By Bhavana Bartholf, Chief Digital & Transformation Officer for Microsoft Commercial Solutions Areas (Global)

Two Businesswomen Having Meeting Around Table In Modern Office

Ever have the feeling you are working as hard as you can and driving results, yet everyone around you seems to be getting ahead of you? Have a great job that you should be grateful for but have that voice inside of your head challenging you to aim bigger? Feel a sense of guilt as a caretaker/parent/spouse when you want to make time for yourself and have your career be one of your priorities?

You are not alone. A lot of us have this experience throughout our careers. Throughout my career I have felt different experiences, from imposter syndrome, to struggling with loyalty and prioritizing myself, to asking for what matters to me and knowing that I am worth it. And there are days when I need to remind myself that I am—and we are—making progress.

Everywhere we look today we continue to witness and experience women rising to new heights. From leading in the White House, to competing in the Olympics, to launching a mission to Mars, to raising global and societal issues associated with climate change, to running global corporations, women are making it happen. Yet we still have a long way to go. The world witnessed this last year, when during the height of the pandemic many women chose to leave the workforce to take on extra childcare and caretaker responsibilities.

In Nov 2020, Melinda Gates published on LinkedIn: Mothers remain the fallback plan. Her quote sums it up: “Our economy is built on women’s unpaid labor.” When the world was in crisis, women around the globe STEPPED UP! And honestly, this wasn’t a surprise because women live their lives adapting, navigating, instilling hope and security, making decisions, and playing many roles. It’s who we are, and I would ask you all, WHAT can we do to make change happen? For systemic change to happen, we are going to need to support each other, work together, and be clear on what we need! It starts with each of us advocating for ourselves, knowing that we are worth it.

I recently hit 20 years in my professional career; the added impact of the pandemic, and what was happening in the world, gave me time to pause and reflect. On the surface, it would seem as if I was in a great place in my career—working for amazing leaders at a company I was proud of, with an amazing team—life seemed great. But when I challenged myself to really reflect and be honest with myself, I realized somewhere along the way, I had lost my focus and drive regarding what mattered to me in my career; my ambition had taken a back seat. The story I had told myself was that what I was happy doing what the company needed of me, and I prided myself on being a loyal employee who could get the job done. But I quickly realized I wasn’t truly challenged and motivated because I had not been clear about what I needed and acknowledging that what I needed mattered to me.

Over the last year, I have been on a journey of self-reflection—reigniting my sense of imagination and drive; continuing to build clarity on my brand, ambition, and needs; and most important, advocating for myself and being a voice for others.

For me, learning how to advocate for myself started in childhood. As a little girl growing up in India in an environment where gender-specific roles and expectations prevailed, my grandfather taught me to simply imagine what is possible by challenging the status quo. He taught me to be curious, listen and learn, and most important, always dream big. I recently began sharing five inspiring lessons I learned from my grandfather that have helped me in both my personal and professional journey. Together, we can do amazing things when we advocate for ourselves and each other! Here are five of his teachings that I practice:

  1. Believe in yourself: You can’t BE what you can’t SEE.
  2. You always have a choice: You don’t have to be anywhere you are not valued.
  3. Your experience is your journey: Be proud to tell your story; it is what makes you, YOU.
  4. Live every day like it’s your last: Stop waiting for tomorrow. Live your dreams today.
  5. Be kind to yourself: Celebrate every milestone and give yourself grace.

SIMPLY IMAGINE what would happen if we all empowered ourselves and each other, and believed what we thought we could?

In the next few issues of Profiles in Diversity Journal, I’ll take a deep dive into these steps and share stories about how they have changed my life once I started advocating for myself. We all have so much to contribute to our families, our workplaces, and the world. I look forward to connecting here and advocating for all.

Bhavana Bartholf

Bhavana Bartholf

Bhavana Bartholf is the Chief Digital & Transformation Officer for Microsoft Commercial Solutions Areas (Global) and a Profiles in Diversity Journal Woman Worth Watching in Leadership for 2021. This is the first article in her Advocating for Yourself series. Stay tuned for in-depth stories in upcoming issues of Profiles in Diversity Journal, where she will share with readers how she has applied lessons learned to work and life and how they have helped her grow, change, and inspire others.