Why we should stop telling employees to advocate for themselves

Kristy Lilas is vice president of diversity, inclusion and belonging at GoDaddy.

In an era that champions self-advocacy as a pathway to professional success, it is important to recognize that it can only go so far, especially for people from marginalized communities. For individuals facing biases — both unconscious and systemic — the expectation of self-advocacy can pose unique challenges and create complex team dynamics.

Personal biases and institutional barriers hinder the ability of these employees to navigate the often-suggested pathways of self-promotion. In fact, some studies have shown that Black employees are penalized for self-promotion versus people with other identities. Recognizing these disparities is the first step in creating a more inclusive and equitable work environment for all. 

Permission granted by Kristy Lilas, Vice President of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging at GoDaddy

 

Advocacy means championing oneself and others

At work, this often involves finding opportunities to educate others and develop one’s capabilities. But it can also vary from person to person: For some, meaningful advocacy is volunteering for or being recommended for stretch projects. For others, it might mean speaking up or creating space for their voice. 

While some general tenets around advocacy exist, its application can and should be flexible as needed. 

Re-frame self-advocacy as simply helping people “get to know you better”

Self-advocacy can be a nerve-wracking exercise for all — and even more so for people who are introverted or have been marginalized. To offset that stress, re-frame self-advocacy as helping others better understand their colleagues.

However, organizations and managers shouldn’t only focus on self-advocacy as people’s key to success, and it’s especially problematic to ask underrepresented and marginalized individuals to overcome trauma, systematic barriers, exclusion and more so they can succeed. That’s neither fair nor effective.  

It simply might not matter how much a person tells, shows or proves that they are worthy of an opportunity; if someone has an inherent bias against a group or individual, or stereotypes them in some way regardless of evidence to the contrary, those people are always going to be at the mercy of others and not their own. Encouraging people to step up and simply overcome the structures that hold them down is misguided and misplaced.

Instead, organizations should teach their employees how to advocate for others and build systems that enable all to succeed. Here are a few ways how employers can focus on peer advocacy vs. self-advocacy to better foster culture, equity and effectiveness.

Best practice no. 1: Mitigate bias through structured processes

Rather than placing the burden solely on employees to advocate for themselves, organizations large and small must take the lead in advocating for systemic change.

This includes reevaluating policies, scrutinizing potential biases in decision-making processes, and actively seeking ways to amplify the voices of marginalized employees within the corporate structure. From recruitment processes to performance evaluations, establishing objective and transparent frameworks ensures a level playing field for all, irrespective of background or identity. 

For example, instead of relying on subjective criteria and identification, GoDaddy employs promotion flagging processes that proactively identify potential eligible employees who should be reviewed for promotion consideration. This is part of GoDaddy’s deliberate effort to recognize and reduce unconscious bias in its employee practices and systems.

Best practice no. 2: Provide support for marginalized communities

Employers should implement support mechanisms beyond traditional mentorship programs and unconscious bias training.

By creating an inclusive culture and fostering opportunities designed to open more doors for underrepresented and marginalized groups, organizations can empower employees who may otherwise struggle with self-advocacy.

GoDaddy uses a 3C’s framework of “curiosity, compassion and courage” to guide employees on advocating for others.

  • Curiosity motivates people to get to know each other, including their strengths, backgrounds, passions, experiences, hopes and dreams, which can lead to more moments of inclusion, understanding and advocacy.
  • Compassion encourages people to listen with intent and consider the perspectives and experiences of others, especially those who are different from them.
  • Courage empowers employees to take chances by interrupting moments of potential bias and leaders to effectively sponsor employees by proactively creating opportunities for them. 

Employee Resource Groups, like the ones at GoDaddy, can be particularly helpful in creating more moments to build curiosity, compassion and courage through connection and learning.

Best practice no. 3: Advocate for change at the organizational level

Rather than relying only on individuals to influence culture and challenge the status quo, organizations must do their part by enabling accountability, learning and psychological safety.

One way this happens at GoDaddy is by encouraging a focus on experimentation. This offers people varied opportunities to get involved in what the company is building, as well as to amplify the great work being done by others. This approach requires a willingness to take risks and support failure in favor of learning. It builds resiliency, courage and safety that extends to culture and team collaboration.

Developing – and rewarding – a growth mindset among employees is critical for building a culture of advocacy, equity and performance. 

The benefits of focusing more on workplace inclusion

It’s crucial to reassess the mantra of self-advocacy. Shifting the emphasis from self-advocacy to employer accountability and workplace inclusion is a strategic move toward creating effective, innovative workplaces. 

Businesses succeed most when they foster an environment where everyone, regardless of background or identity, can thrive, and where success is measured not only by individual accomplishments and self-promotion but by the collective enablement of all. The more empowered employees are, the better an organization can ultimately serve a company’s mission and the customers for whom they exist to serve.