Truth: All it takes is a few words and the courage to act on them to change your life. I learned that just over a year ago.
I’d been working at the same company for 7 years, and I knew I was underpaid. I was at Director level, managing marketing and advertising for some of the world’s best-known brands, when my boss hired a new boss for me, placing a level between herself and me. He wasn’t a fit from the start, so I was tasked with covering for his shortcomings in every way, and this continued for more than a year.
Finally, I approached my boss and told her, “You hired this person as a figurehead and now you’re asking me to do his work.” She knew this.Then I discovered that he was making double my salary. During this time, I was working harder than ever, traveling up to 40 weeks a year and sacrificing my mental and emotional health to be what I perceived to be the best at my job.
My personal reckoning
Around that time, Cindy Carson invited me to a focus group on what would become Wager. I listened to an incredibly successful lawyer tick off all the elements of her current role that she had negotiated. Then she said something that’s become the biggest inflection point of my life so far.
This smart, confident woman said, “I don’t care if they’re offering you a million dollars. You tell them, ‘This is not what I was expecting.’”
At that point, I knew I had to leave my job. This whole job was not what I was expecting, I thought to myself. I can’t work for a company that’s asking me to deliver without the salary, position and title I deserve. Gender or age shouldn’t be governing factors in determining salary, if the job expectations are identical, and this wasn’t something I was willing to stand for.
Getting comfortable with asking about my friends’ paychecks
A friend reached out with an opening for a role I was interested in, yet I had no idea what it paid. She couldn’t provide salary direction because the company’s policy was to handle that separately. I called my friend at another company in a similar role who’d always encouraged open dialogue on salary negotiations, and asked her--“I need to know exactly what your compensation package is so I can ask for what I deserve.”
She broke down her salary, bonus and equity. She even told me what she intended to ask for when making the case for her next promotion. Wanting another data point, I approached another friend who was an executive at a digital publishing company She told me exactly what to ask for, which included a robust salary, increased based, bonus and equity:
+ 30 percent more base than I was making
+ 20 percent bonus
+ 20-30 percent of the combined bonus and base in equity
All together, this came out to nearly 70% over my current comp. I looked at her like she was crazy. My friend shrugged and told me, “Are you going to tell me you’re not worth it?”
I knew I needed to ask for this. Not just for me, but for all women trying to earn their worth. Through chatting with others during my Wager salary conversations, I was acutely aware of how much our own behavior acutely affects other women. If I didn’t ask for this, how would other women rise?
Negotiating for more--and helping women everywhere rise
I got the job! And they gave me exactly what I asked for. But, I knew better. So on the call with the recruiter, I said, “Thanks so much, I really appreciate it, but this isn’t what I was expecting. I want this job. It makes a lot of sense for me. I need this to be 100% right for me to know I’m doing what’s best for my career and your company.”
He got back to me within an hour--bumping up my equity 20 percent.
I was elated. It was difficult to tell my boss, and they tried to convince me to stay. But what does it say that the first time they asked what they could do for me was when I was walking out the door? Sadly, this is the case at a lot of companies. There are so many people, especially women, who don’t realize they’re fundamentally being devalued. They build a thick skin and rationalize, “This just a cost of entry.”
We all need to own how much we bring to the table and insist that our compensation reflect that--not after another decade or two of working, but now, while you’re giving them all you’ve got. We need to find productive ways of fighting for our worth, and know that the decisions we make impact other people who look like us.