She Says: Melissa Souto

Twenty-three year old Melissa Souto works in the construction industry as a marketing professional. An activist against sexual assault and a member of WE’s Advocacy Council, Melissa spoke to WE about how she’s using her voice to win change in the workplace.

Melissa Souto spoke to WE about speaking up and making change.

You’re a recent college graduate and you work in an industry that has traditionally been male-dominated. How have you navigated that as a young professional?

When I first started I was really scared, but most of the men I work with are great. I was in the job for two weeks when a female coworker of mine commented on a mess in the office kitchen and a guy responded, “There’s a bunch of females here, you should clean it up.” At the time I thought, “I’m not gonna say anything, I don’t want to stir trouble up.” Then, at a company breakfast to mark International Women’s Day, the same guy tried to make a smart remark about women in the kitchen. I spoke up and said, “Your comments aren’t welcome here, no one wants to hear them.” Later I found out that because I said something and everyone heard it, the man was made to go to HR and apologize to staff.

What would you say to young women in the early stages of their career who fear ruffling any feathers at work? How do they find their voice and speak up even when they may feel scared to do so?

Know your value, know that you do add something very important to the company. They choose you because you have a great set of skills. Even though it’s easier said than done, don’t be afraid to use your voice and say something. Otherwise bad behavior continues to go unnoticed — and maybe they think you’re okay with it.

You recently negotiated a 20 percent salary increase. That’s impressive! How did you do it?

I was recruited by another employer, so I started assessing my value and realized I have a lot of skills that I can offer a company. I told my current employers that, with a lot of regret, I was thinking of going to another company, and that I was so grateful they gave me my first career opportunity right out of school. When the CEO found out he pulled me aside and asked me what I needed to stay, because he admired my work ethic.

How did that conversation go?

I told him I wanted more opportunity, because I felt like I wasn’t being challenged enough. He was on board with that. I was hesitant to bring up salary — and at first, they did not offer as much as I hoped they would to keep me there. Then the CEO met with the president of the company and they eventually agreed to a 20 percent increase in my salary. I thought I was going to fall over.

Wow! How did you prepare for that negotiation?

I had weeks of preparing with my family and friends. I asked them what they thought would be an appropriate benefit to ask for, so I was really well-versed when I went into the office. I told the CEO how important it is for me work in a female-friendly environment and sometimes I think that can be hard in the construction industry. He was happy I brought that up and said he wanted to work together with me to make the company more female friendly. It feels great to know my company supports that goal.

Is there any other advice you’d give to Millennial working women who may be reading this?

If you don’t feel safe in your environment, it’s really not worth it. It has taken me a couple years to really understand that. If I don’t feel good, if I don’t feel respected, it’s not worth my time. I can make money anywhere, but my happiness and my self-value — there’s no dollar sign on that.

Read more stories of everyday working women in Women Employed’s monthly e-newsletter »