How I Missed Out On Over $350,000 Working in Technology
By: Cassie Dennis
It’s been a weird and windy road since my 11-year-old-self lost a chess match to an IBM 360 in 1970. Let me be upfront about this — my degree is in psychology; I work in marketing; and, I wasn’t born at a time when tech was in the mainstream — yet I’ve had a long career working in technology and technology-driven roles.
The short answer: I said YES whenever someone asked me “can you figure out how to use this thing?!?”
It wasn’t always pretty, but I did learn how to use, configure, test, assemble and sell a variety of tech over the years, finding my niche in the software world by enabling people to solve problems with statistics, analytics, reporting and CRM.
The long answer reveals my icy patches, detours, and mudslides — from having a lucrative software sales territory I’d built from the ground up stripped from me and gifted to a male colleague because he had a family to support, to being promoted into a middle management position where I had the same responsibilities as my colleagues but a salary about 15 per cent less than theirs. Losing that sales territory prompted me to change pathways — taking me from an individual contributor role into management, which was ultimately a good thing . However, making less than my management colleagues in that one job was not a blip but a persistent drag on my earnings potential not only in that company but for the next 20 years of my career.
Because every time I went to a new job, they wanted to know how much I made in my prior ones — even if the new role had different responsibilities or was a major step up the career ladder. The information was used to determine two things: 1) was I valued by my prior employers? And, 2) what was the least amount of money they could offer that would be an increase to me, but not necessarily as high as what they paid other folks in equivalent roles?
I’m a decent negotiator, so in some instances I was able to mitigate the deficit in the offer– but not completely. And like many other folks in the tech world, I’ve worked for multiple companies across my career, and the salary history has travelled with me. As I calculate it, the cumulative effect of that initial delta between my salary and that of my colleagues has resulted in the loss of at least $350k in salary earnings alone during the stretch when I worked specifically in software companies. That’s a conservative number and doesn’t include the effect those salary history questions had on my bonus compensations or the potential earnings of that money if I had it to invest.
I’ve been fortunate and have found a wonderful role in a fabulous company where I’m valued and rewarded appropriately for the work I do. I can never recoup the dollars lost — but we can help others avoid having their earning potential bogged down artificially.
Women in technology — and all people — should be paid what a specific job is worth. What someone made in the past is not relevant to their current work’s value. That’s why states and cities across the country have been implementing laws that ban the asking of salary history questions during the job application process. In Illinois, equal pay proponents like Women Employed have pushed for a similar law that successfully passed the state house and senate with bipartisan votes. Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner then vetoed the measure, but advocates and legislators from both sides of the aisle in Illinois are working to secure an override to his veto.
In a time where technology has made it strikingly easy to base salary offers on readily available information about a given position, region, and industry, salary history questions do nothing but prop up inequity. Every lawmaker across Illinois and across the country should support this commonsense solution to dismantling wage inequity by ending employer questions about worker’s past wages.
Cassie Dennis is a Director at Monday Loves You, a Chicago-based agency solving big problems for clients using a mix of digital strategy, marketing, technology development and CRM. Cassie is also a longtime volunteer with Women Employed, an organization that works to expand educational and employment opportunities for America’s working women.