April kicked off with Equal Pay Day and we were constantly reminded through a barrage of news coverage that we are making little to no progress bridging the pay gap. According to the American Association of University Women, women made $500 billion less than men last year and these numbers are slow to change. I’m passionate about this topic and confident that the only way we will make real progress is if men and women work together. There isn’t one turnkey solution to fix this problem. I'm action oriented and want to offer some ways to support women on their individual paths to paycheck equality.
Build the Muscle to Ask and the Language for Results
Throughout the year we are heads down getting our work done, and doing our jobs. We have all faced the inevitable yet challenging performance reviews with supervisors at the end of the year. We are so busy proving what we accomplished that we barely spend any time talking about development, compensation and promotions. There is an uncomfortable and awkward dance that accompanies asking for more, but if you don’t ask, you don’t get.
It is still a very uncomfortable thing for most women to talk about money or to even ask about it. We’re taught not to ask about the money until you get the job offer. We also don't have the language of how to ask. Even if we know we need to ask, we don't know how to ask.
After almost 20 years in the finance industry, I can relate. I had no problem working with clients and talking with them the cost of services but also the value we were providing, but it took me a while to ask my company for what I knew I was worth. We must get use to speaking up for our money, focused on the appropriate outcome and finding the language to do so.
Know What You Are Asking for and What It's Worth
Traditionally, people entered the job market and changed jobs without knowing the market value of their roles or seats. Today people talk and there is a significant amount of information out there about market compensation. You must do your research and talk to peers and headhunters or explore recruiting sites. Understand what your ask is before you get in the door and stand firm. Companies are going to try to pay less because they are focused on the bottom line. If you do your homework and know what you should be getting, you can hold your number and not back-peddle. You don’t have to take that job, or that number and you can negotiate because they are negotiating too.
It took me a long time to ask for what I wanted financially. I was always prepared and ready to “defend” my accomplishments and performance when I went into mid-year or year-end discussions, but I was hardly prepared to have the compensation discussion. We want our managers and companies to really see our value but if we don’t get our fair market value, we will always be at a disadvantage.
Even as I accelerated my career in banking, I was always defending myself. I knew my male peers were making more and sometimes doing less (no offense), but I couldn’t figure out the best way to ask for more pay. Often once you were ready to start that discussion, there was a stonewalling that occurred or a topic switch. But it’s not always someone else’s fault. I remember walking into my manager’s office one day to have a discussion about a raise. I immediately started delivering my “accomplishments speech” when he stopped me mid-sentence and asked, “What is your number?” I was completely caught off guard because in all my preparation around why I deserved a raise, I never thought of a number even though I knew the market value of my role and seat. To his credit he told me to come back the next day with a number and I did.
I got the raise I wanted because I was confident in my ask, I knew I was valuable to the team and firm and my performance spoke for itself. I got that number when the time came for raises and my boss’ response summed it all up, “You deliver for us, we deliver for you.” It’s not always going to turn out that way and I know I had a fantastic manager, but you must make the ask, know what you are asking for and get comfortable asking over and over throughout your career.
Promotions and Pay Equity Won't Be Achieved in One Ask
No one cares about your career as much as you do and it's your responsibility to get the compensation you deserve. It's a push and pull balance. You need to push as much as your company should pull.
That means we have to flex our muscle and ask for more and often. That means we have to flex our muscle and ask for more and often. The worst thing that can happen is they say no, and you walk out of that negotiation making exactly what you walked in with. You also need to evaluate why you’re there if they won’t pay you. Women must dismiss the fear of putting your cards on the table - wanting more should be viewed as a good thing. It shows that you understand your worth and the value of your contribution. Make sure your company knows that you not only care about the role, you care about being compensated fairly. It matters to you, so make it matter to them.
Women have to keep asking for their deserved promotions and raises. Once you get it, know that you will have to ask again and again. Looking at the pay equity crisis from a macro level can be overwhelming but it's important to personalize it to find the ways that you can stand up for your compensation and your worth. As women, we each have skin in the game. Thinking about it this way is one step in the direction of change.
You don’t have to do it alone. Find a sponsor, not a mentor, who will fight for you when you’re not in the room and make sure they know your story. As your advocate they can help level the playing field and promote you. Don’t wait to be tapped. You need to display that you are assertive and care about your career. Ensure that sponsor gives you feedback whether or not you get the promotion or raise. This feedback helps to guide you in your role, your development, as well as those next conversations. If you’re not getting feedback, they aren’t the right sponsor.
It all boils down to getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. You have to constantly prepare your ask(s) and think strategically about what’s next and the value of that seat. Sometimes you have to be a tough negotiator and be prepared to hear "no". Don’t shrink but hold your ground and be ready with a rebuttal or a counter to demonstrate that you know your worth. Too often we worry that this kind of power play move will cost us the seat we’re in, but I argue that you are in the wrong seat if they don’t want to pay you fairly.