Brittany Williams is a Marketing Associate at PowerToFly where she works tirelessly to place underrepresented women in positions across America’s top companies.
Growing up, my parents would often give us affirmations to repeat. The call-and-response nature helped provide the foundation for our self esteem, and I quickly learned to fold them into my identity. One mantra went “I am cute and smart,” which sounds kind of silly now, but it was incredibly important to me then. In a society where black girls frequently aren’t told they are beautiful or intelligent, I’m grateful my parents were deliberate about making sure we understood our value. This doesn’t mean I didn't struggle with my self-esteem, particularly with how I looked; all girls do. But, when all else failed, I knew that I could fall back on reminding myself of my intelligence. I was usually one of a few black students in my classes, working twice as hard to get half as much respect as my white peers, but I believed in my intelligence and that propelled me forward.
It wasn’t until college, where I stood-out as a diversity candidate, that I simultaneously realized how much I had to prove the mantra my parents had told me to repeat throughout my childhood. Coming from a small-ish, sheltered town in Florida, often times your reputation precedes you. But both college and every step thereafter are different. No one knew or could vouch for me. Keeping my head down and working hard just weren’t enough. I had to adapt -- learn new ways to advocate for myself. And this is now the reality of who I am, both as a woman and a black person.
As a diversity “candidate”, I walk the precarious line of being desperately sought after while simultaneously combating the systemic obstacles of my identity. My actions are read differently from the actions of my non-black peers, and because of this I must take extra steps to ensure my own success in all aspects of my life, especially my career. Here are just a few ways I advocate for myself in my professional life.
When I received my first job offer out of college, it wasn’t quite what I had hoped. Knowing that women shy away from negotiations out of fear they’ll be penalized, I was slightly discouraged, but I knew this was my chance to go to bat for myself. Armed with some stats from sites like Glassdoor and Payscale, I got on the phone with HR and negotiated a nearly 10% raise.
Know your worth and demand that you are compensated accordingly. If you’re feeling stuck, check out our tips for salary negotiations.
Lean In And Try Or Else Opportunities Will Pass You
A few weeks ago I went to an event for women in the marketing field. One of the pieces of advice really stuck with me: “Lean in and try or else opportunities will pass you by.” It completely changed my perspective and has encouraged me to speak up and ask for more responsibility.
Because we are women, the same behaviors that are read as assertive on our male counterparts are often read as aggressive on us. This can be incredibly frustrating, but we can’t let it hold us back from reaching our goals. When an opportunity to take initiative or pursue a creative interest presents itself, ask yourself, “What do I have to lose?” If the answer is “nothing,” create the space to expand your skillset and broaden your knowledge base.
Find a mentor
This is probably the most difficult way to advocate for yourself. If you’re like me, you might find it hard to reach out to people and ask for help. But, feeling this way means you need to act more than ever. I’m lucky to have found people who can teach me things both in and out of my field, but it required that I step outside of my comfort zone and ask for help.
Mentors provide invaluable resources as you navigate your career, so seek out people who are doing things in your industry that you both admire and respect. It’s important to be specific here. Instead of saying “ I want to be just like you,” specify what it is that you want. Say things like, “Right now I am doing [x], but one day I want to be doing [x], can you help me figure out a path there?” Specificity is key and can ensure that both you and your mentor are getting the most out of your relationship.
Surround yourself with people who can vouch for you.
This tip comes in handy when conventional metrics by which we measure success can’t really speak to our accomplishments. I learned this lesson quickly in college. I surrounded myself with with a community of people who could attest to my passions and interests -- a community of people who could encourage me to keep pushing.
As you navigate your career things are bound to go wrong. People get the wrong impression of you, or you might receive a bad performance review, but it’s important to have people in your corner who not only know the truth, but who can also advocate for your work ethic and passions. Nurture these relationships as you continue to grow, you’ll be better for it.
As a “Diversity Candidate,” it’s hard to advocate and put yourself out there. I get it. But, finding the courage to stand up for yourself, will only benefit you. As you grow and continue to learn throughout your career, these skills will provide a crucial foundation for all of your future success.