Being Your Own Best Advocate

A 2018 Women's Leadership Forum testimonial by ELC Member Jennifer Jackson.

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The Executive Leadership Council (ELC) is committed to the academic achievement and development of black undergraduate and graduate students. Each year, we recognize these aspiring young professionals during our annual Gala Week festivities. Recently, The ELC recognized an incredible group of more than 60 ELC scholarship recipients during our 2018 Recognition Gala. Among this group were our 2018 Ann Fudge Scholars featuring fifteen undergraduate black female students who each attend one of the nation’s top Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The students each received a $7,000 scholarship award to assist with educational expenses for the 2018-19 academic year. Named after the first woman chair of The ELC and former Chairman and CEO of Young & Rubicam Brands, the Ann Fudge Scholarships Program is funded by proceeds from The ELC’s Women’s Leadership Forum.

ELC Board Chair Orlando Ashford with the 2018 Ann Fudge Scholars

The ELC commemorated the 15th Anniversary of the Women’s Leadership Forum (WLF) earlier this year. We’re excited to share the following post from Jennifer Jackson, President of Capital One Canada, about her 2018 WLF experience. Ms. Jackson spoke about the importance of self-advocacy and summarizes her session from this year’s event. Capital One is a longtime sponsor of The ELC and is the presenting sponsor of the Women’s Leadership Forum:

I’ve always found great value in attending The Women’s Leadership Forum and partnering with The ELC, and this year’s theme of Owning Our Power, Our Value, Our Voice, Our Vote resonates with me on multiple levels. It’s not only an important message for right now, but a daily reminder that we have opportunities all the time to use our voices to elevate each other and ourselves.

This year’s theme coincides with recent growth in my career as well as conversations that I’ve had with my mentees. Professionally, I have started a new role as President of Capital One Canada after leading several organizations within Capital One’s U.S. credit card business. I am grateful for this opportunity and for the path that led me here. While my skills, past results, and leadership all helped me get to this place, there is a key element to my success that anyone can adopt: self-advocacy.

Jennifer Jackson, President of Capital One Canada

Years ago, I started planting the seed with my managers and advocates that I wanted to take on a role like the one I have now. I identified my goals, could clearly articulate the value that I brought to the table, and made sure that the leaders who could help make it happen knew my intention. When this opportunity came about, the right people knew that I was interested before they even asked the question.

Whether you want to earn a promotion, get a raise, or make a lateral move to advance your career, you must advocate for yourself to get there. Think about your goals, and share them. Evaluate your skills and abilities, and be ready to highlight them to show your preparedness for a new challenge. Identify the people in your company and industry who are the decision makers and influencers who can help you reach that goal, and make sure that they know what you’re working toward. They are the ones who can add your name to the conversation when you’re not even in the room, so make sure that they know who you are, what you’re capable of, and what you want.

I have had smart, bold people—women and men—come to me as a mentor for guidance on new career opportunities and challenging situations. In several conversations, they shared their ambitions and goals, but they were apologetic about having those ambitions. They would start conversations with sentences like, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I want to go places.” In each case, I coached them to not only be ambitious, but to own it! There’s always a need for humility, but you can be humble and aim for great things in your career at the same time. And, by the way, that hunger is something that I look for in talent on my teams.

By couching your ambition in apologies, you undercut your drive and passion for leadership. By not sharing your goals at all in the first place, people might assume that you are perfectly content with your current situation. Don’t ever be embarrassed for having goals and aspirations for yourself. Stand up and put your name in the hat for the opportunities that can get you closer to your ultimate goal. By vocalizing your ambition, it signals your desire to grow. What if you missed an opportunity because no one knew you wanted it – how devastating would that be? Sometimes advocating for yourself means being told “no” in the short term, and that can be uncomfortable, but the right people won’t know what you want or how they can help you unless you tell them. You must share your goals to reach them.

You also don’t have to be completely ready for that next step to promote yourself and what you want. Start early. If you wait until you are 100% qualified for a new role before talking about it, you will be overqualified by the time it happens. Even if you think you’re not ready right this minute, it doesn’t matter—you will be when the time comes. If you aren’t anxious to take on a new role, you probably aren’t going to learn much. Find opportunities that stretch you and help you acquire new skills.

As women and people of color, we tend not to advocate for ourselves for several reasons. I realize there are real biases that exist where people, in particular women, may have been looked upon a certain way for seeming too confident or potentially overstating their abilities. Last year, one of the sessions at the Women’s Leadership Forum showed data that black women are extremely ambitious, but that doesn’t always show up in what we ask for. Change won’t happen in silence. I would much rather be thought of as a confident leader and empower women around me to be confident than to be seen as someone who doesn’t want more for themselves or isn’t goal-oriented.

Writing this also serves as a reminder for myself. I know that as much progress as I’ve made on this dimension, it takes constant effort to keep growing. By my using self-advocacy as a tool to grow my career, I’m not only advancing myself but role modeling that behavior for others. Each of us plays that part, whether we realize it or not. We inspire people, and especially other black women, and we have a responsibility to show them what’s possible by advocating for ourselves. I have many people to thank for their help coaching me throughout my career, but my own voice is an equally strong asset that I have to move toward the next horizon.

VOICES, the Black Business Resource Group at Capital One, has partnered with ELC since 2012 to offer promising leaders professional development and networking opportunities.

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