A Talent Fairy Q&A With Cynthia Medina Carson of Wager. By Chandra Turner
I made $24,000 in my first job as an editorial assistant at Good Housekeeping. At 25 (um, only three years later), I made $95,000 as a deputy editor at Cosmo. By the time I was 35, I was making nearly $200K as the executive editor at Parents. At my height, I was bringing in about $250K with salary and bonuses. This year? I’ve launched a new business, and I’ll be lucky to make half that.
But that’s OK. Because I have talked to so many people about salaries over the years — theirs and mine. So I have a good basis of comparison about where I am now and where I can go. I keep asking my friends, especially those that are entrepreneurs what they make, what their rates are, how they ask for what they deserve. I am grateful for those conversations and without them, I wouldn’t have the confidence to start over and build something new. In fact, my entire career I have been open about my salary and have encouraged my media friends, and my Ed2010 students and Talent Fairy coaching clients to be open about theirs as well. The clearer the transparency in salary, the better for us all.
That is the argument that Cynthia Medina Carson is making with her new company, Wager.
A former international relations expert turned recruiter, Cindy started Wager because she saw firsthand how the lack of salary information created unnecessary information barriers and anxiety in the workplace. People kept asking the same question, “Who can I ask about salaries?” So she jumped in to help fill that gap. In our interview, we talk about how to ask for the salary you deserve, when you should take a pay cut, and why women are still making less than men. Here is an edited version of our conversation.
Talent Fairy: You have a fascinating past. Tell me a bit more about your career history how that led you to start Wager this year.
Cynthia Medina Carson: At 12 years old I raised my hand and said I wanted to work in the government; I wanted to be in public service. The first half of my life was in public policy — I started in the Peace Corp! Then for years, I worked in international relations — for the Department of Treasury, Homeland Security, and JP Morgan. But I was always trying to find the bridge between serving and the private sector. How is the individual being treated in the world? I started recruiting for startups and then had my own consulting group.
When I was on the other side of the table with a candidate, I had an uncomfortable feeling. I realized I was part of the wage gap problem. I had all of this information and the person on the other side had to guess what was in my hand. It was like, "Wrong guess! You just shortchanged yourself $10K!" And I thought This is not OK. So in January, I was on the couch with my husband and wondered, What if I could fix this problem? What if everyone could reveal their salaries? Eventually, I worked the courage up to bcc 500 of my closest friends. I said I want you to reveal your salary. I am going to pair you with someone else if so you can have a salary conversation. That is how Wager came to be.
TF: That’s really cool. So how were you pairing them? By their level of experience or their industry?
CMC: I pride myself on understanding a person and reading between the lines of their resume or their LinkedIn profile. I can see who they are and who they should meet. I would take that information and ask them for their 2 cents regarding what they are looking for. I spent my life putting people together because I started with no network.
TF: I love that. It’s exactly how I started out. I came to New York from Indiana and had absolutely zero connections in the magazine industry. But yet everyone told me that in order to make it I had to “know people.”
CMC: Yes! I had to learn how to create a network from scratch. I made choices throughout my career based on Will that grow my network? I’m really passionate about that, about building circles of trust, especially for women and women of color. It’s not networking; it’s building a network. It’s different. It’s a long-term play. You are planting the seeds to grow a garden. It’s the free flow of information. With networking you go out to some event and bring 10 business cards. It’s just transactional.
TF: I’m with you. And inauthentic right? I like to say that true networking is about creating friendships.
CMC: Yes. I think it comes naturally and easily to women, the way we help each other. It comes from our gut.
TF: We are so on the same page. OK! Back to money! Why is talking about how much we make still so damn taboo?
CMC: Well it’s interesting. What we have found is that the taboo evaporates in like 5 minutes. When people sat down for those salary conversations, when they talked about what they make …. nothing bad happened! Within 3-5 minutes that weird part went away. And a bond was created. This person became more than just a random LinkedIn connection. You talked money. It’s like you were sitting next to each other on an airplane and you almost crashed—and then you survived! A bond is made.
TF: That’s hilarious but so true. My friends and I have shared our salaries at every stage in our career — and it was immensely helpful in my own negotiations. Why do you think salary transparency is especially important in creative industries like media and marketing?
CMC: I have a lot of contacts and friends who are creatives. I feel like now is your time: You are the content providers for the world! Everyone needs content to build their business from video to Instagram to website content. You are on the main stage now. I’ve found that creatives actually have many hats and they have to think about that when they are setting their rate. They are often underpaid. They need to start by having conversations with other creatives—find your people! Tell people what you are doing. People don’t share what they are doing. Post on Facebook or on LinkedIn. Bcc your closest friends to say, This is what I’m doing. This is what I’m looking for. That is really obvious. But a lot of people don’t do it. I get frustrated when people don’t want to share information. Find other creatives so you can share your rate. I think the best places are niche Facebook groups. Find your group, say one of the women writers where you’ll find the best apples-to-apples comparison.
TF: I’m totally nodding along here. I co-host a private Facebook group for former magazine editors. It’s super niche. It’s nearly all women and we only allow people who have been print magazine editors, words people. People do ask about rates occasionally, but I’d like to encourage more of it. How