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Five tips to help you get comfortable standing up for yourself at work

Filed under: Tech Forum

Photo of Cynthia Pong.

Cynthia Pong is a former lawyer whose passion is helping women of colour realize their ambitious career goals. She especially loves strategizing with mid-career women of colour professionals pursuing unconventional paths. Her coaching focuses on empowering clients, sharpening their negotiation skills, and building their business acumen.

Her clients are breaking down barriers in a variety of fields and industries, including: law, medicine, business, international relations, public health, media, the arts, social justice, social work, sustainability, and the trades.

Cynthia’s work is rooted in an acute awareness of the marginalization of women of colour — and the resultant disparities in pay, power, and respect — in the professional world. Her social justice background deeply influences her coaching. Being a public defender taught her how to ask the right questions to get to the bottom of something and reinforced her zeal for supporting people through times of great difficulty. Her experience with restorative justice showed her the value of deep listening with the goal of truly understanding another person.

Prior to founding her company, Embrace Change, Cynthia worked as a public defender in the Bronx, New York, for six years. Prior to that, she clerked for Justice James E. Graves on the Mississippi Supreme Court. She earned her law degree from NYU School of Law (graduating cum laude) and her Bachelor of Arts from Brown University in Ethnic Studies (graduating magna cum laude).

Cynthia Pong will join us at Tech Forum 2020 on March 25 for a session called Be seen, be heard: A workshop to help you reclaim power in your career.

As a BIPOC, woman, or someone who identifies as nonbinary or LGBTQQIP2SAA, it can be hard to stand up for yourself at work — especially when no one in leadership looks like you. Here are five ways to get you feeling more comfortable and confident when advocating for yourself at work — whether that means asking for a raise, for more responsibility, or to be treated more equitably.

1. Think of it as advocating for others.

If you’re having trouble even thinking about speaking up for yourself at work, remember that advocating for yourself also benefits others from marginalized communities. It makes it easier for them to advocate for themselves because you’ve helped to set a precedent. Your actions will normalize similar self-advocacy from others.

2. Convince yourself first.

To be an effective advocate for yourself, you must believe that you deserve to be treated better in the first place. If you sound uncertain, you’ll never convince someone else that you’re worthy of better treatment. Do your own work to make sure you sound confident, convinced, and convincing.

3. Practice outside of work.

If standing up for yourself, raising objections, and holding boundaries is hard for you, start practicing outside of work first. Find low-stakes situations in which you can practice saying no or asking for an exception. For example, the next time you buy something from a big company or corporation, ask for a discount.

4. Watch your language, intonation, and nonverbal cues.

Be mindful of the language, intonation, and nonverbal cues you use when speaking or writing. If you tend to be overly obsequious or deferential, experiment with communicating more assertively. For example, omit extraneous words and phrases like, “if at all possible,” and “I don’t want to be a bother, but…” Adjust your posture, facial expressions, and eye contact so you exude more confidence.

5. Speak up in the first 10 minutes of a meeting.

Speaking up in the first 10 minutes of a meeting can do wonders for elevating your profile at work. You don’t have to say anything earth-shattering, either. You can simply agree with someone else or ask a question. Think about what you could say ahead of time. If the voices of white men tend to dominate in these meetings, consider having a “pre-meeting” with any allies so you can support each other in speaking up and amplify each other’s voices in the meeting (more on how to do this in this Battle Tactics for Your Sexist Workplace podcast episode).

I hope these five tips help you feel more comfortable speaking up and being heard in the workplace. Which one is your favourite? What other strategies or tactics do you like to deploy?

Cynthia Pong will be talking more about reclaiming power in your career at Tech Forum on March 25, 2020 in Toronto. You can find more details about the conference here, or sign up for the mailing list to get all of the conference updates.