Advocate for Yourself at Work With This 3-Step Strategy

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Will this be the year you score that promotion, get a big raise, and finally get some help with your insane workload?  Claire Wasserman, an advocate for women's equality in the workplace, says it can be. As the founder of Ladies Get Paid, she's making it her life's work to help women earn better salaries and thrive in their careers. Here, the Well+Good Council member shares her boss-lady mojo and demonstrates how to advocate for yourself at work.

“The next time a woman—and especially a woman of color, because she stands to make 52 cents on the dollar compared to her white, male counterpart—tells you what she needs in order to do her job, listen to her. Believe her." These were the words actor Michelle Williams spoke into the microphone during her 2019 Emmy acceptance speech, and they ring true far outside the reaches of Hollywood.

Women are 15 percent less likely to get promoted than men. Yikes. As women, the professional cards may be stacked against us, but here's a secret that can benefit you: Losing an employee costs companies a lot of money. Like, $500 billion each year. It can also be extremely pricey to replace staff; it’s estimated that it can take 45 days and $24,000 to find someone new. In short: You’re a valuable asset and they don’t want to lose you. Don’t forget it.

Yet, the thought of having to advocate for ourselves at work makes many of us cringe. Whether we want a promotion or an increase in resources and support, having to ask for it can be awkward, uncomfortable, and depending on who your boss is, downright terrifying.

Given that we’re socialized to be “the good girl” and to not disrupt, it’s no wonder so many of us don’t ask for what we need. Here are some tactics that should help.

Learn how to advocate for yourself at work.
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1. Make sure you're set up for success

Establish open communication

Getting your boss to say yes means you have to speak their language. Well before you make your ask, you need to lay the groundwork for success. That means establishing a good line of communication with your manager so you know how they like to receive information. This ensure that when it’s time to advocate, you’ll do it in a way that they will understand.

Meet 1:1
Make sure to check in regularly with your manager. During these meetings, detail your accomplishments as well as any obstacles so that when you advocate for yourself, it won’t come as a surprise. In fact, they may offer you what you’re looking for before you even have to ask!

2. Build your case

Be clear about your ask
Is it a promotion? Recognition? More resources? Budget? Be sure to ask colleagues who may have been in this position before. You want to know whether what you want to accomplish is possible within the current environment.

Identify the key gatekeeper(s) and what they will need to buy in
What are the pressures they’re under? How do they define success? Keep in mind that everything needs to be tailored to your boss’ bottom line. (The best thing you can do is make alliances in the office so they can help advocate on your behalf. )

Figure out the consequence of the ask
Depending on what you’re pitching, most likely it will affect other people you work with. If that’s the case, figure out how much time and money it may cost so that you can reframe it as a benefit to the company. For instance, “You save X amount of time, so you can do X more things.”

Have a backup plan ready
Assuming they may say no because of a budget or something else out of your control, prepare a beta version of your request that will help you demonstrate its value. Then when you succeed, you can go back and ask again.

Know your accomplishments
Have your major wins in your back pocket so that you can start the conversation around your recent accomplishments, validating your strength as an employee and teeing up your ask, whatever it may be. You need to believe that you truly deserve what you’re asking for.

Advocate for yourself at work by making the case for your accomplishments.

3. Now you're ready to make the ask

Pick your timing carefully
At our conference in 2018, Anjali Sud, the CEO of Vimeo told me: “It’s important to pick your battles. If you’re shouting it from the rooftops every day, it’s not as impactful. Be that person who is quietly doing the work and pick the moment and then BOOM, it’s the end of the quarter and [you can say] 'I delivered this, this, and this.'” I couldn’t agree more.

Manage your emotions
A lot of us get nervous when we have to ask for something we want. Instead of thinking about yourself as being nervous, try to reframe it as excitement. It’s also an opportunity to learn, rather than a pass/fail test. This should help take the pressure off.

Be proactive
If you believe your boss may have reservations about your ask, be proactive and address it: “I realize that you might say no because we’re currently in a tight budget. But let me talk about how adding someone to this project will actually save us money.”

Agree on a timeline
One of the most frustrating things is when you either don’t get a clear answer or you’re unsure of when you can implement whatever you were asking for. Do your best to have your boss agree on specific dates and get it on the calendar. Otherwise, it’s not going to happen.

Remember, never ask for less than you need. If you’ve made a strong case that clearly demonstrates the benefit to the company, there’s no reason you should temper your ask. Extra credit: The best thing you can do is make alliances in the office so they can help advocate on your behalf.

Claire Wasserman is a career coach and founder of Ladies Get Paid, an organization that helps women navigate obstacles at work so they can rise up in their careers.

What should Claire write about next? Send your questions and suggestions to

This post was originally published on January 1, 2018. Updated on Septemeber 23, 2019

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