I didn’t mean to look! In fact, it was a HUGE mistake. Except…what I saw, I couldn’t unsee.
Let me paint the picture:
I’m in my late 20’s, working in “Corporate America.” A growing leader in my company. Coming out of a meeting one day, I bump into my colleague…literally. (Un)luckily – for a few reasons – he had just poured himself a coffee – watered down, breakroom style – that splattered all over the place.
And…all over his armful of perfectly stapled packets of papers.
Embarrassed, I apologized profusely and immediately went to help him clean up the mess I made. “Did you get coffee on your shirt?” I mumbled as I fumbled, picking up his soaked spreadsheets, while simultaneously trying to neaten them up.
That’s when I saw IT.
What, you wonder? His performance review for which he received an “excellent” rating. His performance metrics. AND…his new salary in bold black font.
He was making almost 30K more than me!?
“That can’t be right,” I thought to myself. My co-worker was an analyst on one of the brands that my company owned. I, on the other hand, worked on three of the brands and had multiple functions. I ran my department and had people reporting to me. He worked alone. I traveled regularly for work. He never left his desk.
Once I’d wiped the coffee off my shirt (and the mortified expression off my face), I asked myself the obvious question: Why was he making so much more money than me?
At first, I really wanted to stop thinking about it. The “don’t rock the boat and be grateful part of me” (aka the voice of my inner-chicken) wanted to step over the whole thing. In fact, this willingness to step over stuff was a personality trait of mine that wasn’t all that new to me. It’s one I’ve come to call “The Tolerator.” I mean…after all, I was crazy lucky. I loved my job. I was paid well(ish, though apparently not as well as my colleague). My bosses appreciated me (or so I thought). And I, too, had just received an excellent rating on my performance review…
But, try as I might, I could not stop thinking about it.
I was upset. It is true that my colleague and I did not do the same job. Except, there was no question about it: I did way more than him. Then what was it? Was it because he was a man? Married? A bit older? Had a kid?
Even though I did not know exactly what it was…I knew exactly what it was: unfair.
When we talk about fairness in the context of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, we mean the extent to which things in an organization are equitable. Equity is a process that ensures that systems and policies are just and that there are no gaps in any employee’s ability to have access to resources, opportunities, and higher pay.Most companies work hard to ensure that each employee has a chance to excel, but sometimes (okay, I mean often) the thinking used to create policies and procedures is not always just or fair.
It can be biased.
Because we are an inherently biased species, our double standards and stereotypes unconsciously seep into our decision making. Subsequently, when the decisions we are making impact the livelihood of people, without pausing to reflect and ensure there is equity, there can be repercussions – from disengaged employees to high turnover.
Although there have been improvements for women’s earnings over the past decade, statistics from 2020 from Payscale.com still indicate disparities.
The good(ish) news first. When studies control for credentials, title, and experience, women earn $0.98 compared to every dollar a man earns with the same credentials. Close, but certainly not equal. More alarmingly, when not controlled for credentials, studies show that women overall earn 20% less than men ($0.81 to the dollar). And, when the data is drilled down to look at how race impacts pay equity, the gaps become even wider for black, hispanic, and native women.
While these facts are unfair and unsettling, they are also our collective reality. At HG, we teach that we can (weather) report on the facts as if we have nothing to do with them OR we can take our life into our own hands and, no matter how many external or internal obstacles we encounter, author the results we want.
I did…OK, eventually.
Upset by the realization that I was getting paid almost 30K less than my colleague, instead of simply (or fine, only) complaining to myself, I took to the internet, and googled for hours.
The net net of my competitive analysis?
I was getting paid 25% less than the going average for my job.
Fueled by frustration, I sat myself down and spent days writing out a business case for why my salary should be right-sized. I did not just want a raise. I wanted an adjustment. I arrived at my weekly one-on-one meeting with my boss, armed with glossy copies of my powerpoint, “Chrisa’s Salary – A Competitive Analysis,” which outlined my findings and salary proposal. During the meeting, we sat down and worked through our usual agenda items. When we got to the bullet marked “salary updates,” my boss asked what it was about…My reply, “Oh, I was wondering when I will see my yearly raise in my check.”
Yep – that is right – I chickened out!
I took my glossy powerpoint and, with my tail between my legs, walked out of her office.
Fortunately for me, I had a session scheduled with my (new!) HG Corp coach. I had only been in coaching for a few weeks, but I had already become accustomed to my coach’s – let’s just say – DIRECT approach.
“What?!” My coach shouted (lovingly!). “You did not say anything? Why not ? That has no integrity? You need to speak up!”
Right as she was, I told myself that I just didn’t know how to speak up, let alone negotiate!
See how sneaky my “tolerator” trait was?
If I didn’t think I knew how to speak up, did I have to? If the “weather” in my region when it comes to negotiation was already forecast (by me!) as foggy, did I have to learn how to negotiate and go for it?
Truth is, most of us have never learned how to have a hard conversation. And not only have it, but have it go well.
In our society, women in particular are not taught how to negotiate. And I don’t just mean the hard skills of negotiation. I also mean that women are not taught that they should or could negotiate. As we get older, these messages only get reinforced by the fear that we will be seen as too aggressive, overly emotional, or needy if we speak up.
Despite our acculturation, a study from Harvard Business Review in 2018 showed that women are asking for raises. Good news, right?! Yes and no. The study also uncovered that while women are advocating for pay equity, employers still approve raises for female employees at a lesser rate than male employees. The reasons for this? Well, there are many and they include, but are certainly not limited to, the gender biases of the decision makers who approve (or deny!) salary increases.
Given all this, is it any wonder that we fear having difficult conversations about money?!
My coach helped me to hear my negative inner dialogue, which included: “What if I hurt the relationship with my boss”? (chicken); “It is our busy season, I should wait to ask when it slows down.” (weather reporter); “If I ask for more money, then people will think I am greedy.” (bad theories, bad logic); “They won’t like me as much if I point out the inequity, I’ll just forget I ever saw the papers” (my people-pleasing trait that would have me be a martyr in the moment, “happy” to suffer now – but resent them later).
In other words, all that was in my way of asking for the salary I wanted and deserved. I had to learn how to have a hard conversation with my boss.
I also learned that I had to put my money where my mouth was (pun intended). It wasn’t only asking for what I deserved. I had to be willing to go the distance if ultimately my company was not going to do the right thing. In other words, I had to be willing to walk.
With the guidance of my coach, I did the work.
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I had an outrageously bold conversation with my boss. Lucky for me she was supportive, but as most decisions in business go, the final approval did not lie solely with her. I stayed the course. I followed my plan and told my truth.
A few months later, my boss came by my office and slipped a piece of paper on my desk. “Open it,” she said, smiling. I was being granted a salary adjustment of 25K. Along with it came a title change to reflect my actual job duties and a new bonus structure. In the end, my total bump in salary was 40K!!! And the title change put me in a new bonus pool with the potential to make even more.
As with any fear-based challenge, the process of standing up for myself and what was fair was a big deal for me and, I’m sure, would be for most of you.
Think about it: What hard conversation are you currently avoiding? What fear or current “weather” in your “region” is stopping you from calling out injustice?
Remember: All of our dreams lie on the other side of what is uncomfortable (read: facing your fears).
If there is an unfair process in your company, or if you are not getting paid what you know is equitable, you can do something about it. Being a “tolerator” only allows things to go one way: tolerable. A lot like watered down breakroom coffee, no?!
Learn to advocate for yourself and your dreams.
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Very TRUE-ly Yours,