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Women at the Table: Placing Policy into Practice

In our first installment of the Women in the Nonprofit Sector blog series, GuideStar’s VP of Strategy Mizmun Kusairi shared her SOS model for success in Women in Nonprofit Leadership. Last week, Peggy Outon, Executive Director of Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management, contributed her story in Women in Nonprofits: Then & Now. Today, we welcome Anisha Singh White as she joins us for the third and final post.

Last month, I attended the Gender Inequity in the Charitable Sector session at Embark: the 2015 Independent Sector National Conference. In this panel, four nonprofit professionals discussed the strategic and tactical ways that we could better promote gender equality as a sector.

In the weeks following this dialogue, I thought about the ways that this session is applicable to myself. While I’m fascinated by gender equality from an academic standpoint, I’m more interested in applying the principles to my own life through understanding how I, personally, can better promote myself in the workplace. As a millennial woman in the first few years of my career, I’m aware that this is arguably the most critical time to establishing one’s self as both a leader and an advocate, for yourself and others. So, how can I be my own best advocate?

While it’s easy to find tips online about what works, here are some examples I’ve seen in my own life – between my friends, work colleagues, and personal mentors—that I hope are helpful for you:

When you lack confidence, consider the worst case scenario.

Are you afraid to ask for something you know would benefit yourself and/or your career? Whether it’s a new project, more flexible schedule, or something else, my friend Jenny taught me a mental exercise that is so simple yet so powerful.

Before you make the ask, sit down with yourself or a friend, and consider: what’s the worst possible outcome that could happen?

Suppose you want to work on a new, cool project with the marketing department, but are too nervous to ask your boss. What’s the worst that could happen? Assuming she’s a reasonable person, the worst she could say is no. Assuming she’s an unreasonable person, the worst she can do is say no, laugh in your face, and give you more work to do. If that’s the case, and you find yourself still interested in marketing, then at least now you can consider exploring other opportunities, perhaps outside of your organization.

Completing this exercise helps tamper anxieties by discerning perception from reality. Oftentimes, the true worst-case scenario is actually much better than the one you envisioned in your head.

Find your tribe, and be part of their tribe

Women at the Table: Placing Policy into Practice Taking the time for team bonding activities builds a sense of community both in and out of the board room

Conventional wisdom says to find people across your organization who are willing to go to bat for you: this is your tribe. While I completely agree with this, I think we can take it one step further: stand up for your tribe. Use your social capital and smarts to help advance good ideas throughout the organization – and be a supportive voice for someone when they are in a tough spot. By encouraging others, not only do you help your colleagues, but you build your own confidence as well.

Use Evidence

Are you challenging someone’s idea at the brainstorming session? Do you have an alternative plan for your new fundraising campaign, but are afraid that the bigger, louder voices will disagree with you? One of the best ways to feel secure in your point is to back it up evidence. My supervisor uses this trick particularly effectively. As is typical for any organization, ours has an initial and natural resistance to change—but that doesn’t stop her from bringing new ideas into the organization.

While opponents voice that the change seems like a lot of (tedious) work, she rarely disagrees with them directly. Instead, she’ll often cite evidence that explains why something is useful, and how examples of how other organizations have used it in the past. I’ll admit – it makes it pretty hard to argue with her, but it’s extremely effective in getting your points across.

Stop Saying “Sorry.”

The evidence is clear: Women say sorry too much. This is something I have a LOT of trouble with. I apologize instantaneously, especially when I’m nervous or in a hurry. Luckily, I have an amazing supervisor who never apologizes for anything… and it’s awesome.

Since my natural inclination is to apologize to inanimate objects and people who bump into me, I’m trying to find ways to cut the word completely out of my vocabulary. That way, I don’t use it ever. What does that mean for me?

-If I made a mistake when writing back to someone via email, I say “Oops!”

-When bumping into someone on the way down the metro stairs, I say “Excuse me.”

By treating sorry like a curse word, hopefully one day, someone will say that their favorite thing about me is that I never apologize.

Would these tips work in your nonprofit? Do you have your own tips to share? Let us know by leaving a comment below!

Women at the Table: Placing Policy into Practice

The preceding post is by Anisha Singh White, Manager of Strategy at GuideStar. She splits her time between the Strategy Team, Finance Team, and Office of the President/CEO. Anisha is a graduate from Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in International Studies and Economics. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, finding the best restaurants in town, and annoying her brother with her philanthropy chatter. You can reach Anisha at

Topics: Nonprofit Leadership and Practice