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How to Advocate for Yourself as a Woman in Business: Navigating Employers, Promotions, & Higher Pay

According to McKinsey & Company’s Women in the Workplace 2023 Report, “Nine in ten women under the age of 30 want to be promoted to the next level, and three in four aspire to become senior leaders,” yet “because of the gender disparity in early promotions, men end up holding 60 percent of manager-level positions in a typical company, while women occupy 40 percent.” The report explains that even though the number of women in C-suite positions is increasing, many women begin to fall behind their male counterparts early in their careers, a phenomenon coined the “broken rung.” Even though this disparity exists, having an action plan as to how to approach promotions and advancement can be extremely beneficial to overcoming it. 


To gain first-hand insight into what self-advocating and advancing quickly through a company looks like, I talked to two former WIB members who have gone on to fulfill major roles in their respective companies. Nike’s Director of Supply Chain Technology and WIB’s former VP of Engagement and Recruitment, Kristin Sembach, graduated from Ohio State in 2007 with a dual degree in Marketing and Operations Management and went on to get her Master’s Degree in International Logistics and Supply Chain Strategy at Georgia Tech. Since 2014, she has been at Nike. Christina Haulbrook, NBC Universal’s VP of Advertising Strategy and former WIB member, graduated from Ohio State in 2010 with a major in Finance and a minor in Media Production and Analysis and went on to get her MBA at Indiana University in 2019. Ever since her first major internship at the Late Show with David Letterman, she has been at NBC Universal.


Through navigating different roles and moving upwards in their respective companies, both women have experienced turning points in how they approach the business world and its associated obstacles as a woman. During the beginning of Kristin’s career, she felt even with the men around her, but eventually, she began to see those same men getting promoted while she was not. She felt ready to take on a new role, so she approached her boss at the time about wanting a new role. Kristin did not let the conversation die after their first meeting; she kept going back to her boss, writing down everything he said she needed to do to be ready. She did what he said and reported back time after time. Eventually, there was nothing else he could say; Kristin wouldn’t take no for an answer and proved her ability and commitment. This was a turning point in her career. She learned that she needed to approach business environments as if she were a man. In other words, she learned to stop overthinking it and have confidence even if she felt unprepared. Kristin didn’t wait for someone to give her a promotion and made it happen for herself. 


Similarly to Kristin, Christina paced her career in terms of the men around her. She “mimicked the cadence” of her first boss at NBCU, who was a young VP with an office overlooking 30 Rockefeller Center. Seeing him living her dream established her goal to have a promotion every two years, using the first year to master the job and the second year to focus on “performing the job at the level above my title.” Through pushing herself and achieving this goal over her career at NBCU, she has learned that you have to be the biggest advocate for your career.  She advises that “when you feel like you are being overlooked or not getting the appropriate exposure, work with your manager to collaboratively find those opportunities.” 


When asked when perseverance and self-advocating were driving forces in a promotion, Christina said they were driving forces “every step of the way.” When she was told she couldn’t pivot directly from finance to consulting, Christina asked for a “stretch assignment to ‘prove [her]self’, which opened the door to [her] first job in Strategy at NBCU.” When the first talks about Peacock, NBCU’s streaming service, began, Christina asked to be a part of the team working on it. When she wanted to move on to a VP role, she had to prove why she was the person for the job. Time and time again her own determination and clear vision were the driving forces in any advancement. 


Kristin approached her promotion by utilizing her network to gain feedback and build a positive reputation during her pursuit for a promotion. Though networking can feel like a corporate buzzword at times, Kristin views networking as a way to cultivate relationships with people that you click with and learn from people above your position, even if the relationship ends at a single coffee chat. She explained that networking is a great way to make your reputation known, as any number of people in a company could do the job you want, so you need to play into why someone would want to pick you. Building a relationship and creating a good reputation within the workplace is a solid way to set yourself apart from others.


Through explaining their experiences, Kristin and Christina had several pieces of advice when navigating professional settings as a woman.  Christina advised how to approach negotiating higher salaries as a people-pleaser. She expressed that she “was lucky enough to have a boss that…became a mentor and advocate for [her] career.” This boss taught Christina that you should always ask if there’s flexibility in an offer, support your counteroffer with industry benchmarks, and to know your value and showcase why a promotion will be beneficial to the business. Christina said that “turning the conversation into a strategic analysis and showcasing why it's valuable to the business helped shift my mindset from feeling selfish.” Kristin advised to take the emotion out of criticism and seek out information on how you can grow and how you’re valued in an organization, to have a network of cheerleaders in and outside of work, and that it is not enough to keep your head down and do your work. You need to go out of your way to make connections, make a reputation, and seek out what you want. 


While at Nike, both Kristin and Christina have truly walked the walk. Kristin has had five promotions in her time there and is currently the Senior Director of Supply Chain Technology. She expressed that her favorite part of her job is the opportunity to coach her employees and see them grow. By creating her own path in her career, Kristin has had her number of “pinch me” moments, such as visiting places in China that used to be her desktop screensaver and feeling energized by leading her team. Christina achieved her goal of having a promotion every two years and has been able to develop the Peacock business plan and advertising strategy, which is now the fastest growing streamer in the market. She loves being able to create innovative ads and greenlight new content, as well as developing genuine relationships with her coworkers. When asked what her college self would do if she knew where she was today, she “would run Cazuelas to celebrate, and be eager to see what happens next!”


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