Do you know what it takes to be your own self-advocate? Asking for what you deserve is not about bragging about yourself. It is about defining your capabilities. Kate Shaw, the Administration and Training Manager of Central One Federal Credit Union, walks us through the art of self-advocacy. As she recounts her career path, she goes in-depth on the importance of speaking up and telling the management what you want and the opportunities you want to develop more. On top of that, learn about the crucial steps of being a self-advocate and the value of getting feedback and building a support system in your career.
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Self-Advocacy: The Art Of Asking For What You Deserve with Kate Shaw
There are so many people that I talk to that struggle with taking charge of their career, and really it’s just advocating for themselves. Many times people think that by doing that, they’re bragging or they’re self-centered. That is a myth that we have to change. People need to have a different view of being a self-advocate. Being a self-advocate simply means speaking up for yourself about the rights and responsibilities in your life, whatever they are. Those are the things that you are truly passionate about. It’s the only way to ensure that they happen. People need to take charge of what they want and put a plan in place for how they’re going to get it. I can tell you from experience that I literally have had to go after every single promotion that I got. I had to go after all the experiences that I wanted throughout my life or they weren’t going to happen.
When I thought that I was ready for a promotion at work, I would set up a meeting with my boss and I discussed my idea for a new role or that I felt like I deserved a promotion, whatever it was. Sometimes we think that our performance will speak for itself and wouldn’t that be great? Everybody wishes that was the case, but in fact it’s not. Sometimes it does and we’re grateful for when those things happen. If that’s the case for you, you’ve made it. You got lucky, but you can’t wait for that to happen. You can’t put all your faith in hoping that people understand what you’re going after or what’s important to you. You must take charge of yourself. It all comes down to communication.
We’ve talked about this over and over again. We all hope that people understand what we’re passionate about and what we want, but we may not even express it. How do we know for sure? We don’t, and there lies the problem that we face. We’re going to talk about what it takes to be your own self-advocate and what that even means. To help me with this topic, I have a very special guest with me. Somebody who has experienced this herself, to be her own self-advocate, someone who’s created and built her career based on exactly what we’re talking about. I am super excited to have with me here Kate Shaw. Kate is an executive at Central One Federal Credit Union. Welcome, Kate. I am honored to have you as a guest.
Thank you, Carolyn. I’m so excited you invited me.
I am super excited as well. Let’s give the readers a little bit of background of who you are and what you’ve done so far.
I’m the training manager at a mid-sized credit union here in Massachusetts. That’s a position that did not exist a few years ago. I’m the first person to hold this position. Before that, I was always in more of retail space. I’m in banking for about several years and also with Enterprise Rent-A-Car. I was always on the front line. This is the first time I’ve done something that’s more in the background.
You’re getting a full view of how the corporations are run from the front line to the back office. You started your career at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, how did you get started there? After college? What happened?
After college, I was a typical liberal arts major. I didn’t exactly know what I was going to do. I actually answered an ad. “Trainees wanted. No experience needed.” I ended up being a headhunter for Enterprise Rent-A-Car and I was hired there. It was a fantastic experience. That’s what I credit my business training to. I had no business courses in college. I really learned how to build a business from the ground up. They really taught you then, brought you through that and that was a fantastic experience.
It’s funny because so many people graduate college with a major that they thought they wanted to go after and then something else happens. I graduated college with an education degree and I actually did start my career in education in the New York City school system, but I was also, at the very same time, working at Citibank at night. A position opened up at Citibank during the day and I decided to go after it. It was a training position and that’s how my career started. Nothing really focused me in the direction of financial services or training but that’s where I ended up. It sounds like your experience was the exact same way.
I actually thought that working at Enterprise, I said, “I don’t want to rent cars at an airport.” I had no clue what the business was all about. Similar to you, I thought I wanted to be a social worker and I had a summer job working in a city with a group of great kids, but I said, “This is not for me.” I lucked out with that headhunter and that little ad in the newspaper way back in the day.
It’s the right place at the right time. Something happens and it sticks and it was meant to be. You didn’t start out as a manager there. You started out as a trainee. How did you build your career? You said that you felt like it was a great experience, tell us a little bit about the experience at Enterprise.
I think for a person brand new to any business world, they really brought you through the ranks. Everybody there started as a trainee. The owner’s daughter started as a trainee, so everyone started at the same level. They taught you the business and when they felt you were ready for that next position, they brought you to the next spot and then you could apply for the next spot. Everyone pretty much had the same career path, so it was really good for building a business. Looking back, it wasn’t so good for taking charge of your career. Someone already knew what that was going to look like. There was already a system in place for that. It was a great experience for learning firsthand. Exactly, they had their business model and very successful. A number of people have gone onto some very wonderful things from that company.Be willing to take rejection if you need to. Click To Tweet
In other companies, you basically have to take charge of your own career. In your words, how would you describe or what does self-advocacy mean to you?
I think to advocate for yourself, you really want to do everything that puts you in the best possible position to achieve your goals. Sometimes somebody at the other end may make the ultimate decision, but you really need to figure out what you need to learn and learn it. Involve those around you who can help you get there, maybe your coworkers or mentors from other companies. Stating what you want and then asking for guidance to help you get there.
That is so important because the first thing is that you have to determine what your goals are. Sometimes that’s the hardest thing for people because when you start out, you don’t really know if the company’s going to work for you or where you want to end up in the company. You said you’ve been on the frontline most of your career and you ended up in the back office. How did you get there and what led you to that? When you look at your goals, did you have a specific goal in mind?
When I started with the company, I didn’t. I remember them asking me what my five-year plan was and I said, “I really want to see where the company is going and what the direction is.” As I was there and started to see what was happening with the strategic plan, I could see that they were going in the direction to have a training department, which would be brand new for them. I positioned myself for that. I asked for opportunities to train the other employees in retail and when new things came out, I want it to be seen as that go-to person. My hope was that when a position opened, it would be natural for them to at least ask me to interview for the position. In this case, they asked me if I wanted the job, which I did, but I really had to figure out what the direction was and what did I need to do to put myself in that best possible position if that training department ever did open.
Gaining the skills that you needed and the visibility in the role that you wanted so that the executives can see you in that light and that’s the key. The key is once you determined that you wanted to be in training, then you had to give yourself every opportunity to show the senior executives that you are that go-to person for training. Even as a branch manager, you are the training branch.
I took on that role. I think probably the most difficult part was also saying to my boss. I essentially was saying, “I don’t want to work for you down the road. I want to work here in the company and work with you, but I don’t want to work for you.” That was a little bit of a conversation I would never have had back in the day when I first started.
Let’s talk about that because that is a very critical piece to this puzzle. When people realize that they actually want to go in a different career path that they’re on, it could in fact make their current boss upset with them. I’ve done that a couple of times in my career and you’ve done it in yours. Initially, when you started out, I think probably one of the hardest things for people, especially when they’re starting out is feeling confident about speaking up and telling your boss what’s important and what you want. Did you find that to be the case for you?
At first it was. Between Enterprise and Central One, I was working at another bank and I assumed things would happen like Enterprise. It was my first real grown-up job. They weren’t coming to me trying to give me another position because I had done the work or whatever it was. When I got to Central One, it was such a comfortable atmosphere where we did talk about career and I had a great boss who would bring up things like, “What are you thinking? What is it that you’re looking to do?” It was difficult at first. You want to figure out what is it, what skills do I need? I’ve been told a number of times, “You can’t get this job. You don’t have the right skills or you don’t have the right background,” whatever it might be. To ask for that, I got to the point where it was important to me to ask for it. That’s what I wanted. I had to get over any of my own personal hang-ups or my nerves about asking for those next positions.
That’s a great point because that is a stumbling block that people face. They have to feel good about the fact that nobody is going to design the perfect job for you unless you design it for yourself. There are going to be plenty of times when people tell you that you don’t have the skill set they’re looking for, but you’ve got to figure out a way to get that skill set. That’s the only way that you can continue to push your career. I remember back in the day, my first real job at a college after teaching was at a bank. I had gone out for the management associate program and I didn’t get the job. I set up a meeting with the hiring manager to find out why. At the time, I think it was ballsy, but I wanted to understand what it was that they were looking for that I didn’t have so when another position came up, then I could go after it. It was exactly what you were talking about is figuring out what those skills are and going after them because if you don’t, you’re never going to get there.
There are some times when you’re going after something and you don’t have the right skills at the time. When I think of what it takes, of truly you’ve got to be understanding of your own strengths and developmental needs. That’s step one. You’ve got to be real with yourself. I think it’s important to be able to talk about what you need to be successful. When you think about those developmental opportunities, what are your thoughts on how you can really get what you need or really take a step and look at yourself and think about your own developmental opportunities?
I think the first step is to really be willing to hear things you may not want to hear. We’ve all been in that position where we think we’re fantastic and someone else gets it. “How’d they get it? It was crazy. I’m way more qualified,” but we’re not willing to hear what we need to. That takes a lot of courage to listen to someone say, “This is why you didn’t get it.” On the other side, if you’re the manager in that position, it’s hard to be honest with that feedback as well. You’re afraid you may hurt somebody. They always say the truth hurts. That’s a big step willing to accept, open yourself up to that criticism or feedback.
You bring up such a great point about feedback. There are so many times when people shy away from asking for feedback. Feedback is a gift. It’s one of my favorite topics because so many people are afraid of feedback. The only way that you can improve is by asking for feedback. It’s what you said. You may think you’re fabulous, but perception is a reality and you’ve got to understand what other people think of you. The only way to get that is by asking for feedback. How do you go about asking for feedback?Figure out the steps that you want to take to get yourself to the end game. Click To Tweet
I usually put it right out there. You really want to you want to position it that I’m looking for this feedback and this is why I want it. This is what I’m looking to do. Once somebody gives you that feedback, you really need to internalize it, think about it, but act on it. There’s nothing worse than, “Carolyn, you gave me this feedback, that’s great, but I just ignored it.” What is it that you need to do to put that into place? What things do you need to change, improve on and so forth to really improve yourself? You’re showing your supervisor or your next boss, “You gave me this feedback and I accepted it and now look what I’m doing as a result of it.”
The worst possible thing that you can do when you ask for feedback is be defensive or go back at them and say something that, “That’s not me,” or you’re ignoring the perception of others. Sometimes feedback is very difficult. Sometimes feedback is tough to hear. I worked for a boss that always said to me, “Don’t ask the question if you don’t want to hear the answer.” That stuck with me because it is so true. When you’re asking for feedback, if you don’t really want to hear the answer or if you have no intention of doing something different, the point of asking for feedback is worthless. It takes courage to ask for feedback and then once you get it, take it to heart, put it in place, do things differently so that you can then show the people, show your boss that you’re learning these new skills and that you’re ready to take on a new role. When you think about that and self-advocacy in it of itself is tough because people think they’re bragging on themselves. Tell me about your thoughts on that point of view.
I actually had a conversation with one of my employees about that. It’s the same thing. I was telling her about advocating for herself and what she’s looking to do. She said, “You should know. You see what I do. On the one hand, yes. No one really comes up to you and says, “Carolyn, what do you want your next job to be? What do you want to do next?” They think that you’re fine in what you’re doing and happy and you may be, but when there’s that next step you want to take, you have to say, “This is what I want to do. I want your help to get there.” If they say, “I don’t think you’re ready yet,” and you may have some reasons why.
You need to be able to say, “I’ve done this and these are things that I’ve done.” That person may not always remember, especially if they’re supervising multiple people. They’re not going to remember everything that you did. It’s not bragging. To me it’s stating, “This is what I’ve done and I did it because I’m looking for this next role. What else do I need to do? Help me get there. What else can I do? I think that there is a fine line between bragging and advocating for yourself. You definitely need to have the resume to go behind it. Not, “I did this and this.” Did you really? If you’ve done it then it’s really not bragging. It’s saying, “This is what I’ve done and this is why.”
It’s the facts. You’re stating the facts on the things that you’ve accomplished. I remember at the beginning of my career, the hardest thing was doing performance appraisals. Even a self-evaluation because you know a year’s a long time and you have to really keep track of all of your accomplishments because something that you may think is small and means nothing could mean something really big to somebody else. You’ve got to keep track of all your accomplishments and make sure that you’re ready when that conversation comes about. Great points that you’ve given us here. It’s difficult. Sometimes we talked about feedback. Getting feedback is not always easy. Don’t get defensive. When you think about all the lessons you’ve learned, what did you learn about yourself from your experiences?
I think I definitely learned I’m more confident than I ever thought I was. If you know me, you might be shocked to hear that, but I would sit in the background and when it came to myself, I wasn’t real confident in asking for things. Over the past few years, I’ve really developed that skill. I believe that I can do what I want to do and putting it out there and being willing to take rejection if I need to. It’s worked out pretty well for me so far. I definitely have a lot more courage than I thought that I ever had.
The thing that you learn is that it does take courage to have those conversations. It does take courage to ask for feedback and it does take courage to get rejected. Putting all those things into place it is something that when you can do that, you can become that much more successful. Is there anything that you would do differently if you had the chance to do it all over again?
That’s always a loaded question because I always feel like things happen for a reason. I think that if I were to do it all over again, I wish I had learned earlier to take charge of my career. It took me a few stumbling blocks. If you, “This position’s open,” “You’re not ready for it yet.” Took me a little while to learn that I needed to start taking charge and speaking up for myself and learning what I needed to learn. If I were to change anything, I apparently kicked myself and said, “Come on, get it together.” Start advocating for yourself sooner. It took me a little longer to figure that out. It’s worked out well, so I don’t really think I’ve changed too much.
The thing is that you did learn and you did figure it out. You’ve got a long career ahead of you so you’ve figured it out in plenty of time to continue to be successful and grow. When I was coming up the corporate ladder, it’s funny because I’ve taken a lot of positions that were lateral moves outside of my line because I wanted to get a different focus or learn a new skill or do something differently. I think sometimes people hesitate to take lateral moves. What are your thoughts on that?
I agree with that. I think it depends on what you’re looking to do. The biggest piece of that is understanding where you want to be but understanding the strategy of the company. When a training position became available and I was talking to my boss about it, I told him. I said, “I only want this if it’s going to be a manager position. I’m willing to take a lateral move for this, but I don’t want to take a step back because I really enjoyed what I did.” At other points in my career, I may have taken that step back, knowing that it would move me forward. Sometimes you do need to say, “What is it long-term I want to do and maybe I do need to take a step back or step to the side so that I can go even further down the road.”
In fact, I took one job where I was a VP and then I took an AVP position to get back into the line of business that I wanted. Everyone looked at me like, “I can’t believe that you gave up the VP to be an AVP.” In a short period of time, I got the VP title right back. If you understand where the company’s headed, if you understand the goals and objectives of the organization and how it fits into your strategy for your own career, then lateral moves or even taking a step back sometimes is the right thing to do. You have to do your homework and you have to make sure you know that it is because it could work out differently if you weren’t clear on the company strategy. What are some of the challenges that you faced when really pitching your own ideas and beliefs to others? You basically had to do that to get the position that you are in now because that position didn’t exist. You’re continuing to create the role. You’re massaging the role to meet both the organizational needs and your needs, but what are some of those challenges?
I think the biggest challenge is definitely understanding the strategy, especially if you come from a big company. Everything I had done before was a very large company where you’re not really keyed in on what the overall company strategy is. That’s definitely a huge obstacle because if you don’t quite understand what the strategy is, then you can’t really figure out how to position yourself within it. I think that’s probably one of the biggest challenges or struggles. It’s one thing to say, “This is what I want,” but it’s a whole other to say, “This is how I can fit in with the company long-term.” That’s where the strategy comes in, to really know what it is that’s going on. That’s one of the biggest challenges.If you don't stay focused, your whole plan goes right out the window. Click To Tweet
Sometimes it’s not easy to get into the right meetings to understand the organizational strategy. That’s the maneuvering that you have to do. You talked about whether it’s a mentor inside the company or somebody from another line of business who you’ve built a relationship with. It’s getting those right people to help you to get the strategy if you’re not in the meetings that will give it to you. Those were great points. Thank you for sharing that. We’re going to be talking about the steps you can follow to help yourself become a better self-advocate. We’ve talked about the benefits. The benefits are that you can shape your own career and you don’t get stuck in a job that you don’t really like. Let’s see how to make that happen. I think one of the first things that you had talked about early in your career is believing in yourself. Tell me a little bit about what that means.
I know it sounds hokey, but if you don’t believe in yourself, who is going to believe in you? Maybe your mom. Knowing that, “I can do this,” and maybe you don’t have all the skills yet, but you know that you can at least learn those skills and whatever it is you may need to get to that next level.
I agree 100% and there are so many times that people have a confidence issue. We can all talk ourselves out of so many things. My mantra is I always talk about three things. The first is believe, the second is commit, the third is achieve. Believe, commit, achieve. I always talk about you’ve got to believe in yourself first because as you said, if you don’t, who will? You’re right, my mom’s reading this and she thinks I’m fabulous, but we’ve got to get other people to think they were fabulous too. You’ve got to believe in yourself. You’ve got to understand the skills that you have and the skills that you need. The second thing is to identify what you want. You talked about this way back in the beginning when you were a social worker and you started your career there and you knew right off the bat that was not what you wanted. You didn’t actually know what you did want yet, but you knew that was something that you did not want. Tell us about identify what you want and what are your thoughts on that second step.
I think it’s you need to identify a few different things. What do you want now? What do you want soon? What do you want later? That all plays into it. If you don’t, at least have an idea of what it is, then how do what skills do you need to develop or what you need to work on? You definitely need to identify something. You may say, “I want to be a CEO.” It’s not going to happen overnight. What do you need to do? What can you do in between now and CEO to get yourself there? Figuring out what are those steps that you want to take to get yourself to the end game.
I love what you said about figuring out what you want now, figuring what you want in the short-term, then figuring out what do you want in the long-term. Those are three specific steps that you have to write down for yourself because it links to step three, which plan your strategy, but identifying what you want. You may have to do something a little bit different to get the skills that are going to help you with what you want later. It’s a process that is pretty important. If you don’t write those steps down, if you don’t really think about what do I want now? What do I want soon? What do I want long-term? You’re not going to really have a foolproof plan. The next step is to plan your strategy. Once you’ve got the confidence, you believe in yourself and you’ve identified what you want, what does it mean to plan your strategy?
Planning your strategy, those are all the steps that you take in between how will I do this? What will I need to do? Maybe you need a little further education, whatever it may be. That’s really almost like your roadmap. This is how I’m going to get there. You can go in the car and you can get someplace, but is it where you want it to be? Did you plan it out? Did you know where you could stop along the way for a long trip? Planning out your strategy, you want to make it flexible enough because things will change, especially if it’s a long-term plan. You have to have some sort of direction on what it is that you’re going to do to get there.
It’s the roadmap. It’s the action steps. It’s the tactical approach to how you’re going to achieve your goals. It’s really important for you to really step back and think about those steps along the way that you’re going to need to take, rather than have it loosey goosey and hope for the best. Step four is staying focused. What does that mean to you?
It’s so easy to lose track of what you want to do. The dog’s barking, you’ve got to make dinner, you get to drive around, you’re doing this and that. When you start to lose focus, that’s when you find yourself muddling about and you forget that you had a plan, you forget that you had a strategy. Whether it’s keeping a little sticky note on your computer to remind you what it is that you’re looking for or keeping up-to-date on education or things that you need. Whatever it is, if you don’t stay focused, then your whole plan goes right out the window.
Two things come to mind when I think about stay focused. One is it’s got to be so important to you that you want to make sure that it happens. We can say all of these things, but if it’s not your passion, if it is not something that is so important, you’re not going to have that commitment to make it happen. When you stay focused, whatever your tactic is, is it that sticky note on your computer, is it that sticky note on your mirror in the morning? Is it a vision board that you have? Whatever your particular approach is, it has to be front and center and you can’t get sidetracked because you’re faced with so many instances where you can get easily sidetracked. Staying focused is critical. The next step is to get support from others. I really want to hear your insight on this because people sometimes think that asking others for support is the wrong thing. What is your thought process on getting support from others?
Definitely that feedback. You need to take honest feedback from others. You need to ask for it, but you also need that person that you can go to when things don’t seem to be going right. To complain to a little bit so they can bring you back and they can help you get back to your focus as well. It’s so important you have that support system built up someplace.
Getting support doesn’t mean that you’re failing. It means that they’re helping you along the way, whether it’s your mentor, whether it’s your coach or whether it’s your best friend, it doesn’t matter. Support from others is really what keeps us going. You can bounce ideas off of people and it really helps sometimes to get you back on track when you do lose your focus. If you know you are losing focus, go to that support system and ask for help. The last thing is never to give up. What are your thoughts on that, Kate?
It’s self-explanatory. It’s easy to say, “This didn’t work, that didn’t work.” If it’s really something that you want, you may need to redirect, but don’t give up on it because you’ll always think, “What if I did this? I wish I had done that.” It eliminates that, “I wish I had done this different mentality.”When you find yourself just muddling about, you forget that you had a plan and strategy. Click To Tweet
I talk from experience because it took me four years to get on Survivor and if I had given up after the first year, I would have never experienced what I experienced. Sometimes along the way you’re going to hit roadblocks, you’re going to have obstacles within your path and you’ve got to figure out how to turn those obstacles into opportunities. In one of my previous episodes, I talked about that exact topic. There are going to be times when there are obstacles in your path and you’re going to have to figure them out. You cannot wait around in the hopes that people are going to advocate for you. It all starts with you. Kate Shaw and I discussed what a self-advocate means being, what it takes to be that self-advocate for yourself.
She mentioned that the toughest part about self-advocacy is worrying about are you bragging and that fine line between it. As we both agreed, it isn’t bragging. It’s simply that you must share with people what you’re good at and what’s important to you. We also talked about the need to ask for feedback. If you don’t, you run the risk that you have no idea of how you’re being perceived by others. You may think things are fabulous, but you won’t know for sure unless you ask. Kate, I’m so glad to have you on. Thank you for sharing your insights and your experiences. I think our readers got some great ideas and I’m honored that you are able to join us.
Thank you so much, Carolyn.
We talked about those steps to being a self-advocate, believe in yourself, identify what you want, plan your strategy, stay focused, get support from others and never give up. We all need reminders sometimes to sharpen our skills and to make ourselves better. I hope this helps all of you continue that focus that you have that will make you better every single day. Next time we’re going to have another great one for you. If you have any specific topics that you ared looking for more information, go to my website at www.CarolynJRivera.com. Feedback is the key to success and I would love to know exactly what you think. Helping you achieve more than you ever thought possible is my specialty. Remember, believe, commit, achieve. That’s the secret sauce you are looking for. This is Mama C, signing off.
- Central One Federal Credit Union
- Enterprise Rent-A-Car
- Turn those Obstacles into Opportunities – Previous episode
About Kate Shaw
I grew up in Shrewsbury and graduated from Shrewsbury High School. I then attended Ohio State University and thought I wanted to work in the social services field. After a short time in the field (10 weeks, I think?), I quickly realized that was not the career for me. I ended up managing a retail store, and eventually managed a branch of a very large bank.
However, I still wanted to help people and the big bank did not give me the freedom to do so. Eventually, I found a home at Central One, where I feel like I am able to help people with their financial goals.