Guest Blog: Fierce Advocacy at the ATHENA Leadership Forum

Guest Blog: Fierce Advocacy at the ATHENA Leadership Forum

Guest Blog Post Authored by Jaime Counterman, Foundation Director, University of Michigan Health-West

Advocacy is often perceived as a macro-level action… evoking efforts such as the civil rights movement, LGBTQ marriage equality, Black Lives Matter, gender equality, fair housing and mental health. These issues are so globally encompassing that it can be challenging to think about what advocacy looks like in our day-to-day lives, particularly the concept of SELF-advocacy, and particularly for women.

As professional experts in diversity, equity and inclusion, Shaquanda Gordon and Ana Ramirez Saenz offered attendees actionable steps to advocate for ourselves as individuals, promote inclusion and elevation for our fellow sisters in professional spaces, and fight fair with one-another in the doing.

Shaquanda advised on what she calls the Girl Code for Grown Women with some poignant suggestions:

Avoid Queen Bee Syndrome.

In a world where 8% of Fortune 500 CEO’s are women, it does not serve us to compete with one another for power. That abysmal percentage proves that, now more than ever, women need to support and advocate for one another to bring MORE women to leadership positions.

Be Present & Be Proud.

So often, we let our insecurities and imposter-syndrome fears stop us from even asking to sit at a table. Gender perceptions can also cloud our attempts at stepping forward. Women don’t want to appear too_____ fill in the blank. Pushy. Controlling. Proud. Bragg-ish. Bitchy. The list goes on. It is on us to insert ourselves into the spaces we decide we belong… both for us and for the women who will follow in our footsteps.

Find Your Own Code.

Take inventory of your life and edit as appropriate. Remove yourself from circles you outgrow. Phone a friend when needed to vent or strategize. Be that trusted friend when another princess warrior needs your guidance. Stand up for yourself and others. Do not tolerate or accept disrespect.


Shaquanda’s final reminder was powerful: Your name will go places your face may never see, so cultivate it with intention.

As an organizational consultant in the DEI space, Ana asks powerful (and often uncomfortable) questions of leadership groups that we can use to encourage healthy dialogue within our own organizations.

Why do you want to do diversity work?

This question is often followed by awkward silence… and sitting in that silence so leaders can arrive at an answer is critical. Asking what work our organization is doing to promote and/or commit to DEI efforts can be scary and uncomfortable, but the response can tell us a lot about the intentions behind the efforts.

How do you advocate for gender equity?

Here, Ana reminds us that what gets measured gets done. What is the ratio of females in the workforce vs females in leadership roles? How is governance written to support DEI across the organization? What communication channels exist to encourage critical dialogue? For those who serve in a leadership position, encourage your organization to measure, measure, measure.

Lastly, Ana offered some examples of what daily advocacy can look like. This includes behaviors such as: leaving an empty chair in your mind for the voices that can’t be present; leaving an empty chair physically to welcome others to the table; asking questions that lead to conversations about equity; and take a daily inventory of advocacy opportunities to see how you could’ve shown up for yourself and for others.

Ultimately, know that SHE is not your competition, she is your ally, and all boats rise.

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