A Collection of Thoughts on Self-Advocacy
This piece was written by Angshupriya Pathak, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, the 2018 Chair of WIA Silicon Valley as a reflection on self-advocacy and leadership.
While I have been struggling to complete this blog for months, I have also been reading Warren Bennis’ book, On Becoming a Leader. The following are a series of powerful questions Bennis explores in his book, along with my own introspective thoughts on self-advocacy, particularly within my career in architecture.
• What do you believe are the qualities of leadership?
It is easy to be an advocate for others, but being your own advocate is really, really hard. While you are trying to balance project deadlines with client demands and project team dynamics, your own professional-development needs can easily get lost under that pile of light fixture cutsheets and meeting agendas on your desk.
You have to keep asking for the training, the mentorship, the raise that you deserve. In today’s fast-paced, crazy crunch-mode world, if you don’t ask for all that is vital to your career growth, no one else will. Speaking up for yourself and continuing to do so, until heard, is essential to self-advocacy. It inspires others to do the same.
• What experiences were vital to your development?
Being told that women have a really hard time managing Construction Administration on-site, again and again. I kept asking for CA experience, again and again, until I was given a chance to work on the CA phase of a project. Even after that, when I realized I was being hindered from attending jobsite meetings, I insisted. You have to keep asking. If the answer is a repeated “no”, it is time to move on to more promising career avenues. I had several women tell me they were inspired by my decision to move on. Ultimately, you need to make the right decision for your career advancement.
• What were the turning points in your life?
Attending a TED Talk Screening hosted by the WIA Silicon Valley Chapter. Making myself visible outside of the four walls of my workplace made me realize I was surrounded by a tribe of unstoppable women who shared my passion for equity in the profession. Immediately after, I started making myself visible in meetings by sitting at the table and not hovering at the fringes. I was experiencing the power of making myself visible. Trusting myself to “learn by doing”, I dived into the role of Vice Chair of the WIA. As Chair in 2018, I am excited to see how the future unfolds.
• What role has failure played in your life?
Failure is essential to growth. It is what keeps you mindful and grounded. You will make mistakes, it is inevitable. Owning the mistake is indicative of your willingness to fail and continue your learning. What is pivotal to your growth is how you take your learnings and move on.
I always thought I needed to complete milestones, get licensed, etc., before I would be deemed suitable for a promotion or a pay raise. Up until I joined the WIA, I did not comprehend the fallacy of waiting for things to come to me. Now I do not wait to pursue opportunities that inspire me, in the workplace as well as in my volunteer initiatives in the AIA Silicon Valley Chapter. The personal and professional growth I continue to experience is exponential to my urge to pursue opportunities that force me outside of my own box.
• How do you learn?
Humility is essential to learning. No matter what your role and position within your Firm or volunteer organization, you will always be surrounded by peers who bring diverse experiences and perspectives to the table. In the WIA Committee, all members bring their unique perspectives on equity, equality and diversity. Acknowledging and respecting all opinions is the first step toward problem solving.
• Are there people in your life, or in general, whom you particularly admire?
The friend who nudged me on to attend ‘THE’ TED Talk Screening. She is a fellow-WIA committee member. It is also how I forged relationship with my Mentor. Having a Mentor is absolutely essential. You may be a good Student, but your potential can only blossom under the guidance of a good Teacher. A good Teacher will help you find your best self-advocating voice.
• What can organizations do to encourage or stiﬂe leaders?
When an organization is not willing to recognize your areas of strength and keeps reminding you of your weaknesses, it is promoting the worker-bee culture. When Leaders at the helm of an organization are willing to let their employees steer the course, new Leaders are made. Transparency and communication is the norm in my current workplace. All employees are responsible for designing the course of their career paths with the guidance of Mentors and Firm Leaders. Everyone works together to ensure individual aspirations are encouraged and honed under the greater umbrella of the Firm’s strategic vision.
It is never too late to listen to your inner voice and find a way to express it. The practice of self-advocacy might take you time. However, once you start experiencing the power of making yourself heard, there is no stopping you.