Speak up! Your Career — and Our World — Depend on It

The next time you’re thinking of eating lunch at your desk, do this instead.

As an ambitious woman, your time is precious — and limited. Between running from meeting to meeting, while managing impulsive bosses and cranky clients, it’s hard to imagine squeezing in anything else (like, a nap).

What if I told you that three specific skills will not only help you advance your career — but also make you a more engaged citizen? I bet you’re curious.

Prior to co-founding the All In Together Campaign (AIT), I had never worked in politics. I hadn’t interned on Capitol Hill or worked on a campaign. I was a vice president at the Center for Talent Innovation, a think tank that conducts research on minority groups’ barriers to professional advancement. I worked exclusively with Fortune 500 companies, building women’s leadership programs and advising the “corporate establishment” on how to create less homogenous workforces.

When I left to start AIT, all I had was a degree in politics and a belief that women’s voices in politics were crucial, but too quiet. But what I discovered shocked me. The political sector wasn’t any different from the corporate world — they were structurally mirrored!

First (and likely most obvious), women remain woefully underrepresented in leadership positions, making up a pathetic four percent of Fortune 500 CEOs and only 20 percent of the U.S. Congress.

In the private sector, as well as in politics, women walk a nearly impossible-to-navigate tightrope, fraught with contradiction when it comes to their executive presence. And, just as in the private sector, women’s voices are often missing from public life. One study on Vermont town halls, for example, found that women made up nearly half of the attendees — but less than a third of those who asked questions.

The good news? The same tactics that are most effective in the political sphere can also advance your career. Here are three valuable skills that can improve your professional life — and your community.

Build Strategic Relationships

In politics, relationships and access equal power; just think about how important strong relationships are when fundraising or getting people on board with new legislation.

And as you climb the corporate ladder, it’s not enough to put your head down and deliver great work — people in positions of power need to know about the great work you’re doing. Mentors (peer and senior) are critical to providing advice, support, and guidance, and sponsors are key to advancement.

Sponsors are senior leaders who believe in you and are willing to advocate on your behalf (perhaps for a pay raise, promotion, or stretch assignment). However, research shows that men are 46 percent more likely than women to have a sponsor.

Work to build relationships with those who have decision-making power over your next career move and overdeliver for them. And the next time you’re thinking of eating lunch at your desk? Don’t.

In-Person Is Always More Effective

When it comes to getting what you want, research shows that in-person constituent visits are the most effective tactic. (In fact, they are significantly more powerful than phone calls or personalized letters.)

Similarly, new research has found that a face-to-face request is 34 times more successful than an email request and that we often overestimate compliance via email requests and underestimate compliance via in-person requests.

If you have an important request for someone, don’t use Slack; go to their office. Work remotely or with a virtual team? Use Skype or Google Hangouts instead of the phone. Look ‘em in the eyes. You’ll have a far higher success rate.

Get to the Point!

Whether you’re meeting with your political official’s staff or writing a letter to your representative, keeping things short and personal is always best. (Some Congressional offices receive 25,000 pieces of incoming correspondence every week!) And always, always end with a call to action.

At work, distribute meeting agendas in advance along with the most important desired outcome. Your team will thank you for valuing their time — and be more likely to act on your requests.

Remember: Your voice is important in every sphere. Your community and your company want to hear more from you.