June 10, 2019
Coming up, I remember hearing this phrase often, "A closed mouth doesn't get fed." I usually heard this saying after I complained about not getting something that I thought I should have received. It was a gentle reminder from my loved ones that if I wanted something, I needed to ask for it. This adage has been updated, and if I had to say in the language our students use, I would tell people to "shoot their shot."
As I began to develop my professional identity, one thing I firmly believed was that if I worked hard, my supervisor, peers, and senior leaders at my institution would notice, and eventually, I would be rewarded for my hard work. I don't think I would be going out on a limb to say others can identify with feeling that way. I remember talking with a colleague and being quite frustrated because my hard work was not being recognized in a way that I thought it should be. I observe people, their work involvement, and their pathways in advancement to give me ideas of what I should do if I want to follow that path. I realize the importance of the networking that comes from service committees and social events in career advancement, so I was looking to expand my involvement in those areas.
To be honest, I was discouraged because there were a couple of people in particular who were being invited to serve on committees and to social events that I wanted to be a part of, and I was not. I was also perplexed because these individuals were not people I had seen "go above and beyond" in their work or who carried that type of reputation on campus. These colleagues were nice people, and I am fully aware that I could be out of the loop of their contributions; but the only difference I could see between those people and myself outside of the work ethic, was I was a female, and they were males. This was not the first time I had felt that my gender played a role in the opportunities presented to me. I also acknowledge that being career driven, expecting opportunities to come was against the traditional gender and cultural norms that society pushed on me.
I finally decided to talk to a mentor on campus to see what I could do to get the opportunities I wanted. This mentor was a senior leader on campus and also happened to be a woman of color whom I felt I could be honest with. I shared with her how I was feeling and what I had observed. My mentor told me the reason these individuals received the specific opportunities I was referring to was because they asked. I wanted to fall out of my seat. That was it? I was expecting it to be something more elaborate. I walked away from that meeting determined to do something different moving forward, ask for what I wanted.
She also encouraged me not to be shy about sharing my skills and past accomplishments. That gave me a lot to think about because talking about what I have done is not typically my style. My mentor made it clear if I didn't share it, why should expect people to know it? That meeting really marked a turning point for me, because I knew that, in order to get the opportunities I wanted, I had to be a lot more active in asking for opportunities and promoting myself. If I waited for someone else to do it, it just wasn't going to happen.
In order to network with others outside of my unit and institution, it involved me becoming active in service. I began to seek opportunities to provide service at the institution and with outside organizations. I was strategic in selecting service opportunities to ensure that the time I spent allowed me to develop skills in an area outside of my regular job duties or the service opportunity provided access to a different network of professionals. In full disclosure, these service commitments often involved me dedicating time outside of work to fulfill my commitments and make meaningful contributions. This impeded on my free time, and as higher education professionals, I think we have to be conscious of our work/life balance to avoid burnout.
However, the experiences I gained made it worthwhile. I asked to be on some institutional committees, and sometimes I was allowed, and sometimes, I was not. However, after you show yourself as a great team player, the opportunities usually start to find you more frequently. The service commitments I dedicated myself to on-campus allowed me to get to know more people across campus, especially senior leaders. I genuinely believe recent opportunities that have come my way have been a direct result of this. I had asked for opportunities, promoted my skills when it was relevant and networked with others. Pathways for promotions have opened as a result of hard work, innovation, the ability to collaborate with others, and a little bit of self-promotion.
I guess you can say "I shot my shot," and I asked because I finally realized that "a closed mouth really does not get fed." These actions have paid off. Women who push the status quo sometimes develop an unfavorable reputation. I encourage other women and readers of this blog to open their mouths and shoot their shot too! Hard work does pay off, but sometimes we have to make our seat at the table instead of waiting for someone to invite us to it. Push to make progress towards your dreams and aspirations. You deserve to be in the room just as much as anyone else.
Monica Liggins-Abrams, MPA, is the Director of Success at WMU at Western Michigan University and a current Ph.D. student in Educational Leadership at WMU. Liggins-Abrams has earned an M.P.A. and B.A. from Walden University and The Ohio State University respectively. Her research focuses on organizational change and underrepresented students' persistence and retention. More specifically, the experience of institutional leaders who lead equity initiatives intending to increase access and success of traditionally underrepresented students on their campus. When Monica is not working, studying, or keeping up with higher education stories and trends on Twitter or Instagram (@MLigginsAbrams), you can find her spending time with her family! She is thankful for her village who support her so that she can support others. They include her husband, Lester, mother, Nancy, and children Janaisia, Ezariah, Mya and Brandon.
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