When you think of advocacy, you may think about people lobbying government officials for policy changes or non-profits advocating for societal changes. Yet, advocacy can be a very powerful for women as navigate their careers and position themselves for even greater success.

Advocacy is more than just walking into a room and asking for a raise. Advocacy requires you to build a case and tell a story around your desired outcome. Non-profits cannot change the world without data and a story that compels others to act. In the same vein, it is unlikely in that you will be successful with your ask if you don’t have a compelling narrative.

Many women are hesitant to be their own advocate because they either don’t know how or they have seen people experience social penalties for advocacy gone wrong. As Sheryl Sandberg pointed out in her landmark book, Lean In, there can be penalties when women are seen as being overly assertive or working in a way that feels antithetical to the greater community’s good.

So how can you advocate for what you need and want, and still play within the “rules” and “norms” of your workplace? You need a compelling story that makes it clear what you want and why you deserve to have your request met. Start with these steps:

  1. Get really clear on what you want.It is hard for your boss or organization to give you what you want if you are ambiguous in your ask. What exactly do you want? Do you want a more flexible work schedule, lactation room with a lock, better office location, raise, or promotion? Be as specific as possible. It is better to ask to “work from home two days a week” versus asking for “flexible hours.” Also consider:
    • What minimums will you accept? For example, you may want a 10% raise, but will you accept 5%? Will you take a title change in 3 months rather than now? You don’t have to lead with this information, but thinking about your limits now will be helpful when you start to negotiate.
    • What trade-offs will you allow? Are you willing to take a salary increase without a title change? Will you accept working two half-days from home rather than two full-days?
    • How committed are you? Just how committed are you to this request for a raise or a more flexible schedule? Really think on this one. Don’t take any action, just take a moment to think. If you are ready to walk if you do not get a specific ask, then acknowledge this emotionally.
  2. Get clear on your worth. To make an ask, you need to be sure you can quantify your worth to the organization. Start by thinking about the value you bring to your boss, team and then the organization as a whole. Consider the following:
    • Are there any “wins” you can note? Document any significant wins over the last year and be sure to be as specific as possible: “I reduced our costs by 10%” or “I increased donations 35% over last year.”(Every working woman needs to have a document where she lists all of her successes – big and small – so that she can note them in times like these. If you don’t have one – start one.)
    • Is there data you can use? If you think you are undervalued in terms of salary or title, check out websites like Salary.com or PayScale.com to compare your title, job description and salary to others in your area. The information is free and very helpful.
  3. Be Communal. There is a wealth of new data that says that women get more when we lean into the expectation that women are communal creatures – meaning we crave community and fight for the good of the community.
    • What does that look like? When possible, you want to highlight how your request is aligned with the good of the group. For example, if you want a promotion or new role, then talk about how the role will help you network with other offices and bring knowledge back to the local team. If your new role will take work off your boss, note it. If you want to set up a new lactation room, talk about how it will benefit multiple women. Basically, if you can show how your request benefits more than just you, you get closer to a win.
  1. No one likes to practice, but when it comes to advocating for something important, practice will pay off. Top negotiators recommend that you role-play different expected scenarios. Start by role-playing the absolute worst experience you can imagine. Then role-play what you expect might happen and end with the best possible outcome. The goal here is to anticipate how you might react under a range of scenarios.
    • An important note about making your ask: Don’t make threats in the first meeting. If you are willing to walk if you don’t get what you want, then be clear that you are committed to this ask, but this first meeting is not the time for threats. Make your case, be clear that what you feel you are asking for is fair (even better if you can back it up with data) and let the information sink in. You can always go back after step 5 and be clear about your willingness to leave. For now, let the organization have a chance to meet your ask.
  1. Nail the Next Steps. This may seem like an after-thought, but nailing the next steps is very important. At the end of the meeting, no matter how well it has gone, you need to document each required next step, as well as who will take the action and by when.
    • WHAT needs to happen next? Be sure to list each required next step. Does your boss need to talk to HR to get something approved? Do you need to take a stab at a new job description to help the process along (don’t be afraid to help the process move forward)? Do you need to submit any forms to request a standing desk? Document each step.
    • WHO will do what? Be sure you are clear on who will be taking each step. This will become key if and when you need to follow up.
    • By WHEN? You need to set a deadline for each person’s next steps. When will your boss talk to HR and when should you check back regarding a response? When will your promotion take effect? How long do you need to give your boss to consider your request for additional vacation?

Self-advocacy is a critical behavior that women need to master as they progress in their careers. If you are new to self-advocacy, nailing your work and role-playing with a trusted colleague will be key. With each ask, your self-advocacy muscles will strengthen and grow, making each subsequent advocacy activity easier to accomplish!