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What is Self-Advocacy and Resiliency: Essential Traits for Women in Leadership

Essential Traits
To get ahead in business, you need more than technical knowledge. You need to pair knowledge with skills to become an effective leader. Two of the most important leadership skills are self-advocacy and resiliency, and they’re especially crucial for women who aspire to manage and lead.

In a world where, as a woman, it’s easy to get overlooked for leadership positions, being able to advocate for yourself and lead with resilience can help you stand out. More importantly, developing these skills can help you become a better overall leader who makes a difference. Not only can you achieve success, but you help your team do the same.

What Is Self-Advocacy?

In the broadest definition, self-advocacy is the ability to speak up for yourself. It’s the ability to identify your needs, communicate them clearly, and help others understand how they can support you.

Self-advocacy is beneficial in all areas of life. However, it’s vital in the business world, where many people tend to “go with the flow” to avoid ruffling feathers. What’s more, it’s a learned skill that anyone can master with some practice. While many people tend to view extroverts and strong communicators as the only ones who make good self-advocates, introverts and those who are quieter than others can be successful in this skill.

Why Self-Advocacy at Work Matters

Without the ability to advocate for yourself, your work life can suffer significantly. You may find yourself overly stressed, anxious, burnt out, and generally unhappy with your job. These issues can negatively impact your job performance and possibly result in being overlooked for a promotion or other opportunities.

Self-advocacy raises awareness. It makes others aware of the issues you’re facing. If you never speak up, there’s a good chance your peers will not be aware of any challenges. Speaking up for yourself and communicating needs identifies gaps, blocks, and issues earlier, allowing your team to begin addressing them. This is a key ingredient for success.

If you want to advance your career potential, developing your self-advocacy skills is a must. It’s one factor that can make the difference between stagnating in a position for several years or moving up to a management or other leadership role. When you are a strong self-advocate, you can make your desire for growth and career advancement known. Not only that, but you can ask for the things you need to achieve your goals.

Tips for Improving Your Self-Advocacy Skills

Standing up for yourself can be awkward or uncomfortable, especially at first. Making your needs known might feel like you’re complaining about your responsibilities or, worse, that you can’t handle them. You might feel it better to remain quiet. Doing so, however, can result in missed opportunities. The ability and confidence to speak up can positively impact your career.

Actively championing your needs is an integral component of directing your professional growth and achieving your goals. Let’s review what you can do to cultivate your self-advocacy skills.

Know Your Worth

Self-advocacy is more than knowing and communicating your needs. It’s also about knowing your worth and making it known. When asking for a promotion—or even a few additional responsibilities—you’ll need to be able to demonstrate that you’re capable of handling the role. Prepare yourself by writing out your strengths and taking stock of your contributions to the organization.

Understand Your Weaknesses

Look at yourself through the lens of your supervisor. Consider the possible reasons why they might turn down your request for a promotion or other leadership role. Then, think about what you can do to address those concerns and take action.

Work on Your Confidence

If you’re not confident in your abilities, others won’t be, either. To advocate for yourself, you need to believe that you can achieve your goals. You don’t have to be the most confident person in the room but improving your self-confidence is crucial to building your self-advocacy skills. That might include altering your internal monologue, reciting mantras, or keeping a list of your strengths nearby.

Take a Close Look at Your Goals

Moving into a leadership position doesn’t only affect you; it affects your company as well. Aligning your goals with those of your organization will help you show that giving you the role benefits everyone.

Build a Solid Reputation

The things you do speak louder than any words you can ever say. Developing strong working relationships with your colleagues enables you to demonstrate your abilities and show that you’re a team player. In other words, you can earn a reputation as someone who is trustworthy, responsible, and hardworking. When it comes time to self-advocate, you won’t have much work to do because your efforts will speak for themselves.

Make Your Accomplishments Known (But Do So Carefully)

If you wait around for others to take note of your accomplishments, you might never get recognized. It’s okay to let your bosses or supervisors know about your hard work. However, there is a fine line between celebrating your achievements and bragging. So, tout your successes, but don’t go overboard.

What Is Resiliency?

Succeeding at work and advancing your career opportunities takes more than self-advocacy. You’ll also need to be resilient. At its very core, resiliency is the ability to bounce back when you’re facing challenges, setbacks, or other unforeseen circumstances that might otherwise cause problems. In essence, it’s the ability to cope with the issues in front of you and even thrive despite them.

Fortunately, like self-advocacy, resiliency is a skill that you can learn. If you don’t bounce back well now, there are things you can do to boost your ability to cope and thrive when things get tough. Doing so will, in turn, help you to succeed.

The Importance of Resiliency in the Workplace

In the workplace, resiliency is about more than getting through challenges. Resilient individuals tend to handle stress more effectively. They typically experience greater job satisfaction and self-esteem. They’re more engaged and invested in building positive workplace relationships. They’re generally able to accept feedback better, too, and move past conflicts more quickly.

Developing resiliency doesn’t only affect you as an individual. It can also have a positive impact on your team and your organization:
  • When you’re resilient, you can better assist your colleagues. That can boost your overall productivity.
  • Being resilient can improve your mental health and wellbeing at work. Better mental health correlates to reduced absenteeism, presenteeism, and burnout.
  • You become more flexible. You’re able to adapt quickly to changes in the workplace while also maintaining your quality of work.

Showing and modeling resiliency can also make you a solid leader. Katie Karppala, Emory Continuing Education Women in Leadership instructor and founder of Authentic Dimensions Consulting, says:

“In our modern time, effective leaders are in tune with their people. This means they’re building upon their emotional intelligence skills and resiliency skills. They are also open to learning new things and information, as well as being open to different points of view. They recognize that growth is a lifelong process. A great leader will model this for their people.”

Ways to Improve Your Resiliency

Like self-advocacy, resiliency doesn’t come naturally to everyone. It is, however, a skill that you can learn and improve upon over time.

Develop Grit

A person with grit, according to subject expert Angela Duckworth, is someone who’s intensely passionate and driven to achieve a specific goal. They care so strongly about it that they’ll keep working towards it despite any challenges or setbacks that stand in their way. Their objective gives meaning to almost everything they do.

Generally speaking, there will be obstacles on the road to achieving a challenging goal. Persistence in the face of difficulty can help you develop the resiliency to overcome those obstacles.

Build Strong Relationships

Strong connections in and out of the workplace play an essential role in resilience. They provide a source of social support. A network of trusted colleagues and friends can offer guidance and encouragement in challenging or stressful times.

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment. You’re aware of where you are, what you’re doing, and what you’re feeling. You also aren’t letting stress overwhelm you. Instead, being mindful allows you to monitor your thoughts and recognize patterns of thinking that might be holding you back.

Practicing mindfulness also allows you to pause and look at the situation more objectively in order to find solutions. Known as mental agility, you’re essentially moving away from reacting to a stressor or challenge and toward responding to it. Part of that process involves taking a moment to label your thoughts and emotions, which activates thinking rather than emotions.

Improve Your Balance

In a world where technology connects you to work 24/7, achieving a healthy work-life balance can feel almost impossible. However, having that time to relax and unwind—or bounce back—is vital to becoming more resilient. It gives you the energy you need to cope with stressful situations at work.

Maintain Your Optimism

Optimists expect positive outcomes, even in difficult or stressful situations. Maintaining an optimistic viewpoint, despite the uncertainty, can help motivate you and those around you to act and face the challenge head-on. It leads to greater resilience, and that contributes to more optimism.

Take Control of Your Emotions

To be resilient, you need to be in control of your emotions. To do this, you need to develop an awareness of the feelings you experience, from negative to positive, and how you react. Becoming more attuned to your emotional state in stressful situations can help you prepare for them so that you can manage them more effectively.

Why Do Self-Advocacy and Resiliency Matter for Women in Leadership Roles?

While self-advocacy and resilience can benefit everyone, these skills are especially important for women, particularly those in—or who want to obtain—leadership positions. One reason for this is that, unfortunately, gender stereotypes still exist. People expect men to be more self-confident, direct, and ambitious. They expect women to be more sensitive, modest, and unselfish.

To complicate things further, it’s not as simple as breaking these stereotypes and self-advocating more. Women who self-advocate may be seen as self-promoting. They may be less liked by men and other women in the organization. As likeability can play a role in career advancement, women who want to climb the ladder may find themselves in what looks like a no-win situation. Without resiliency, they can get stuck. That doesn’t mean they have to stay that way.

To succeed, women in management and leadership roles, and those who want to obtain such positions, need self-advocacy skills. You need to be able to speak up and talk about your accomplishments. While self-advocating may feel uncomfortable at first, it does get easier. In some situations, you can even ask others for help.

At the same time, you also need to be resilient. The ability to bounce back, regroup, and lead despite the circumstances plays a substantial role in deciding whether you move forward in your career or not. In essence, advocating for yourself, showing grit, and continuing to come back to the table despite setbacks can help you advance.

Develop the Skills to Grow Your Career Potential

One way to learn about the issues women face in advancing their careers is to enroll in a program specifically designed for women in leadership and management positions. Emory Continuing Education’s 100% online Women in Leadership: Driving Transformation Through Innovation and Resilience certificate program aims to help you maximize your unique strengths to become a better, more effective leader.

Part of that process involves understanding and developing your self-advocacy and resiliency skills. According to Karppala, “I created the Resiliency Design model and assessment after years of teaching on resiliency. It was my desire to create a user-friendly model of resiliency that allowed individuals, teams, and organizations to build resiliency in context. Since the pandemic, it has become even more apparent to me how important resiliency is. I’ve seen more burnout in this pandemic with leaders than ever before. I am excited to share these tools with students so that they can proactively create more resiliency in their own lives.”

For more information on the six-week Women in Leadership online program, or to enroll, visit the program page or call 844-701-6100 to speak with a student success representative.

Emory Continuing Education is a division of Emory Academic Innovation.