The Power of Advocacy for Women—3 Essential Real Skill Courage Actions


Small Steps/Legacy Results

Mentoring programs (the sharing of wisdom) have not been the magic pill we women had hoped for. This has been witnessed by the slow to stagnant growth in boardroom positions, CEO positions and overall C-suite exposure. In wage parity, progress has also been extremely sluggish. Even though today women earn 80% of what men do and women now graduate from college more often than men, something is still desperately missing.

While improving the dynamics of the boardroom and pay equivalence are important, to me, what’s more important in women’s leadership development is advocating for the floors below the boardroom and the coveted C-suite—the levels at which most women reside and where change can be made in small steps that produce legacy results.

So many talented women are stuck at these levels “going nowhere fast,” basically being bystanders rather than collective advocates. Regardless of title, an advocacy program is consciously steeped in courage actions, such as giving each other permission to claim their courage, confronting uncomfortable truths, tackling the tough project or instilling self-discipline. Regardless of title or aspirations, these actions push more women up the leadership ladder.

Most likely, where you work there’s not a formal courage advocacy program, much less an intentional “Courageous Leadership Development Model” charter that defines and holds all employees accountable. There’s a good chance you do have a mentoring program, and these certainly have their place. Mentors offer associates wisdom and help them to the edge of encouragement, but they do not often take a stand to support and push protégés (mentees) to visibility. You may also have a sponsorship program that connects protégés to key opportunities tailored to their needs that help them through the process. This practice diminishes feelings of uncertainty, a courage obstacle. So why thrust a courage advocacy program into the mixture?

Courage advocacy programs support women to connect and collaborate (two courage busters) so all parties are held accountable for courage actions. Courageous advocates are not idle bystander. Actually, they have the courage to stick their necks out for another woman standing shoulder-shoulder. Here are three examples that spotlight the power of advocacy:

  • You’re at a networking function and you notice a senior woman from your company chatting with high-ranking colleagues. You recently had a brief interaction with her. Now she says hello to you and you step into the ring of conversation. Does she seize the opportunity to expose a skill or passion so you can become visible? If the senior colleague does not know one of your passions, does she initiate a conversation? This initiates an advocacy conversation.
  • You have announced to a professional friend or colleague that you’re seeking a position in their industry. Does she take the time to send a short email introducing you to a connection, perhaps even sending your resume to a supervisor of a particularly suitable division in that company? Like most advocacy actions attaching a resume and introducing someone takes no time at all.
  • You have worked long and hard on a difficult project. After your presentation, a colleague hangs back to offer a compliment such as “good job!” or another example, after a peer has spoken up at staff meeting a colleague simply offers a brief compliment, “Well done!” or “Loved your talk at the leadership forum. Thank you!” Words of encouragement lift the heart.

These courage advocacy examples only take a few minutes but are capable of launching one woman from invisible to noteworthy. This is how talents are showcased. The power of advocacy requires each woman to understand how courage plays a critical role. Courage actions are blind to culture, education, age and title.

You can learn how to make courage advocacy work for you. Opportunities to display courage at work occur nearly every day. Unfortunately, most women do not understand or claim courage as one of their primary virtues, one that is easily displayed at work.

What Is A Courage Advocacy Program?                                              

A true understanding of courage begins with understanding its origins—the Old French word corage, means “heart and spirit.” These are qualities women have in abundance. In other words, courage is an innate quality that resides within the core of every human being. One woman said, “I finally had to speak from my heart…” However, based on my research, only 11% of women perceive themselves as courageous. Hence, feminine courage remains virtually unrecognized (much less claimed) in our workforce; yet it holds tremendous potential as a source of personal permission, happiness, job satisfaction and social advancement.

In the end, recognizing one’s courage and acting courageously are not so much about what you are doing as who you are being! Regardless of age, background or level of position, anyone willing to simply know her own heart and spirit can follow her courage to the highest levels of self-fulfillment.

What are you doing to make yourself visible in order to be endorsed? When someone advocates for you, you learn to advocate for others. You recognize the benefits of advocacy in your heart and take your first little step to yield legacy results: those whom you endorse now become empowered to carry-on in that vein.

A courage advocacy program for women is tailored to their needs, which requires front-and-center visibility that promotes accountability. This is when a woman has a real chance to showcase her talents. Initiating this type of courageous choice increases the potential for open-mindedness. For example, a woman in a senior leadership role reaches out to a woman in a subordinate role and invites her to participate in a project that might be a stretch for her. However, she will learn not only new skills but the self-confidence she desires to step up in order to enhance the skills required to be considered for the next big project.

Each step, no matter how outwardly small, is equally valuable—that’s how courage incubates, grows and spreads to others. Initiating and accelerating the development of women leaders through an advocacy program will require coordinated individuals and companywide change efforts. This is where “courage change agents” come into play. Each person strives to make courage a daily legacy. Legacy steps combine two elements:

  1. “taking the hand” of a woman to uncover her talents, and
  2. simultaneously shifting the organization’s culture to a branding value called courageous leadership.

There’s no power like the collective feminine energy of courage!

3 essential “real skill” courage actions to stimulate a Courage Advocacy Program (CAP):

1.  Hands-On

Dr. Peg Dunn-Snow currently works as a licensed mental health counselor and art therapist. She offers a heartfelt story that is so simple it could be interpreted as obvious. “Women all need advocates, whether they work in the corporate world or in academia, like me. One advocate that stands out in my life recently passed away at the age of 90. After hearing the news of her death, I reflected on her long life and who she was and what she did for others. As I recalled many fond memories about her, what kept surfacing was my friend’s strength and talent as a natural advocate even though she was a quiet and reserved woman who never sought out the limelight for herself. In her day-to-day life she had many talents, but one of her best accomplishments in life was her artistry and skill as an advocate.

“As my advocate, she displayed an authentic enthusiasm both in word and deed when I first mentioned to her I wanted to pursue a new career. She was what I would call a ‘hands-on’ advocate, revealed in the seven actions she exhibited that made her the consummate advocate for me.

  1. She encouraged. By her own example, she encouraged me to go back to school.
  2. She accompanied. She gave me moral support by accompanying me to places I needed to go to pursue a new career.
  3. She found resources. She discovered ways to help me acquire new materials and equipment for my change in careers.
  4. She listened. She was always a great listener. She never passed judgment on any of my ideas or plans.
  5. She was optimistic. She always believed there were more good people, good ideas, and good deeds.
  6. She believed great occupations were vocations. She encouraged me to consider whether my new career might also be my true vocation in life.
  7. She stayed in touch. Even when she finally moved away to live closer to most of her nine children and their families, she frequently wrote to me.

“As an advocate she willingly gave to anyone who knew her—her time, wisdom and courageous heart-filled unconditional love. Through her actions, my dear friend showed me the value of advocacy; she left me a blueprint to follow of simple, yet profound actions, which I practice each day so as to help me develop my own advocacy skills to pass on to others. I urge all women to develop the skill of an advocate and continue my friend’s legacy of advocacy for women from women.”

2.  Self-discipline

Barbara Funke, Senior Vice President of a mortgage company, possessed self-discipline, a courage action that allowed her to reflect on changing situations and then make progressive adjustments to manifest her vision. Do you have the courageous will to develop self-discipline in order to take that next step up the leadership ladder? With a predisposition for action, a courageous woman manifests self-discipline as she manages her career.

Barbara experienced advocacy with a different twist. “Rather than having an advocate in my corner,” she said, “throughout my successful careers, I was a self-advocate. I advanced by capturing the attention of key leaders in an organization. With self-discipline, I chose to study and acquire knowledge. I was perceived as a high level performer because I was productive and impartial. By exceeding expectations, I became a trusted and respected advisor. Success can be achieved without an advocate, and in some respects it can be more liberating as one is not associated with a particular leader that can lead to political positioning.

“On the other side of the coin, there are definite advantages such as an advocate helps breakdown barriers and foster immediate acceptance to the inner circle  Many of the leaders I have worked for did have a significant impact on my career because of their success but they devoted little time to develop my skills or a relationship. The idea of advocacy was never promoted, and I did not witness any advocacy relationships.

“An important objective as a leader in any organization is the development of employees. Right now, I seek to advocate for the next generation of leaders. I am grateful my current organization has committed to advocacy. A formal advocacy program is crucial!”

3.  Forge Ahead, Open Doors

Regardless of how women have moved up, you don’t go through a staircase of opportunity. Teri Brigden, Corporate HR Manager for AREVA Resources Canada feels it is important for all of us to remember that “lending a helping hand or opening a door for a woman with potential is of greater importance, than protecting our own territory like a wild animal.” We’ve all heard this simple advice.

Teri states, “In my experience, I have witnessed so many women that have experienced such difficult and tumultuous paths to get to where  they are—be it the ‘school of hard knocks’ or ‘fighting with the boys club.’ They become scared that the younger generation is going to swoop in and push them aside. They suddenly turn from strong, powerful executive to insecure individual.” What Teri believes is important for us all to remember is that “regardless of our own path upwards, the only way that we are going to have more female partners at the table is to forge ahead by opening doors and guiding the next generation of female leaders.” Teri continues, “By putting aside our own insecurities and showing the next generation of females the way, we are providing opportunity where it would otherwise not exist; we are moving toward a world where equality does exist, where the boardroom is filled with the best and the brightest and where wage parity is a reality.”

If you read any magazines, blogs or books dealing with business, you will have noticed that organizations and the media have given women’s leadership advancement widespread attention, along with a variety of solutions. Your simple advocacy actions cost nothing and help propel others to new levels. What have you done recently to lift the visibility and spirit of another woman? A bonus for being an advocate? You’ll lift your own spirit as well!

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