By Bhavana Bartholf, Chief Digital Officer for Microsoft Commercial Solution Areas (Global)

Happy young asian businesswoman sitting on her workplace in the office

I’m grateful to have the opportunity to share this story with you as Part 2 of my Advocating for Yourself series in Profiles in Diversity Journal. As I shared in my last story, over the past 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.

Earlier this fall, I shared my list of ideas on this topic, and today I’m excited to share that my list has evolved (yes, the more I live, the more I learn!). As I continue on my journey, I find myself gaining more and more clarity. Today, I’m excited to share my latest thinking with you regarding my 5 Steps for How to Advocate for Yourself:

  1. Believe in yourself
  2. Be proud of your journey
  3. You always have a choice
  4. Be brave and ask for what matters
  5. Find your pack

Believing in yourself and being proud of your journey isn’t always easy. And, Diversity and Inclusion matter—to everyone! People want to be seen, heard, and feel welcomed, no matter who and where they are. We all can learn so much from everyone—including children—as I recently experienced with my own 12-year-old son.

One day, I picked him up from school, and he got in the car and broke down. The immediate inner dialogue in my head was, “What happened, who did it, and who do I need to go tackle?” But I gave him the space to just feel safe. My son is in 7th grade, younger and the smallest kid in his grade. And he had just finished two days of basketball tryouts. So, from his reaction, I knew he didn’t make the team.

The reason I wanted to share this story was because he wasn’t upset that he didn’t make the team. He was upset because he said the coaches didn’t even try to “SEE” him! He said, “I was written off as being ‘too little’ as soon as I walked in the door!” He said he realized that on Day 1; on Day 2, he played his hardest, and kids he played against complimented him, but he said he was still “INVISIBLE.”

Later that night, he said, “I wish I would have been brave and spoken up and been clear to the coaches what was important to me and why I was there.” But he said he didn’t think of it at the moment. And here’s the saving grace: he knows that WHEN this happens again (and he knows it will), he will be ready to speak up, so he can change the experience for someone else.

Many people experience this every day and if we all tried to be intentional about speaking up, supporting someone, and giving someone a chance, the world would be a whole lot more diverse and inclusive.

The journey isn’t easy for me either! People always have asked me how I do it, but the reality is I’m a work in progress, too. So let’s get real. Have you been wondering lately, “How in the world did I get here?” Are you feeling like you are giving 110 percent and only to find that barely anyone notices? You are taking care of everyone, but when it comes to asking for what you want, you feel guilty, and when you do ask, you are ignored or told to be grateful or patient. Yep, we have all been there!

You are in good company. YOU ARE SO WORTH IT. When I started sharing my story, and the lessons I have learned, with other women, I realized that many of us were going through this. And while I may not have all the answers, the key lessons I have learned are foundational to help us get started. I heard so many great stories and was asked to share them in forums that spanned all age groups. The next thing you know, many unexpected connections have been made and important conversations have opened up.

People sometimes seem to be impressed that I’ve got my “you-know-what” together. I’ve had a great career at Microsoft, working with fabulous people and being part of a place that truly makes a difference in the world. It’s where I started my career, had the opportunity to travel, and really pushed myself to grow. On the personal side, it’s where I met my husband, grew my family, and made long-lasting friendships. I’m also grateful to the amazing sponsors and mentors I have had over the years. Now, when I put it like that, I know you are all thinking, “What in the world is she looking to figure out?”

This is where I share. While it sounds like I have it all, the reality is somewhat different. As a very wise mentor of mine said, “It’s because you work hard to bring the energy and you make the most of any situation. The real question is, ‘Do you truly feel like you are challenged and growing the way YOU want to?’ Do you feel valued?”

This is when I had to face to reality of what that voice inside my head was really saying. I had grand plans for myself 15 years ago, but somewhere along the line, I realized I had become a company person. I was loyal and did whatever I was asked, with a smile on my face and a commitment to get the job done. I was given plenty of opportunity to do things, but why did I feel like I didn’t get to negotiate during times of change? Why did I feel like I needed to keep my head down, lead, and deliver results? And then the rewards would follow?

Like many of us during the pandemic, I was exhausted and working at home. When I finally had the time to pause and really reflect, I realized I had been spinning a narrative to explain why I couldn’t or shouldn’t ask for what I needed. The few times I tried, I felt like I was being shamed for asking, and was told I needed to be grateful or patient. And that AIN’T right, ladies!

Which brings me back to the story about my son. Kids are amazing! We can learn so much from them. This was an eye-opener for me. As I stepped back to observe, I realized that, although at first my son was being hard on himself, once he realized that being kind to himself was the answer, he softened up and relaxed into a new-found confidence and an ability to extend that kindness to others. What started out as a tragedy became an unexpected gift.

It’s my hope that going forward you will seek ways to extend that same kindness to yourself. It starts with the courage to advocate for yourself. Remember, you don’t have to be anywhere where you are not valued. Believe in yourself. Be proud of your journey. Step up and speak out, and you’ll empower others to believe that they can, too. It takes each of us advocating for ourselves to help drive the change we want to see!

Please join me in the next issue of Profiles in Diversity Journal, where I’ll take an even deeper 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 Officer for Microsoft Commercial Solutions Areas (Global) and a Profiles in Diversity Journal Woman Worth Watching in Leadership for 2021. This is the second 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.