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How to Advance Your Career without an Advocate

Written By: Autumn Bruce

I was putting out stellar work in my role, but the carrot was being dangled in front of me to keep working harder and sacrifice my values for the vague promise of promotion. I brought it up often with no real answers and knew deep down my leadership was not able to or willing to support me. I didn’t have confidence and put too much stock into the opinions of my leaders, until I started looking around . . .

Two years into this job and no one on my team has been promoted. Yikes. What does that mean for me? Meanwhile, in my personal life, I had been going over and over and OVER my work situation in therapy - it was consuming my life. One day I finally had the breakthrough I needed: Why am I always getting better, but my life isn’t changing for the better? Duh, some things are out of your control!

So, what do you do when your environment is the problem? Here are some practical steps you can take when you want to advance your career and get promoted, but you don’t have support on your side. Advocates are your greatest ally in the workplace, but they’re a blessing that can be hard to come by—here’s what to do when all you have is YOU.

Get Clarity: Is this a difficult season at work, or is this the norm? Are the things that need changing out of your control (think: management, culture, promotional cycles)? If your manager or the ultimate decision maker for promotions doesn't exactly have your back, it’s time to get to work on your own.

The task at hand is this: You need to step back and evaluate your situation candidly, without emotion, and list out the facts. Make a pros and cons list if you need to! Make sure you answer the questions above for yourself, and focus on these categories:

  • Culture: What is the team environment? Is the company culture overall somewhere you want to be?

  • Management: Are you given objective feedback? Is the path to promotion clear?

  • Psychological safety: Are you included and supported? Are you treated well by your team?

  • Opportunity for advancement: Have you outgrown your role? Are new opportunities being presented and encouraged?

Do you have what you need in these categories? No matter your answer, remember: you have the most important thing inside of you - the ability to advocate for yourself to get you to a situation that will fulfill you.

Get Bold: Part of getting clarity requires boldness. Sit down with the person who can help you advance and have a transparent career convo. Yeah, it's that serious. You can certainly continue to whisper-complain to your coworkers, or you can say what you want, out loud, to the decision-maker. To some of you, this is a no-brainer, but some of us are primed people-pleasers who aren't used to saying what we want out loud. Here’s how my conversation went: After starting with a general career discussion, I was bold enough to say, “I expect to be promoted this cycle. Is there anything that would keep you from promoting me? Is there a gap in my skill set?” This is where the bullsh*t started because my director viewed me as disposable, even though the rest of the team felt very strongly about me being an invaluable asset, which sadly doesn’t pay the bills. It was hard, but I haven’t questioned myself since. And the only feedback that they could come up with? “Too emotional in meetings,” which was feedback from a fellow woman. Awesome!

Consider Walking Away: You need to be prepared to consider leaving for a better situation. Unfortunately, you'll need to have your ducks in a row (think: already applied and been interviewing-- either externally or consider an internal transfer). At the end of the day, you're pursuing a better life—which is not exactly the path of least resistance.

The good news is this: you already have a job, so you know how to get one. Every great adventure starts with a single step (played out but unfortunately true). Start today by making a simple pros and cons list, and then don't stop stepping.


Meet the Author

Autumn Bruce

Autumn Bruce is a young professional trying to navigate corporate America as a human being with an empathetic beating heart, who is also a dog mom and cooking extraordinaire. She prefers to spend her free time volunteering with mutual aid organizations in Chicago, and traveling the world while she is still child-free. (thoughts??? This is hard!)


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