Episode 13: Self Advocacy

July 12, 2019
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Resources mentioned in this podcast:

Getting More: How You Can Negotiate to Succeed in Work and Life by Stuart Diamond


Angie Chang: Welcome to Girl Geek X Podcast connecting you with insights for women in tech. This is Angie.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: This is Sukrutha.

Gretchen DeKnikker: This is Gretchen.

Rachel Jones: This is Rachel, the producer of this podcast, and we are the team behind Girl Geek X. This podcast brings you the best of Girl Geek X events, dinners, and conferences where we’ve been elevating women in tech for over 10 years.

Angie Chang: And today we’ll be discussing self advocacy.

Rachel Jones: How do you see these topics kind of come up?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, it definitely comes up like if it doesn’t come up with the speakers talking about their own personal experiences when they were growing. It does come up in the Q&A, for sure, because the attendees want to get a sense of how they can navigate through the challenges that they’re navigating at work, and it’s usually about how do I not get overlooked and how do I push myself to be more visible without being obnoxious, and so that sort of topic typically comes up, obviously, in different spots. What do you think, Angie?

Angie Chang: I find that when I am with a ladies lunch, women who brunch, group of women, you always find yourselves egging each other on to do more. Apply for the next job, or for you’re headed for some new writing residency, and so advocacy is something that we find ourselves doing to help encourage each other to self advocate.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, I mean I think it comes up even if it’s not with that language, around how do I negotiate the right salary? Should I be going for that promotion? How do I present that?

Rachel Jones: Have any of you had personal experiences where you’ve had to advocate for yourself?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I mean not the more obvious way of advocating for myself, but when I wanted to move to management, I basically… when I would meet people that I needed to take advice from, I would ask them what they looked for in a manager, and then I would talk about myself in the context of those qualities that they brought up, and I would ask, “Okay, how would you like that to be–that to have been exhibited,” then I would give examples of when I have done it just so that the VPs would keep me in mind if they had a manager position open, and I do think it worked. It helped me get better at describing what my strengths were, and whenever I needed to actually talk more about what I’ve been doing and what my highlights have been, I definitely found the language better.

Angie Chang: When I hear about self advocacy, I think about how you get what you asked for if you ask for it. So, I self advocated when I was at a start-up when I went in as a director, and then kept asking for a higher title. Arguing that it would help me get meetings more easily, and then I asked a few times, over and over in different ways, and then I got a promotion and people would always be like, “Congratulations, you got promoted for recognize,” and I’m like, “Yeah, that’s because I asked for it. Many times.”

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Because you were already doing what defined what a VP’s role would be in that company.

Angie Chang: Right, and you’re not going to get things unless you ask for them, half the time, more than once.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Earlier in my career, the thing I would have to advocate for the most because I worked at such small companies was another resource. I was the only one doing something, and so I think I got good advice really early on of keep a good list of what things you work on, but then divide those up into things like if you could get rid of, what those things? What would those be, and then at some point, those will be another role, and then you can off-load most of the stuff you don’t like doing and you have all this stuff to make a case for the hire, which was advice I got from at my very first start-up that I’ve given again and again.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So, I don’t know if that’s self advocacy as much as self preservation. I can’t keep doing two peoples’ jobs but–

Angie Chang: That’s a really good point. I’ve had several friends over the last year tell me about their difficulty in getting the team to manage at their companies. So, make a list of things you do and the roles you need to hire for and advocate for your resources.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, and then also, an extra case for–the frosting on the cake and the way that you really get it is you’re like, “Okay, this is what this person would do, and then here’s what I would be free to do if I wasn’t doing this stuff and this is how I would be able to add a whole bunch more value.” That’s where, if you were coming to me as a manager, you would really get… instead of just, “If I could get rid of this, you could hire this person,” but if you can make that second half of the argument, then you’re sold.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: The good thing, also, about asking for whatever it is, whether it’s for another resource, or a promotion, is you end up getting feedback that you may not be getting in that context. So then, you get a sense of what is it that you need to do in order to get what you need? If you’re not yet there, which I found also useful when I would ask for whatever it was that I felt like I deserved, I would hear feedback about what it is that they needed to see, and then that would help me. If I was already doing those things, that would help me realize what I needed done, which is more of and what I wasn’t able to.

Gretchen DeKnikker: How’s this come up for you, Rachel?

Rachel Jones: I think, just coming from the non-profit world, you’re put in a position very often where you had to advocate for yourself, like, “Hey, this is too much work for a person to be doing and making this little money,” or, “These decisions that you’re making to get this type of funding don’t actually make any sense for my program.”

Rachel Jones: Yeah, it’s definitely something that I learned to do, and had some more success in some spaces than others and with some methods more than others, but I just think a lot about responsibility and where that falls and how it sucks that self advocacy is even a thing that you have to do, because you hear a lot in non-profits, and I’m assuming other work spaces, where everyone’s always like, “Oh, we really want to support you. Tell us what kind of support you need,” and even me just sitting down and listing for you all the stuff I need to do my job is extra work and I wish that you, who made this job and hired me to do it, already knew what I needed and could provide it for me, but that’s not the case.

Rachel Jones: Self advocacy is definitely a skill that you have to develop.

Angie Chang: Yeah, I also hear it in people who are in a job and like you said, Rachel, in a non-profit. I also see it in start-ups and tech companies where people go into a job and they’re like, “My manager isn’t amazing. I don’t have the resources to succeed,” and then they have to do a lot of self advocacy to get what they need, and they thought, “I graduated from a top university. I did the right thing, and then I thought I was in this kush job, and then I realize that no one’s paying attention to me and I’m just in this seemingly glamorous job at a company that a lot of people have heard of, but I’m not being supported,” and that’s where the self advocacy comes in to really digging your heels and figure out where you want to go hire because you’re not getting stuff handed to you.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So, there’s also the… if you haven’t developed your own self advocacy, who are those people that you have around you, kind of like Angie was talking about. So, our next quote is from Nupur Srivastava. She’s the VP of Product Management at Grand Rounds, and she shared her personal experience on self advocacy during our dinner with SquareTrade last year.

Nupur Srivastava: There was a time when I got promoted to director, and I was really excited about it, but we were scaling as a company, and my CEO told me that he’s looking to bring in a VP of product to consolidate different product functions that we had, and I was actually really excited. I helped interview. I was actually vouching for a couple of the candidates, and once I was in the room with him, we were discussing a candidate, and he looked me straight in the eye and said, “Why have you not asked me for this role?” And I was like, “Because I didn’t think it was an option? I didn’t know that that’s a thing you can do,” and it really was a pretty shocking and pivotal moment for me, because he saw my leadership potential way before I believed I could be a leader, or even deserved to be the VP of product.

Nupur Srivastava: I was lucky he gave me the role. Now, I lead the product team and I’ve grown the team out, but I think the biggest thing that taught me is you miss all the shots you don’t take. It really made me think about what are other opportunities where we are not raising our hand for, and what other things are passing us by, but that is a moment that has stuck with me, and I constantly think of that, even with my own team, which I certainly tend to have it be female heavy, because why not? And you’re always looking out for these instances where people are not asking for what they deserve, and I see it time and again.

Nupur Srivastava: If my CEO hadn’t said that to me, I would have been probably still happy, but reporting to another VP of product and probably not talking to you guys tonight.

Angie Chang: I love how honest Nupur was about the fact that she didn’t see herself as a VP until her boss reminded her of it. I wish I could say I have a similar appearance or something, but it was just really nice to hear her say that.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I resonate with what she talked about. The only thing that I took objection to was when she called herself lucky that her boss gave her the role because I believe there’s no such thing. Obviously, she worked hard and she seemed deserving, which is why he even recommended it to her, but it is fascinating to me how she said something like she would have happily reported to another VP had he not brought this up. So, just being more self aware of what you bring to the table is really important. Perhaps you’re not even thinking of putting yourself in that position.

Rachel Jones: I think this relates a lot to a discussion we had a few episodes ago about imposter syndrome and just what you think that you’re capable of, because I think self advocacy is about asking for what you deserve, but you can’t do that before you actually know what you deserve, and you take time to figure that out. So, that’s definitely important work and sometimes we’re lucky enough to have people around us who will recognize what we’re doing and push forward, but I think just within ourselves, really figuring out what we do deserve is super important.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I also want to say that if you’re a manager, or in a position where you are the one recruiting and able to spot talent or grow talent, you may not always have someone who might be great at advocating for themselves, but if you can grow someone, or nudge someone in the right direction, you should absolutely be mindful of those chances that you should take, and take them.

Gretchen DeKnikker: This has just got me thinking. I had so much support at the beginning of my career of just people who saw that I could do a lot more than I thought was even remotely possible, and it was in the late ’90s and the middle of the boom. So, it’s sort of like that whatever raw skills I had meets timing meets opportunity, and so I was able to take on so much, but I questioned them the whole time of like, “I don’t know what a 401K is. I’ve never heard of one. I can’t pick one out for the whole company,” right, because we didn’t have 401Ks, but then I think about managers I’ve had since then, and they’ve all pushed me in a different way.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Some of them, I don’t like and I don’t particularly appreciate the way that they pushed me to see that I could do more, but all of them have shown me a new part of myself where I didn’t think I was capable of something until they pushed me to do it.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That motivation that you got a lot of support, does that make you to be more likely to then look around your team and support other people?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Oh, totally. Keep pushing something back to, especially someone who’s really junior, who’s like, “I don’t think I can do that,” and it’s like, “Okay, well let’s talk about it for a second. You need A, B, C. That feels like something you could do, doesn’t it?” And just keep pushing it back because I had that so early on that it’s… I’m really grateful for that because I think it just forces me to be like, “No, I think you really are capable of doing that. What else should I take off your plate so that you can have time to do that or whatever else?”

Rachel Jones: Do you think there was a point in your career where you transitioned out of needing people around you to point those things out?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I don’t think you ever get… I mean, what sucks when you get really senior is that you have fewer people to push you, and you’re the one doing the pushing, and so you’re providing more support and getting less, and that’s hard and you have to… I think we’ve talked about that, in the mentorship podcast, of finding those people who can still do that because I have somebody like Angie, or Sukrutha, or you around. Angie, for a decade now, has been behind me just like, “Nope, you can do that.” I was like, “First, you’re my PR person. Then you’re my life coach. Then you’re my this,” right, but she’s always, always, always pushing me to do something that I wasn’t comfortable with, and so that’s, I think, when you get more senior in your career and you don’t necessarily have a boss boss, you have that. Y’all have an Angie?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Or go find an Angie.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, we’ve got our Angie busy, so you’re going to have to get your own.

Rachel Jones: So I hear conversations around self advocacy and even a lot of what we’re talking about with imposter syndrome being framed, specifically, around women in tech. Do you think this is something that women struggle with more?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I mean, there’s study after study shows that women don’t negotiate, and we have so many instances of it, of you get your salary offer. You’re like, “Yeah, that’s great,” and this huge percentage of men always ask for more, and so that’s the number one thing when you start thinking about the wage gap, and it’s just maybe five or ten thousand dollars in your first job out of school, but then that compounds over time and every time you get a promotion, and if you’re never negotiating at the top amount where those two things can divide where you actually have played some role in it.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I’m not saying that it’s women’s fault because I do believe that employers have a responsibility to be more responsible about this, and by the way, in California, they are not allowed to ask for your last salary. That is illegal, so definitely don’t answer that question because it has nothing to do with the job you’re about to get, and that’s another way to help in there.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: But they will ask you what salary you want.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yes.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think it’s going back to what you said earlier about imposter syndrome impacting whether or not you do think you deserve something, and then if you think you deserve something, only then will you advocate for yourself.

Angie Chang: So, the topic of gender and self advocacy came up in our recent Elevate conference with Salesforce EVP Leyla Seka. She pushed for the gender wage gap at Salesforce to be closed and convinced CEO Marc Benioff that it was a really important topic. She spoke to this issue this year at Elevate.

Leyla Seka: Over time, throughout many companies and throughout my career, I’d had the sense that the men made more money. Just like shop talk in the kitchen kind of thing. Nothing super sophisticated, but just a feeling, and then I got Salesforce and I got totally… I got raised up and I got this great opportunity to run one of our divisions called Desk, and it was bonus time. When you’re the boss, you get the money and you decide who gets what money, what stock and all that, and so I really fought hard to get a lot of it for everyone, and when push came to shove, I really just thought they all deserved an equal amount.

Leyla Seka: So, I gave them all the same, but I gave them a lot. A lot more than any of them had ever gotten before. I worked hard. So, then you have the meetings with the people. So, my assistant set up the meetings that just happened to be the two women went first, right? So, I sit with the first woman. Great job, this, this, and this. Here’s your bonus. “OH, Leyla, thank you so much. It’s so amazing. Oh my gosh. I love my job. Thank you for the money. Thank you, thank you,” and then the second woman. Great job. “Oh, thank you for the money. Thank you so much. Thank you, thank you.”

Leyla Seka: And then the first man. I said it to him and he looked at me and he said, “I want more,” and I thought in my head like, “What? What? How could you want more? You’ve never gotten this much. What?” but I straight up was like, “Okay, I’ll try to ponder that,” and then the second man, who was really my COO, and really my partner in running the business, my primary partner. I told him the money, and he looked at me and said, “I want more,” and he was a close enough partner that I could say, “Okay, stop a second. What is this?”

Leyla Seka: And he started to say, “We’ve always been taught to ask for more,” and it was like someone slapped me across the face because I thought of all the times that I had gotten a bonus, or a promotion, or a job, or any of these things, and I had been like, “Thank you,” because that was the way my mother raised me.

Rachel Jones: So, I really like, actually the end of Leyla’s quote where she talks about how her mother raised her to say thank you because we’ve talked a lot, even in this conversation, just about imposter syndrome and how women struggle with it, but it’s not just like a thing, biologically, that women deal with, or some difference. It’s because of how we’re socialized and how we’re conditioned in society to be grateful for what we get when men are taught and encouraged to ask for more and push farther. These are messages that we’re given even as children. It starts super young.

Angie Chang: That was interesting to me because I’ve never heard of that.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I haven’t heard of that, specifically, but I’m very, very aware that women don’t want to come across like they’re complaining. So, I feel like that’s what it leads to, where you want to sound grateful. You don’t want to sound like you’re complaining and not thankful because you want your boss or whomever to be like, “Oh, they’re easy to work with.”

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, I mean there’s certainly the likability thing that comes in. You’re negotiating for a job and you know that you have to ask for more like, “Okay, we’ve listened to all these other women say that. I know I have to go back and ask for more,” but there’s still that part of you and you’re like, “Well, is this going to make them hate me?”

Gretchen DeKnikker: Of course, then you could have the argument with yourself and like, “Well, fuck them,” if they hate you and they didn’t really want you, but I always feel like it’s going to create some sort of friction before something even gets started, and I’m so worried about carrying that into by asking for more, but if I was giving myself the advice, it would be like, “If they came back and that was a problem, then that was not the right job anyway,” but it’s just so much easier if you go talk to another person and have them tell you that, than try to get yourself through it.

Gretchen DeKnikker: When Jenny was telling this story of when she negotiated at PayPal and how Judy was like, “Ask for more everything. Don’t just ask for more salary. Ask for more time off. Ask for more stock.” Literally, go back and ask for more of all of the things that they’ve offered, and she got all of it. Not the entire amount, but also just Negotiation 101, give yourself all the levers. I’m not just going to ask for more money. I’m going to ask for more stock, and then you know which things are more important, but if you go back and ask for more of everything, and then you already have your idea of the things that are important, then you can trade those off of like, “Okay, I don’t need that much stock, but I would like my base salary, or if you can’t give me the base salary that I want, then I need an extra week of vacation, or I need the signing bonus,” or whatever those other trade offs are, but I’m going to have Judy help me next time I go negotiate.

Angie Chang: There’s a book called Getting More: How You Can Negotiate to Succeed in Work and Life, which is a book that I think Google has recommended to all of their employees in helping you to become a begrudging negotiator and learn that negotiation, how to do it in incremental ways and how you’re perceived. It’s really helpful.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, and that book’s good because if you’ve read other books, then it’s like, “You need your big, hairy, audacious goal and your, like, BATNA, the best alternative.” It’s like business school stuff in negotiation. Your best alternative to a negotiated agreement or whatever, and all of that. This book is not that. This book is for real people that are in real life situations.

Angie Chang: It’s about how to plan better vacations, how to have happier encounters with your bank account, how to make little wins in your career.

Gretchen DeKnikker: It’s not your standard negotiation book. I highly recommend it, also.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: And just as a take away, I think you want to consider whenever you’re being offered something, it doesn’t mean… when you negotiate that, it doesn’t mean you’re being less liked, going to be perceived as less likable, or difficult to work with unless the way you say these things, obviously. You can negotiate, but be respectful when you’re negotiating, and not sound apologetic, and also a lot of the times, situations like this, people are expecting you’re going to negotiate and they already have a limit to how far they are willing to go, and they’re just honestly going to tell you that.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: The last time I had to interview for a job, I was attempting to negotiate for a salary increase, and the recruiter started to sound really irritated with me and I just froze and I gave up, and then maybe six months after that, I asked my boss where I stood in comparison to everybody else in terms of my salary, and I told him what happened with the recruiter, and he said, “I want to tell you something. No one’s ever going to revoke a job offer just based off of the fact that you asked for more.”

Sukrutha Bhadouria: So, going forward, if I’m ever in that situation, I definitely want to be asking for more while sounding appreciative at the same time.

Angie Chang: Yeah, you always hear stories of people getting their offers revoked.

Gretchen DeKnikker: What?

Angie Chang: There are stories of that happening.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I’ve heard that, too. I know someone for whom it was revoked. I don’t know what led to that, whether they ended up hiring someone, offering the position internally in the meantime, but there are ways you can negotiate without sounding obnoxious. That doesn’t mean you don’t do it at all.

Gretchen DeKnikker: If they did revoke it, again, fuck ’em. That’s probably not the place for you. We need a whole one on just negotiation.

Rachel Jones: If that’s so ridiculous to this place that I think I deserve a little bit more than they’re offering, yeah. I don’t want to work there.

Angie Chang: And thought maybe it was just that recruiter that didn’t hire her making that mistake and losing out on a really great candidate.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I don’t think it’s only a gender issue where women are less likely to negotiate. It’s also culture, and a lot of cultures, you were taught not to, whether you’re a man or a woman. Anyway, they can’t list of who you are if you’re in that group of people that feels uncomfortable with negotiating. It’s understandable to be worried, [inaudible 00:24:29], and, for example, even now when I get a raise, or more stock, I know that that’s the best that could have been given to me because of how the system works. Then to negotiate further than that when I know there’s not going to be a change. I have to pick which ones I negotiate for and which I don’t. It makes more sense to me to discuss the promotion and getting to the next level as opposed to, “Okay, there’s a fixed budget. The entire company is going to get a certain amount.”

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Negotiating that, I don’t know if that’s going to lead a different result. There’s other ways for me to get a dialogue going instead of me saying I’m not happy with what was given to me.

Angie Chang: I think just inserting negotiations normally into your life, a lot of them, so that you’ll make some ones here and there, and nothing is ever depending on one thing.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, what I was trying to say is I have to be ready to what I’m negotiating and why I’m negotiating it. I have to be convinced, first, that it’s what I want and what I need and I can make an impact. I can change. I guess, for sure, I should be pushing for getting to the next level when I do believe I deserve it.

Angie Chang: Are you negotiating your vacation?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: No, because it’s a fixed thing. Some companies have fixed vacation policies.

Rachel Jones: Yeah, you got to know where and when and how. How do you advocate for yourself?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: The how is the hardest part. Arquay Harris, Director of Engineering at Slack, at the 2018 Elevate Conference, gave her own advice for advocacy.

Arquay Harris: So, even though others help you along the way, you are your own best advocate. I keep a running list of all the projects, outlining every single thing that I’ve worked on, and more importantly, the impact of those things, and I encourage you to do that, and also to do it maybe just in your personal Gmail, in your personal docs, or wherever, someplace that’s external to your current job, because you want to be able to aggregate this information, and also take it with you when you go to other places. It’s good to look back. Because what happens is when it comes time for promotion, or comes time for review cycles, you get recency bias.

Arquay Harris: You think about the things that you’ve done in the last six weeks, or maybe even the last couple months, but if you make it a part of your practice to every week, or every couple weeks, sit down and say, “Oh, what did I do? How does that impact the company?” Because the other thing that people do is they outline the things that are shiny, but even if it’s shiny, if you didn’t work on it, would it have still launched? If you didn’t do it, would it have mattered at all to the company? What is the impact of this thing and why is it important?

Arquay Harris: So, I encourage you to do that, and also, it helps you when you go and have a conversation with your manager so that you can say, “Look, these are the things that I’ve done.” That said, I have never in my professional career had a situation, I mean never, had a situation where a manager has said, “Great, Arquay, you’re doing awesome. Time to promote you to the next level.” Never happened, every single promotion that I’ve ever gotten has been me saying, “I am operating at this level. I’ve done all of these things, and I think I’m ready for the next level and here is why. Here is why,” and you can hand this to your manager and have a conversation with your manager to demonstrate these things.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I love the idea of keeping a running list of projects because sometimes we just forget, or we don’t think it’s important enough to highlight, and so absolutely. I remember when I first heard her say this. I was like, “Oh, I should do it,” but I haven’t been as good about keeping a list up to date, and it definitely inspires me to keep doing it. Same with Arquay, I’ve never gotten a promotion that I didn’t ask for. Perhaps I’ve gotten appreciated through salary increments and through more stock that I didn’t ask for, but never a promotion.

Angie Chang: What about you, Gretchen?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, I think I’ve just spent a lot of time advocating for more resources, just because when you’re employee four, or employee 17, that’s the thing that you’re always looking for, and I’ve always been close enough to the CEO that I generally know the salaries of everybody around me, so I know when that stuff’s coming. So, it’s also not something that I’ve really looked at.

Rachel Jones: I think tips for advocating for more resources. Earlier in our discussion, you definitely had some helpful thoughts about that. So, it’s not even just getting a promotion, or getting a raise that you have to push for.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And advocating for my team, which it’s definitely easier to advocate for your team than it is for yourself, I think, but a lot of times, the stuff that you get for your team elevates you, too. There’s very rarely it doesn’t.

Angie Chang: I feel like this activity sounds really great, and I’m like, “Oh, I love it,” and then I’m like, “Can someone just share with me their brag list so that I can then copy and replace,” because it’s just always helpful when you have a rubric of what it looks like.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I feel like yours, Angie, like Sukrutha’s would be five bullet points of no more than four words each. Yours would be 17 pages written like long form. The two of you would say the same thing in like this very different way. I can see why this would be hard for you, Angie. Angie likes words. She loves words, especially writing words.

Angie Chang: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Girl Geek X podcast. We’ll be back soon with more advice from women in tech.

Rachel Jones: This podcast is produce by me, Rachel Jones, with recording help from Eric Brown. To learn more about Girl Geek X, or buy tickets to our next dinner, visit girlgeek.io. You can also find videos and transcripts from our events. If you’re interested in hosting a Girl Geek dinner, email sponsors@girlgeek.io.

Angie Chang: This podcast was brought to you by SquareTrade. SquareTrade is the top-rated protection plan trusted by millions of happy customers and offered by top retailers like Amazon, Sam’s Club, and Target.

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