Having the courage to speak out for yourself can seem scary, anxiety-provoking, impolite, or even feel socially inappropriate. Do you feel comfortable asking for your needs to be met? If you don’t, I hope this helps you.

I consider myself to be a fairly bold, brave woman. But at times I still find myself feeling doubt, second-guessing, or trying to make myself more palatable or likeable to those in front of me, rather than getting what I need out of a situation.

How Our Well Being Affects Others

I think all of us have times where we need to remind ourselves we matter. Our health outcomes are important to the wellbeing of our families and communities. We contribute to the purchasing decisions that make our economy thrive and we deserve to have our needs met, especially when the stakes are high.

I’m a feminist, mother, and BIPOC woman (black, indigenous people of colour). Having spent nearly 20 years in banking leadership, focused on access to financial services for under-served people, I have realized that advocacy is everything.

What is Advocacy?

When I think of advocacy, I think of having the ability to promote your own best interests effectively or having someone else truly represent you for the entirety of your journey through their system. You are counting on someone else to convey the things that are most important to you – your true potential – behind the scenes.

Bias & Bumps in the Road

  • Does your advocate have enough lived experience (similar to yours) to know what you’re up against?
  • Do they know enough about the system they navigate for you, to forge your path effectively?
  • Can they ask the right questions of you to uncover the right nuances and details about your situation?
  • What biases do they bring from the other side of the desk?
  • And how is all that going to impact your outcome?

In banking: Like in many systems, you walk into a branch or talk to an agent on the phone, tell your story and hope they properly represent your interests, frame your unique set of circumstances, so that you can fund a home, bridge an emergency for your family, fund a business, build a dream etc. And then you wait.

For BIPOC and women, what happens while you wait is often not what you’d hope. In many cases, their model of advice has been built on the traditional person before them – historically, a white man over 40. You can imagine that our needs as women or BIPOC might be a bit different…

In Health: I speak only from my lived experience but in my most vulnerable moments like pregnancy, facing an illness etc, I’ve had to summon extra energy to combat and uncover the biases of my provider and make sure they were approaching my needs the way I needed them to be viewed. I choose women practitioners, and if I can, BIPOC ones for this reason. But even then, their training often comes from those who do not understand those experiences.

Interestingly, my experience with midwives (a female centered discipline) has hands down been the most fulfilling; I am encouraged to trust and honour my knowledge of self and in turn my confidence in them grew and our joint outcomes were strong.

I think this easily applies to our advocacy for our children’s health, educational needs and our ability to help them navigate the world in ways that help us all thrive.

So, How Do You Spot the People Who Are Best Aligned to Help You?

  • Find the Curious Ones – Seek people with curiosity who ask a lot of questions, even those that may seem silly but that demonstrate they are not making any assumptions about your needs and wants.
  • Know Your Why – Be clear about what you need in an advocate and why. Give the person in front of you an opt-out. Let them take a minute to contemplate if there might be a better match, someone who can better relate to you in their midst.
  • Be persistent and repetitive – I’d love to say “don’t settle” here, but I also know we have a finite level of energy so instead I’ll suggest, don’t settle when the outcomes are high stakes for you. Repeat the important bits until you hear your advocate repeat them back to you.
  • Say what needs to be said If your gut says there is something else relevant you need to connect to the conversation, volunteer that information, don’t rely on others to draw it out of you.
  • Check-in – If you think someone may come with a certain bias, be curious with them about it. e.g. “are you thinking?… Because this is my perspective…”
  • Wait for it to resonate – Try to catch yourself in those moments that you’ve been taught to restrain yourself because of societal norms: to be modest, be nice, be accommodating, be restrained. Instead, hold that moment. Be clear, be firm, sit in the silence of the other person processing. Create space for you.
  • Share your plan – Prepare a loved one to be your advocate in times when you cannot. Tell them how you want them to advocate for you, what’s important to you, how you make decisions for yourself.

Only you will ultimately have the sense that something is right for you. Do not ever be afraid to ask more questions, or ensure you are heard. Your story – your history, feelings, perspective – they matter.

About the Author:

Robin Matthews-Kanhai is a Vancouver area working mother, and Director at a local credit union with 20 years’ experience in the financial industry (17 years in leadership roles). Robin’s work is driven by her passion for advocacy, community building, change management, conflict resolution and sustainable business practices.