO, said she hears professional women discuss the “luck” they have experienced in their career. 

“Success isn’t about good luck or being at the right place at the right time,” Antoon said. “Saying things like that only diminishes your contributions and accomplishments.”

She and Jessica Cantave, a sales operations manager at SailPoint, are prime examples of the benefits of hard work and self-advocacy. In a previous role, Cantave’s manager told her that the company didn’t have the budget to automate an aspect of her workload that would make her more productive.

She took matters into her own hands. 

“I connected with my colleagues in IT, who suggested a few coding courses,” Cantave said. “I picked one, completed the course and scheduled a follow-up meeting with my manager.” 

The result? A new process that was not only approved but took half the time.

Speaking up for what you deserve can be intimidating. The following advice might help make the idea being your own biggest cheerleader less scary. 

 

Shutterstock
Shutterstock
Jessica Cantave
Sales Operations Manager

“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.”

This Nelson Mandela quote has stuck with Jessica Cantave ever since she began advocating for herself at the start of her career in tech. As a seasoned sales manager, Cantave said she’s learned how to adapt to her audience without selling herself short.  

 

How have you gotten past any fears or doubts about advocating for and promoting yourself, your accomplishments and your abilities?

I have been in the tech sales industry for more than 10 years. Advocating for myself was something I had to learn over time. Early on in my career, I would often feel intimidated to ask for a merit increase or promotion even if my workload had doubled. I remember taking a five-minute phone call from my father in a shared office space years back. The regional sales manager who shared the space with me scolded me for being on the phone for too long. That was a turning point. I started observing four successful women within the organization and took notes on their approach to various situations. 

I adapted a kill-them-with-kindness approach to self-advocacy, which has helped me establish life-long relationships in the industry and has contributed to my overall success. 

For me, that means learning your audience and acting accordingly. Be humble but firm. Voice your concerns and wants with a neutral tone. Always listen. If the response is not in line with what you want, keep the tone neutral and ask detailed questions. Finally, come up with multiple solutions for the greater good so you can reach a collaborative outcome.

 

What advice do you have for women who may feel like their contributions are being overlooked in the workplace?

First, take the emotion out of it. Being emotional at work never works in your favor. If that tends to be a challenge for you, learn to check your emotions at the door or find someone to help you remove the emotions from the situation. Proceed with logic. 

Second, learn how to manage up. Become irreplaceable on your team, learn how to listen and help your manager with difficult situations or tasks. Having a team-player mentality will help gain your manager’s respect and ear. That way, you’ve set the stage for conversations around your wants.

Third, document, document, document. If you feel that you are due for an increase or promotion, quantify all your wins and present them. 

Be humble but firm.’’ 

Share an example of a time when self-advocacy paid off.

When I was a sales analyst, our CRM was not set up to run effective reporting for our indirect business, which made the task painful. We spent countless hours tracking compensation, deal registrations and overall performance. After 10 months in the role, I scheduled a meeting with my manager to brainstorm tools and coding courses I could take to help automate the process. 

In my presentation, I identified the pain points for each report, quantifying the hours each step would take with and without automation to support my ask. My manager was impressed but my request was rejected. He told me we didn’t have the budget. So I connected with my colleagues in IT, who suggested a few coding courses. I picked one, completed the course, and scheduled a follow-up meeting with my manager. 

I came to the table with a reliable solution and did most of the work myself based on what I had learned. After a month of testing, we went live. The new process took half the time. We were able to audit and analyze the data in a way we never had before. Behind the scenes, my manager worked with his director to not only get me a merit increase but also cover my course. 

 

Melanie Antoon
Vice President of Professional Services

DISCO Vice President of Professional Services Melanie Antoon said that over her career, she’s become her own strongest advocate. Doing so has involved promoting her work throughout the organization and pitching herself for open positions she felt qualified to step into. She recommends asking detailed questions of managers and showing pride for projects that deserve recognition. 

 

How have you gotten past any fears or doubts about advocating for and promoting yourself, your accomplishments and your abilities?

It is important that women believe in their skills, their voice and what they bring to the table. While speaking up for yourself may at times feel scary or difficult, remember that you belong where you are and deserve to be there. Your accomplishments should be recognized, acknowledged and celebrated. Success isn’t about good luck or being at the right place at the right time. Saying things like that only diminishes your contributions and accomplishments.

As I progressed throughout my career, I looked for different ways to build my confidence to support my goal of becoming my strongest advocate. I focused on learning as much as I could about my industry and devoted additional time to understanding the technical concepts of my role and what was needed in my organization. This knowledge helped strengthen my voice as I promoted my work and accomplishments to my higher-ups. 

 

What advice do you have for women who may feel like their contributions are being overlooked in the workplace?

Although women tend to downplay their accomplishments, if you don’t show pride in what you have done, others certainly won’t. Doing so is not selfish. 

Be direct and ask for what you want, whether that’s recognition or a new opportunity or a promotion. Be vocal and don’t be afraid to ask specific questions such as, “What steps can I take to achieve my goal?” 

Take responsibility for your growth and development, work with your leaders to build a clear path forward so you can highlight your accomplishments and demonstrate that you are ready for the next thing. 

It would never have been possible if I hadn’t had the courage to speak up and advocate for myself.’’

Share an example of a time when self-advocacy paid off.

Earlier in my career, a senior leader left the company I was working for. I knew I would be perfect for the role this individual had vacated, even though I hadn’t been at the company that long and would not naturally be considered as a successor.

I decided to take a chance and directly ask for the opportunity. I went to the CEO and explained why I was ready for the role and prepared to take on the responsibilities. I showcased my accomplishments, explained my plan for the new role and illustrated the positive working relationships I already had built with the people who would become my peers. 

I got the job. It would never have been possible if I hadn’t had the courage to speak up and advocate for myself. Accepting the role ended up being a pivotal career opportunity, as I went on to become an executive at that company and ultimately find my way to my current executive position at DISCO.

 

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