Earlier this year, I was visiting my family in California. We had just left a restaurant for dinner when my dad started asking me about how work was going. I told him about the projects I was working on, the frustrations of office politics, and how I was up for promotion this year. Then he asked me how much money I was making…
I had always been taught that you don’t ask people about their salary, but I guess when your parents supported you until you were eighteen and occasionally lend you money when in trouble, they are at liberty to ask that question. This surprised me that he was interested in knowing my annual salary, but I didn’t have a reason not to tell him.
I told him how much my annual salary plus bonus was and he was shocked! I was then shocked that he was shocked!
“Liese, why are you only making $___________?”
“Umm… I guess because that’s what they pay me…?”
“Well you should be making at least $___________.”
“Dad, I don’t think it works like that. I don’t determine how much I make.”
“Why not? Ask for a raise if you’re working so hard. Leave and find a better job that will pay you more if a raise isn’t an option. Instead of letting other people pay you what they think you’re worth, why don’t you start accepting opportunities where you determine what you’re worth? I don’t see any issue with asking for what you deserve.”
WHAT! I had nothing to say to this because HE WAS RIGHT! I was never happy with my salary, but that didn’t mean that I was stuck at that rate. Why wasn’t I putting my foot down? Why was I working earlier in the morning and later into the day than my peers to be making less? Why was I giving my employer my all when in return, I wasn’t getting much back?
Sure, it may look ungrateful to demand more money when you’re getting paid what some would give anything to be making, BUT my dad made a great point by reminding me that I can determine what I make and not let everyone else dictate that. This comes by realizing your worth. You will accept what you think you are worth, so why think less of yourself when you are capable of having more?
After our conversation, I started to do research. According to the average income in my area for those with similar years of experience, I was making about $25,000 to $30,000 less than most of my peers in the industry were making! ARE YOU KIDDING ME? You may be thinking, “Well… maybe you just suck at your job and you really are getting paid what you’re worth…” WRONG! For the last few years, I have had amazing performance reviews, regularly met with managers that praised my work and expressed gratitude for my hard work, and was considered a top performer in my department. Performance was not the issue!
In speaking with some colleagues, I soon learned that many of them had either negotiated their salaries when hired to a substantially higher amount or they had requested off-cycle raises several months before the firm’s bonus and compensation season. Another kicker? They were all men and they were all being told YES. Let it be known that when I was hired, I did attempt to negotiate my salary by a meager $2,000 and was told they would not budge on the offer they had given… I gave myself an A for effort and then accepted the offer even though I was disappointed. I felt they must know best! WRONG AGAIN! I later found out that a male colleague was hired a few months later with fewer years of experience and received a much higher salary. UGH!
Well well well… would you look at this… Harvard Business Review did a study on this very topic:
“We had expected to find less asking by the females. Instead, we found that, holding background factors constant, women ask for a raise just as often as men, but men are more likely to be successful. Women who asked obtained a raise 15% of the time, while men obtained a pay increase 20% of the time. While that may sound like a modest difference, over a lifetime it really adds up.”
In another HBR post, this one about negotiating salary, women are treated differently on the rare occasion that they do negotiate their salary:
“In repeated studies, the social cost of negotiating for higher pay has been found to be greater for women than it is for men. Men can certainly overplay their hand and alienate negotiating counterparts. However, in most published studies, the social cost of negotiating for pay is not significant for men, while it is significant for women.
The results of this research are important to understand before one criticizes a woman — or a woman criticizes herself — for being reluctant to negotiate for more pay. Their reticence is based on an accurate read of the social environment. Women get a nervous feeling about negotiating for higher pay because they are intuiting — correctly — that self-advocating for higher pay would present a socially difficult situation for them — more so than for men.”
I now have RMSF (Resting Michael Scott Face). I am tired of being tired of having to ask for equal pay, of having to feel like I won’t be taken seriously, or fearing I am hurting myself by asking for what I want. I’ve felt this way for nearly four months and until yesterday, hadn’t found the confidence to do something about it.
I met up with a friend who works for another firm in our building, two floors below. We’d known each other from working at a different firm earlier in my career. She is someone whose career I have watched from afar as she has beaten down walls and demanded the respect that she deserves. I was feeling professionally insecure and knew she’d be the perfect person to get me back on track.
As we ate lunch at a table outside, she told me about the turning point in her career where she decided to advocate for herself. I had never heard anyone use that phrase. I’d always heard about looking to your manager to advocate for you, but never the words to do that for yourself. It made sense that advocating for yourself is the solution to feeling undervalued, but I felt like I was so overwhelmed with frustration that I didn’t see the obvious. This thought remained with me all night and through the next morning.
I thought back to Sunday morning as I watched the USWNT become back to back World Cup champions! These women have been fighting for equal pay in a sport that undervalues their accomplishments. The women’s team brings in more revenue than the men’s team, has sold more jerseys this year alone than the men’s team, and WINS more games than the men’s team. If based on merit, the women should be making leaps and bounds ahead of the men. But they don’t… they are grossly underpaid and they are tired of it!
Ways I Plan To Advocate For Myself
Today I came up with a list of things to do in order to advocate for myself. In my brief eight years of professional work experience (post-college), these have been some of the best ways for me to advance and address concerns.
Talk to a mentor. Having a mentor is critical when seeking advice in your career. The best mentors are those that you do not directly report into, but are pretty familiar with your job and responsibilities. They typically share common interests with you professionally and are eager to help you grow. By talking to a mentor, I can express my frustrations in an appropriate manner that won’t result in me losing my job through retaliation or causing issues with my direct manager. Most likely, they’ve been in the same situation and can offer candid advice keeping your best interest in mind.
Explore the market. You’ll never know what is out there until you look. Salary information is typically available on sites such as Glassdoor and PayScale. Spruce up your resume and start applying elsewhere to get a feel for what the market is looking for. You may find that certain roles require additional skill-sets to receive the salary you’re looking for. You may find that people are eager to pay you for your existing skills and the job market offers a much brighter future. This is helpful to know before speaking with your current employer. It can be used to communicate that you feel undervalued. Find a way to measure your professional worth in order to receive what you’re looking for.
Make a list of contributions. One of the most important things to do, before leaving a job or asking for greater responsibilities or pay, is to list the ways in which you are making a difference. How much value are you adding? Would your current employer struggle without you there? Make sure that you are not as replaceable as they think you are and to have accomplishments and contributions ready to back up your claims. Whenever I have applied to other positions externally, I have always had to ask myself while updating my resume, “In what ways did I make this place better than how I found it?” Be someone whose presence is felt and whose work is remembered.
Take a deep breath and know you aren’t alone. No, I’m not suggesting stirring the pot and forming an uprising with everyone who feels your pain. What I am suggesting is that we all go through this at some point, but as we advocate for ourselves, we become better positioned to advocate for others or to learn from those who have advocated for themselves. Inspiration, motivation, and shared experiences are everywhere! Here are a few tweets to help you feel that you aren’t alone in this and to kick your butt into saying something:
Have the hard talk. I have yet to do this, but I know that in order for me to get out of this funk, I need to have a discussion about it. Be prepared to have a heart to heart and express concerns in a way that will be both appropriate and productive. Offer a solution to the concerns that are raised. Don’t just complain about pay and not offer the reasons why or how to move towards being satisfied.
Do what is best for me. In the event that things do not go my way, I need to be prepared to do what is best for me. Maybe what I am asking for is just not in the budget. It could be that I really am valued, but that they can’t afford to give me what I am asking for. If I have been looking into other positions, maybe I need to consider them more seriously. If I need to learn new skills that help to give me that boost, then that is something that I’ll need to prioritize. In the end, only I will know what will satisfy me and that is something that needs to be figured out early on in the process so that I know how to handle next steps whether good or bad.
With all of this being said, I trust that I do work for an organization that values my work and what I bring to the table. I have great relationships with my managers and feel confident in approaching them about a difficult topic.