Why Advocate – Advocacy Starts and Ends With You

SWE put together the "Why Advocate" campaign to help those wanting to advocate for something important a good place to start.
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Why Advocate Series

Karla Tankersley

Advocacy is at the core of The Society of Women Engineers. It defines what we are trying to do for women in engineering and technology across the globe. But, that’s not the only thing we advocate for. Our members advocate for a variety of reasons that are important to them as an individual and to those around them.

Advocating for something important to you is a great way to get involved and spark change. But, too often members don’t know where to start. So, we’ve decided to put together the “Why Advocate” campaign, which will include an All Together series featuring some of our brilliant members that are advocating for a cause.

Karla pictured with two of her daughters.

When we decided that we would start the “Why Advocate” Series on All Together, Karla Tankersley immediately came to mind. Karla is the senior engineering manager of Cornerstone Brands by day, and an entrepreneur by night, running her small business, Weekend Quilts, in her hometown of Cincinnati. Karla is a senior member of SWE and an active member for the Government Relations and Public Policy Committee. Karla is a passionate advocate for work and life integration – a defining term for women in engineering and technology seeking to achieve the blend of having a satisfying career and supporting family commitments – and also an incredibly important topic for individuals juggling careers, family and their personal life.

Karla pictured with her son.

“As a working mother of four, I am already living and breathing this idea of work and life integration,” said Karla. “So when an opportunity came about for me to get involved, I immediately raised my hand and jumped right in.”

Karla explains everyone has their own thoughts on what advocacy means and how we advocate. For Karla, she aspires to be a role model for work and life integration. She walks the walk and talks the talk.

Karla pictured with her daughter.

“You don’t’ have to be a perfect role model, but strive to set an example of what can be possible,” Karla said. “In my career, I’ve been fortunate to fulfill a leadership role and work collaboratively with other leaders within the organization. I have a voice in support of the work-life integration concerns of our employees. I’ve been able to respond to that and demonstrate how work-life integration can actually work. To me, this is being a great advocate.”

We asked Karla what advice she could provide to fellow SWE members who are interested in advocating but aren’t sure where to start. Her responses inspire us to jump in with both feet!

Start With Yourself

When you’re first getting interested in advocacy, it really begins with yourself and understanding what you’re passionate about. Everyone is busy and you simply can’t do everything. Do some soul searching and think about what you can contribute to that’s unique to you. Find something you are truly passionate about and ask yourself, “How can I be a great representative for that?”

Consider the Bigger Picture

When it comes to work and life integration, my fellow advocates and I often look at the bigger picture so we can see how meaningful and relevant our advocacy is. Make it more of a national or global conversation and then bring it back down to yourself and what you can do from where you are. Thinking of your initiative in a global way will help you to see how your efforts will impact everyone, not just those directly around you. Thinking in a global way has really helped us move forward in advocating for work and life integration.

Karla Tankersley, Society of Women Engineers
Karla’s 2015 Engineering Team.

Establish a Network

Just like you establish a network in your career, establishing a network is just as important for advocacy. As an advocate for work and life integration, I did some research on my own for other individuals and groups who share the same passion. I wanted to build a network so we could help each other and keep each other informed. I ended up establishing a strong relationship with the editor of Working Mother magazine – a relationship that has become very valuable in my work in advocacy. A network with a shared passion can be really empowering and motivating. Getting started can be easy – just apply what you’ve always done in your professional network to your advocacy network.

Karla closed with an important tip for future advocates.

“Be positive when you work in advocacy,” she explains. “It’s not about arguing or creating fiction or fighting. You don’t have to fight for your cause. Being an advocate is about being positive. You need to sell your idea by explaining why it’s important and how it affects people globally or locally. You’ll get more attention as a positive spokesperson for the need and opportunity to create change.”

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