How Successful Women Advocate For Themselves At Work — & How You Can, Too

How Successful Women Advocate For Themselves At Work — & How You Can, Too

Women rarely have just one job. In addition to our careers, there’s the nurturing we do at home, within ourselves, and in our relationships. And let’s face it, it doesn’t even end there. At work, we’re often tasked with the additional, invisible labor of fighting for respect, recognition, and fair compensation.

That’s what makes self-advocacy such a critical skill for women. We’re not always lucky enough to have a benevolent boss or a workplace that inherently recognizes our worth and power. But we can always learn to speak up about our needs, champion our own work, and find allies who’ll help us succeed. As much as education and skill, it’s the ability to self-advocate that can take a career from “middle of the road” to “top of the org chart.”

Inspired by the new season of CBS All Access’ The Good Fight, now streaming, we spoke with five female powerhouses — from a digital marketer to a filmmaker to a psychotherapist — about the obstacles they’ve faced at work, how they fought to overcome them, and how doing so changed their career (and sometimes, their whole company).

If you’re ready to #JoinTheFight, read on for some crucial wisdom on how to take up space, get a seat at the table, and fearlessly stand up for yourself to get what you deserve.

How Successful Women Advocate For Themselves At Work — & How You Can, Too

Marissa Pina, Social Media Producer + Filmmaker

As a social media producer from 9 to 5 and a filmmaker by night, Marissa has found that the obstacle she faces in both careers is the same: “Being taken seriously as a female filmmaker and videographer.” The lack of representation in the industry impacts her doubly as a woman of color.

“When I first started, I had to fight every day to take up space, to have my voice heard and vision seen. Microaggressions from the subjects I worked with or PR teams were common. People would constantly question my abilities or ask, ‘So, where's the cameraman?’

“It took time, but eventually, I learned that in order to take the space I deserved and earn the visibility I was looking for, I had to speak up, correct these questions, and even let people know that it was uncomfortable for me. I began to answer questions like this with, ‘No, there's no camera man because it's me; I'm the camera woman who’s shooting today.’”

For Marissa, calling out these offensive assumptions had real impact: “After I made it clear it was unacceptable to undermine women in this industry this way, I started to notice the rhetoric change.” And, she says, she’s extending a hand to help better diversify her industry going forward.

“I push really hard to give women in film and videography as many opportunities as I can — recommending them for jobs and making connections. I know how hard it was for me to be taken seriously. It's only right that those of us who are in the door hold that door open for others like us.”

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Julia Carpenter, CNN Business Journalist

Julia is a journalist whose work focuses on gender and money — but that doesn’t mean it’s been easy to have those conversations in her own career, especially early on.

“When I entered my first talks about a raise, I was incredibly intimidated to actually say the words ‘and about my salary…’ to my boss. I almost let the entire conversation go by without saying anything! Which, by the way, some bosses are counting on — that you’ll be too intimidated to ask for more money.”

But, Julia had also come to the conversation prepared. “I’d done my research, so I knew I was making less than some of my colleagues and much less than some of my peers in the industry. That knowledge pushed me forward.” So, she took a deep breath and asked for more. “And I got more!” she says.

Her advice to other women is to do your homework, benchmark how much other people in your company and across your industry are being paid, and put this scary-seeming topic into perspective. Even though the conversation is intimidating, Julia knew, “just saying these few words could have a huge impact on my life.” Some things are too important to be left unsaid.

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Abby Adesanya, Casting Manager + Founder Of Novella, A Writing Club For Women

Working in talent and influencer casting at some of the world’s biggest media companies means Abby has a direct influence on the faces you see in articles and ad campaigns every day. However, she often found herself the only person of color in the room when decisions were made — and felt a strong pressure to speak up about the lack of diversity.

“Many times I’ve had to advocate not only for myself but also for what felt like Black people en masse — an added role that felt unexpected and unfair,” she says. Early in her career, she didn’t feel empowered to speak up — until, she says, “One day I saw a talent deck we were about to send to a client that had not one person of color. I had to say something. I went privately to my boss, which felt awkward, and I was afraid she’d freak out or just not get it — but she actually listened and acknowledged that the casting was a miss.”

That conversation had both an immediate and longer-term impact. “We made changes to that deck, and my boss also directed all teams to prioritize diverse casting moving forward. There was a noticeable change in our recommendations after that.” By raising the matter with her boss, Abby not only found an ally but was also able to shed the burden of being the sole advocate for diversity.

“Bringing these issues to light only serves to help you and your company. It's not just for you but also for those who come after.”

Designed by Vero Romero. How Successful Women Advocate For Themselves At Work — & How You Can, Too

Ashlee Bennett, Psychotherapist + Body Positivity Advocate

Pretty much every working woman struggles with burnout. But as a psychotherapist and body positivity advocate, Ashlee faces a unique challenge: How do you balance setting boundaries and prioritizing self-care with providing critical mental health services?

“In the helping professions, navigating burnout culture and compassion fatigue is high on the agenda,” Ashlee says. “Yet meeting the demand for services in an overloaded system is a priority.” In one of her first positions as a therapist, Ashlee found herself conforming to fatigue-causing workplace norms like working through lunch breaks and feeling pressured to take on more clients.

Eventually, she realized that in order to be her best self, she needed to challenge those expectations. “I went against the trend and advocated for my needs — not by standing up to an external voice of authority but by challenging my internal voice that encouraged me to conform to burnout culture to feel a sense of acceptance.”

That meant putting her own mental health on the agenda: “I made a daily commitment to take my full lunch break away from my desk, say ‘no’ to my supervisor when I knew I was at capacity, and use some of my admin time to do something creative.”

Finding space within each workday to recharge, and saying “no” when needed, may spark larger changes, too: “If you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask yourself, has this workplace culture ever been questioned? Sometimes all it takes is one person to say, ‘Hey, this is harming all of us,’ to start a conversation about change.”

Designed by Vero Romero. How Successful Women Advocate For Themselves At Work — & How You Can, Too

Hawa Arsala, Creative Strategist

As a freelance creative strategist, Hawa spends a lot of her time presenting proposals in front of big-deal clients. That’d make even the chillest person sweat, but the pressure is compounded when she’s the only woman of color in the room.

“There’s a history of us not being represented in these boardrooms, so while I'm a very confident person around my peers and supervisors one-on-one, I often feel nervous and pressured to deliver in big meetings. It's not just the pressure of speaking to leadership at a brand or company,” she says. “In addition to delivering this high-stakes speech, I feel I also have to prove why I deserve a seat at the table.”

Realizing that she needed “the space to practice these skills regularly,” Hawa became a tireless advocate for her own professional development. “I've become very vocal with my managers about my need to find mentors. If those aren’t available within my company, I’ll ask to go to conferences like AdColor, which connects people of color in the ad industry.” Hawa also credits improv classes with growing her confidence and helping her present creatively in front of a group.

She also fights for the opportunity to present — and to receive credit for her hard work. “In creative industries, you often work for other people, and your contributions aren't always acknowledged. There have absolutely been times when I had to put my hand up and say, ‘Hey, I've done a lot of the thinking behind this, and I want to present my own work.’”

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Feeling inspired to #JoinTheFight and stand up for yourself, too? Catch The Good Fights all-new season, now streaming only on CBS All Access.

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