At the Forem, we teach “Always On” self advocacy, meaning you should be prepared at all times to speak up for yourself and attest to the value of your personal brand.
However, every action we suggest is fueled by one core notion: generosity. Being a resource to your peers, your team, and your stakeholders in ways that display your passions and strengths means leaving memorable impressions that play in your favor when opportunities are on the table.
Still, going one step further to advocate for others when you have the power to open doors is arguably an even more important element of career advancement.
Corporate workplaces are riddled with gender and racial disparities, and it falls on us to uplift one another and build a supportive, future-forward runway for our careers.
Being an Advocate Takes Many Forms
Advocating for others can be as simple as recommending your network for opportunities, or as bold as speaking out against discriminatory work cultures. In the latter case, being an advocate might mean putting your charisma aside for a moment, which can feel risky in a corporate dynamic that is still operating largely on antiquated value systems.
It’s no secret: we’re working in a white male-dominated system that often chooses band-aid solutions over meaningful, top-down change. As society progresses to adopt more inclusive worldviews, it seems like the corporate dynamic is still clinging stubbornly to tradition.
However, we need to get out of the mindset that working against the grain or speaking out will put your career at risk. No matter how big or how small your actions might be, it’s important to understand that staying silent—while sometimes “safer”—will never be in the best interest of your career.
The workplace that lets bias cloud merit or potential is not one deserving of your talent, whether or not you’re directly impacted.
On the contrary, standing up for others helps foster diverse, healthy company cultures that breed better collaboration, creativity, and globally-minded ideas; that is the “norm” we want to build for ourselves and those after us.
The Corporate Dynamic Doesn’t Work in Our Favor
To truly understand how vital peer-to-peer advocacy is, we have to look critically at the system we’re working under.
We’re told (falsely) that the way to climb the ladder is through merit, but corporate diversity stats tell a different story.
Did you know…
Less than 6% of CEOs at S&P 500 companies are female.
There are currently only 4 black CEOs in the Fortune 500 (and only 19 in the history of the list).
Asian Americans are least likely to be promoted to Silicon Valley leadership, despite being the most likely racial group to be hired for tech-related jobs.
As of 2020, fewer than 0.3% of Fortune 500 board directors were LGBTQ+ (openly).
To ameliorate these disparities, the go-to top-down method is to enact diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) committees, intended to foster a more welcoming workplace and address hiring biases. Yet, according to a recent McKinsey study, black employees are about 40% less likely than their white colleagues to view their company’s DEI initiatives as effective.
These programs are also often run by the few BIPOC members of the org with no additional pay (i.e., extra work to fix a problem that’s out of their hands). Echoing these sorts of empty promises, the study notes as well that despite 87% of companies reporting a sponsorship program at their org, upwards of 76% of black employees report lacking a sponsor.
We could go on and on, but all of the stats say the same thing: real change isn’t happening (yet) at the corporate structural level… but you can do something to help it happen from the ground up.
A Diverse Network Breeds Future-Forward Opportunities
To move into a productive, innovative, and healthy corporate future, we need to bring all voices to the boardroom, which begins with uplifting our peers (especially those with minority representation) and being an advocate for their opportunities.
Internal bias is a real thing, whether or not we are willing to admit it, which means we not only need to make an effort to help others whom we network naturally with, but branch out and build connections with people who are different than us.
Diverse perspectives breed diverse thoughts, which will only stand to make you a more well-rounded, empathetic professional. Think about it: listening to the same opinions leaves little room for inspiration, but when you make an effort to expose yourself to new ideas or experiences, your worldview and bank of knowledge evolves.
This principle stands true from the individual standpoint to the corporate dynamic. Organizations operate better when there are multiple, unique perspectives piloting decisions.
Unfortunately, there’s a pretty obvious majority in the boardroom that hinders this sort of progress. To get unique perspectives into those pilot seats (and to ultimately create more fulfilling workplaces for ourselves) we need to do our due diligence and advocate for one another at every chance we have.
Bottom-Up Progress Starts with You
We’ll say it again: effective self advocacy comes from a place of generosity first. This is true whether you’re networking, building your personal brand, or aligning with stakeholders. If you take an empathetic approach to everything you do, opportunities will come to you.
It’s not just karma; it’s human nature. People want to empower people who help them and help others. By going one step further and considering your privilege when reaching out and advocating for others—either of rank, race, or gender—you not only help build a new corporate dynamic that will ultimately stand to benefit the whole org, but you commit to learning, growing, and helping others do the same.