5 Valuable Lessons About Advocating For Yourself From 'Ladies Get Drinks'

If you've ever negotiated for a raise, dealt with the frustration of being talked over at meetings, or experienced casual sexism at work, the Ladies Get Drinks happy hour and panel, hosted on Dec. 5th in the heart of D.C., would have spoken to you as much as it did to me.

To make the event come to life, we at Bustle teamed up with two organizations supporting strong women: Ladies Get Paid, a women's professional advocacy group and network, and Dewar's Whisky, with whisky queen Stephanie Macleod as their Master Blender.

Nearly a hundred promising young women gathered for a roundtable discussion on advocating for yourself at work. Hosted at Argent Boutique in the heart of Washington, D.C., new friends broke the ice — and the glass ceiling — while sipping some creative Dewar's cocktails. From the Elder Fashioned (a floral twist on the classic Old Fashioned) to the modern classic Penicillin — and of course the Dewars 12 and 15 neat or on the rocks — the drinks were smooth yet complex, owing to the whisky's double-aging process. Plus, there was a gif-able photo booth! There were Arepas from Arepa Zone! Also, did I forget to mention? This humble writer drank a healthy amount of whisky....

Our emcee for the night Claire Wasserman, the founder of Ladies Get Paid, kicked things off by introducing the following statistic: "60 percent of college grads are women, but less than 22 percent are making it past middle management."

Frustrated murmurs spread throughout the room, though nobody was particularly surprised. She continued, "That really spurred me into creating Ladies Get Paid. I just thought it was egregious."

“The theme of the night is power. And every day is an opportunity to recognize your power," said Wasserman. "Feel free to snap!" Snapping ensued and glasses were raised amidst shouts of "Hear, hear!"

Sure enough, everyone left the night seriously feeling their power. Whether you're starting out in your career, trying to move past a plateau at your current job, or looking to pivot industries, these are some of the valuable lessons we learned at this night of smooth whisky and strong women.

1. Ask, Organize, And You Shall Receive

It's no secret that plenty of young people (particularly women) accept their first job without negotiating for a higher salary. But it's never too early ask for what you're worth. That's exactly what panelist and graphic designer Ngan Hoang did in her position at a major media company. When prepping for her annual review one year, she gathered info from her co-workers, came armed with market data, and argued successfully for a raise (though she wasn't brought fully up to market value).

Three months later, she got news that her salary would be raised further to meet industry standards, and then she received an encouraging note. "The VP of the company reached out to say that my own review, and the concerns that I raised around market value, had prompted an internal audit of my own team during those intervening months," said the mediaite. "Not only was the company going to adjust the salaries of underpaid team members, but the whole department was going to be structured around pay scales depending on your role to bridge the wage gap." Better yet — pay scales were rolled out in her entire company after that! Basically, you should schedule that meeting with HR ASAP.

2. You Don't Have To Follow Every Piece Of Advice You're Given

As a young ambitious woman, you're likely to receive some unsolicited advice on how to "make it in a man's world." Panelists Claire Mazur and Erica Cerulo, founders of the successful online marketplace Of A Kind, encountered this issue regularly when pitching their own business. "We'd get tips on how to present ourselves in meetings, tips to the effect of: 'Present yourself so people can see you as someone's daughter," said Mazur. "We realized, if we didn't like someone's point of view, we didn't have to work with them," Cerulo added. "The best way to penalize men like that is to not give them your business." BRB — making a bumper sticker with that quote.

3. The Customer Isn't Always Right

Panelist for the night and D.C. restauranteur Carlie Steiner is crashing the boys' club of the restaurant industry in the best way. Having opened a series of restaurants — most recently, her own Japanese hideaway called Himitsu — she discussed crafting a safe space for her almost all-female staff. That's to say, the occasional customers who don't know how to act need to be dealt with accordingly. "People like to say that the customer is always right," Steiner said, remembering some instances in which her staff have faced inappropriateness. "The thing is, when someone is disrespecting my staff, the customer isn't always right." Your employees, after all, are your best resource.

4. You're Never Too Young To Own Your Power And Believe In Yourself

With a year at NASA and a stint as a City Council Member under her belt, 27-year-old Maurielle Stewart has a seriously impressive resume. You might be thinking, "Wow, what have I even done with my life?" when you see her credentials, but listening to her speak is more inspiring than intimidating. "I ran for office because I was told a bunch of times to do it. As women, I feel like we second-guess ourselves. I’m very much guilty of that." And even though that voice of doubt can feel ever-present, she knew she was ready. "Thankfully, I had enough naiveté and wisdom to listen to the voices around me. When other people told me I should take myself seriously, I finally decided to take myself seriously!" Full disclosure — I got chills.

5. Give Yourself Credit

After the panelists shared their stories, the night closed out with an interactive exercise. Notecards circulated throughout the room, and Wasserman instructed the crowd to write down a story of a time they felt empowered at work. At first, friends turned to each other and shrugged, searching for an example. But within a few moments, the room went quiet save for the scratch of rapid writing.

From stories of successful wage negotiations, to shutting down sexism, the audience members became the panelists. There was a palpable feeling of self-possession and empowerment as people got up from their chairs and started to mingle. All around me, I heard people approaching each other, saying things like: "I really related to your story..." and "I loved what you had to say up there" and "That happened to me, too!"

Business cards were swapped, and emails were written down. Even in a world full of frustration, where it feels like change may never come, it felt like these women were capable of spurring progress. I'll drink to that.

This article is sponsored by Dewar's Whisky.