June 23, 2017
It was the Summer Solstice when we held our Conversation Circle this week, and Ram Dass’ words helped us quiet our judging minds and set stage for our exploration of “What’s Your Worth: the Art of Being Your Own Advocate.” Cultural stereotypes being what they are, men are generally expected to be ambitious, assertive, self-confident and direct. Women, conversely, are expected to be unselfish, caring, emotionally expressive and skilled at interpersonal relationships. As a result, men are expected to advocate for themselves and are in fact liked when they do so. Women? Not so easy. There is a social cost to women when they self-advocate. Specifically, they are less liked by both men and women when seen to be self-advocating. This matters – being liked is a powerful tool of persuasion – whether it be at work, the neighborhood block party or the doctor’s office.
We briefly considered the findings of a 2013 survey (conducted jointly by Women of Influence and Thompson Reuters) which polled 326 senior executive women from across North America. For the women in our circle, one takeaway was clear: the struggle is real. The study found that the challenge women feel when self-advocating does not diminish as we get older or as we gain status and achievement. 76% of survey respondents said they were challenged in area of self-promotion, advocating for themselves, expressing their talents. 74% scored themselves low in negotiating.
Happily, the news is not all bad. Women have superpowers! What are we great at? Advocating for others. Research shows that when women negotiate on behalf of someone else instead of themselves, their performance improves dramatically and gender differences in negotiation are eliminated. Sometimes they even perform better than men. The trick then, is to translate our strength in advocating for others into doing the same for ourselves.
That was our starting point as we took turns talking about a time when we went to bat for someone else. As listeners, we had the opportunity to reflect on the resources and strengths the we heard that the storyteller called on, on behalf of another. Using this success as a springboard, we used a series of questions to explore (in writing) a time we had successfully self-advocated – whether financial or non-financial in nature. And before we closed the circle, we had an opportunity to share our experiences and thoughts with the full group.
After sharing these insights with each other, we went home with a few key takeaways. We learned that we should enlist the support of our fans by asking them to advocate for us, and of course, support them in return. When self-advocating, we should also position our self-interests as part of something larger, connected to the greater good. All the while, it helps to remind ourselves that if we feel discomfort, we are not alone: it is a common reaction shared by many other women and an enduring result of our society’s gender stereotypes. We ended the circle feeling hopeful that advocating for ourselves and others will impact not just our lives and careers, but the lives and careers of others. Advocating for yourself – worthwhile in itself – is still advocating for others.
Even on the longest day of the year, the evening flew by! We all sensed that in spite of our enlivened, open and insightful conversation, we had only just scratched the surface. There will be plenty more to explore in future circles!
Diane, Lexi & Hallie