Friday, September 21, 2007

Being Your Own Advocate at Work: A Beginner's Guide

Yesterday, I had a conversation with a co-worker about the fact that her boss hadn't come through with a raise at her semiannual review. They'd given her a glowing review, and then...nothing. No mention of money at all. She was pissed, and I thought she deserved to be. She scrunched up her face, and looked at me, and said, "So, does this mean I have to ask?"

I said I thought it did, and looked at her with empathetic dismay. It's hard to advocate for yourself in any context, but especially at work, and especially if your job is (as ours are) to do what other people tell you to do. I'd venture to say that it's especially hard for women, who tend to be taught that aggressiveness, demands, and bragging are cardinal sins of personality. But those are just the things that you need to harness to be an effective advocate for yourself in the workplace, it seems.

Much of my empathy for my coworker was due to the fact that I have to ask, as well.

I've just passed the one-year mark here, and finally, yesterday, had to ask if we were going to do a review. My boss looked at me blankly and said, "Of what?" (To be fair, we do peer reviews of books all the time, so she may have been confused.)

"" I ventured.

We met today for a pre-review discussion (the real thing will have to include my other boss, who's head of the department, but he's out of town at the moment), and she told me that she's really pleased with my work. I told her one concern was balancing the new editorial work they're giving me with the running of day-to-day operations. She said something about setting accurate timetables and telling people when I won't be able to take things on. I was being a little disingenuous, though, phrasing this as a time-management issue--what I really want is a promotion. I want my little mini-department to create a more genuinely editorial position for me. And eventually I came around to mentioning that--I mentioned all of the other mini-departments that have promoted former assistants (three, at last count), and said that I didn't know if that sort of arrangement was in the works for our department-ette, but if it was, I'd be very interested in occupying such a position. (A little weak on the persuasion and clarity--my technique needs work.)

She said that it wasn't her call to make, but she'd talk to my other boss (who's her boss, too) about it. She didn't seem opposed to the idea, but she reiterated a couple of times that it's not her call. She also advised me a little on what she thought would make an effective argument for this promotion, which I appreciated.

We had a lot of diversions during this meeting, which I think we were using as absorbers of the awkwardness of the rest of the discussion. And we both sort of soft-pedaled the tough stuff. Nevertheless, I think this was a good introductory effort on my part. The first lesson I've learned about advocating for myself in the workplace is this:

Asking is not optional. If I hadn't asked for my review, it might never have happened. If I hadn't mentioned the promotion, it might never have come up. If I don't ask for what I deserve, no one is going to give it to me--they're going to keep giving me increasingly complex projects without ever translating their obvious faith in my judgment into a new title or a salary bump. (Understandable, from a business perspective.) Therefore, I have to ask. I have to. It's not optional.


emily said...

Awesome. Good for you. I think realizing that you HAVE to ask is the first step. You probably won't be good at it the first time, but I promise you the next time you will be and when you move on to your next employer, you will be even better because there will be less historical baggage between you and the person you're talking to about money. At least that's how it worked for me.

And don't just think this is only a problem for women - my boyfriend has, in the past, been terrible about tooting his own horn in this way, mostly because I think he also feels it's not OK to brag and because, while he is just as smart or smarter and probably a more effective employee than the people with more education, power, and money than he has, he sometimes still feels inferior to them. So I've had to do a lot of encouraging so he respects his OWN value. Until he does that, he can't begin to ask them to respect it.

And actually, that's some of what I have had to overcome a little. I'm an English major who has worked with many very technical and educated people (one workplace was composed of physics PhDs and the current one is software engineers) and there are some skills that I have that they just don't want to have or couldn't have if they wanted to (patience for process, organization, and paperwork, specifically). And as someone who uniquely has those skills in my workplaces, I've realized I can demand quite a bit, because I've been fortunate enough to work with people who know if I suddenly went away, a lot of things in the company would break because no one would want to deal with them or in some cases, wouldn't do a thorough enough job dealing with them!

calgirlfinance said...

Great job! I think it's really important to ask for what you want. I realized that I was underpaid at my job and I kept on asking my managers about it. Finally my manager was able to get me a raise (I'll blog about it in the future).

Mrs. Micah said...

Excellent job!

I actually had a performance review/discussion about your future with this company today. Fortunately, it went well like yours, though I didn't get what I wanted (to be fully hired). But I did get a timeline for when I'll be hired and such, which gives peace of mind.

Good luck with growing your position and negotiating that raise!

Steve W said...

I've written about this before, but perhaps not here.

The four keys to getting a raise are to be
A) assertive;
B) knowledgeable about what you and your job is worth; and
C) non-threatening to the person who has the power to get you the raise;
D) prepared to walk if you don’t get the raise.

This is how I handled asking for a raise -- in the middle of the year:

1. I researched what the average salary was for my job, and what it paid in the top quarter. I targeted the top Q b/c I knew from reviews and feedback that that's where I should be paid, and was not.

2. I began looking for another job.

3. I approached by manager and told him that I was very happy in my work, and that I appreciated the opportunities he had given me (all true), however, I knew that I was "below market" and was going to approach HR about increasing my salary. I told him that I wanted to "fight it out" with HR and not him, b/c I didn't want it to effect our very productive working relationship.

We left the meeting with no decisions made or even next steps (not usual; I don't know many people who get raises on the spot). I gave no indication, none whatsoever, that I would even remotely consider seeking another job if I didn't get a salary increase. First, he already understood the implication. Second, actually stating such would be threatening, and would put me at the top of the list for the next round of job cuts, raise or not.

I decided on a private deadline for a decision. If no raise by the deadline, then I would aggressively go on the market targeting a salary 20% above my current one.

So what happened? I got fired. JUST KIDDING! My manager told me a week later that I was valuable, and that it was his job as my manager to secure the increase, and he did so, to the tune of 12K. Not as much as I would have made on the open market, but enough to keep me in a job with much opportunity and security.

Sometime when I have more time, I will explain the other side – the process and “behind the scenes” thinking that occurs at annual salary increase time (or, “how I determined what to award the 8 people who reported to me”).

Anonymous said...

I recommend the book "Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office." It's important reading for professional women everywhere.


Ms. M&P said...

I actually got to be on the other side of the table earlier this week when someone I supervise asked for a raise. It was the first time that's happened to me, and it was a big learning experience.

I'm probably in a similar position as your immediate boss--I can't give the raise, but I can make recommendations. Anyway, the person making the request handled it very well. He had evidence to back up his request, was friendly, and approached the conversation in a very matter-of-fact, somewhat impersonal way that made me feel that he was just building a case for himself and wasn't emotional about it. I gave him a positive recommendation, so we'll see what happens...

Anonymous said...

The average woman will give away $1 million during her career by not asking. And Steve W.'s advice is perfect...make yourself indispensable, but non-threatening.

Madame X said...

Hope it works out for you!