Girl Get Yo Coins: How to Advocate for Yourself in Corporate America

Go ahead and get your wine, there are no pictures...just gems. Ok, now that we’ve gotten that out the way, let’s go!

If you’re in the corporate world it’s likely performance review time or you’ve just received feedback from your manager. To those of you not familiar with performance reviews, it’s make or break time for your job title and…mooonnniiieeesss. Sometimes you get raises, sometimes you get promotions, sometimes you get the whole shabang. It’s a time where you literally can position yourself to get ahead. I just had mine -the first successful one in my entire professional life- and it taught me a huge lesson about my true potential and self-worth.

Here’s the long story, short. I moved into the corporate side of my company two years ago and left it all to head from Houston to Silicon Valley. I advocated for myself when I first heard I got the gig, but do keep in mind there were other cool opportunities on the table and a mentor in my ear. Me trying to negotiate when I was already in the system of this major company, and moving up, was definitely a challenge though. I anticipated push back, because that’s what companies do- they push back for a variety of financial reasons…but I had to ask. Shoot, it’s what the men in my life do- they apply, make their demands, and see what sticks. So I tried it, I asked. I was nervous but I felt motivated by the sky-rocketing rent prices I saw online and by the ridiculous cost of living I had become familiar with during my previous stay in SoCal (California-speak for Southern California). I felt like I came with an extremely unique set of skills/experience and a lot to offer. I couldn’t let rent be an issue for me in a new state because I knew would have hopped on the first flight home if it were.

Fortunately I had a wonderful manager, a woman of color, who took my request seriously and advocated for me when I first got on. It was then that I received my first corporate pay bump. Years prior, as a musician I never really felt empowered to ask for what I wanted or felt I deserved for performing and writing. At that time in my life we were all young and bartering, and just trying to figure it out. So I came with a bit of empowerment-baggage there. This was what I carried into Corporate America, so this small win was monumental for me.

Fast forward into 2020…I had three different managers in the time span of November 2019-January 2020 (my first manager left and long story don’t ask LOL #stillbitter #pleasecomeback). But I knew I was in desperate need of my promotion and raise for all the amazing projects I’d been a part of and work that I had done. And here’s fun little nugget, my 3rd manager came with an org shift. I literally moved teams and now had to try and convince a new manager and organization that I deserved a promotion and a raise. They didn’t know me, but I didn’t care. They were going to get to know me and in the wise words of philosopher Robyn Rihanna Fenty “Bih betta have my money!” It was time, and I needed to put on my big-girl-pannies to receive the equitable compensation I absolutely knew I deserved. I promise you I’m not being Millennial about this, I was literally doing multiple roles. So, what did I do to get my coins…welp, here it goes:

I made a “deck”

At my company, if it isn’t in Keynote, it probably didn’t happen. That meant I needed to translate my wins into something digestible for my leaders. I used my running list of achievements and formatted a presentation that grew into a visual review of my year. It included KPIs, aka Key Performance Indicators, I knew were important to my role(s). I even included photos and presenter notes in case I wasn’t able to present my deck to the necessary folks live. Then I took my deck on tour lol…I literally presented it to anyone willing to listen, which leads me to my next point.

I campaigned for myself

I talked to my immediate team openly about the work I did- they backed me when it was time. I talked to my broader team about the work that I did- they backed me when it was time. I spoke with leaders that I worked with and other peers about my work and projects- they also backed me when it was time. I had finally let people know who I was and what I was about. By the time I was in my 4th month on my new team/in my new org, people had a pretty solid idea of who I was and what I was working on. There was no question or debate as to the impact my work had.

I managed up

I had bi-weekly meetings with my new manager and ALWAYS came with an agenda. If I learned one thing from my first manager, it was that I had to be clear and communicative about what I needed to be successful and what I was doing to drive results. I was transparent and intentional, and it was one of the best things I could have done. Every conversation I had with my leaders was structured and strategic so that there were no surprises about who I was as a professional, a creative, or team mate. By managing up, I wrote my own narrative. I didn’t leave any room for interpretation and it paid off…literally.

I went hard

I’m STILL going hard and what I’ve been telling my leaders is as continue to I do impactful work, I expect to be compensated and recognized fairly. I don’t know where my balls of steel came from, but I’ve become very intentional and downright frank when it comes to talking about my work and my money. I’m not shy about it anymore. I work really hard and I’ve seen so many people of color and women get passed over, and paid unfairly. There have been times in my life when I KNEW I was being unfairly paid. I didn’t have a model or a clue of where to begin advocating for myself but I realize it starts with undeniably amazing work. I don’t have the luxury of getting anything because my work is “good,” I have no choice but to present amazing work if I want anything. But in the same token, if we don’t feel we’re appreciated, we have every right to make a move. Just not during the pandemic though. Don’t quit your lil job talking about “DeAndre said if they don’t appreciate me, leave.Girl, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying you don’t have to work anywhere for 20+ years while only making peanuts and getting passed over. Okay, off my soapbox.

I know every company is different and everyone won’t have the same experience as me. But I wanted to share this because I never thought I deserved to ask for what I wanted. It took a little bit of pre-work before I got comfortable, but my foundation was/is I wholeheartedly believe in fair and equitable pay, and in my work. I continuously research the average comp in my field and ask for what I think I deserve within that band of pay. And when I first became seriously interested in advocating for myself, I took time to learn my company’s culture around pay and how it worked for others. The biggest lesson I learned was identifying that moment, in my gut, when I was confident enough to ask. I had to feel this with my whole self. I, repeat, believed in my work with my whole entire self. I had the results to back my request up and I knew I couldn’t sit on that. I would have only done myself a disservice and set myself back financially for years.

Now, if you’re reading this and have negotiation tips to share- I’m sure other people would love to read them. Oh yeah, I almost forgot! Without going too deep, I received just about everything I asked for and it will be life-changing for me. Your girl is officially not struggling and I want you to win and thrive too! <3

-D. Wright