“Well, this is very serious. If this gets out, every working woman will want to get paid just as much as a man to do the exact same job. And our entire civilization will collapse.” — Midge Maisel to Mike Carr in the fifth season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
Isn’t that the truth??
A few years ago, a vendor in the PR industry invited me to keynote their industry event. It would have been an easy gig for me because it was held in Chicago so I wouldn’t have had to travel and they wouldn’t have had to pay for my expenses. When I quoted them my speaking fee, they told me they didn’t have the budget for my fee, but they’d be happy to let me attend the event for free.
I politely declined the “opportunity” only to learn a few weeks later that they not only hired a man to keynote their event, they paid his full speaking fee and all of his travel, including a stay at the Four Seasons.
Now I don’t know how they suddenly found budget—the relationship I had with them soured after that. But how do you think that made me feel? “You’re just a girl and we can’t pay you. But we can pay a man for the same gig.”
It doesn’t feel super great.
I’m glad I stuck to my guns, though. Too often, women are asked to do things, like speak for free, that people would never expect of a man. And we accept it because we’ve been raised to undervalue our work and be grateful for the table scraps.
If we want to make change, though, ensure all women are treated equally, we have to stick to our guns.
The Wage Gap Still Exists
The Equal Pay Act celebrated its 60th anniversary this month, and, in honor of ensuring women are treated equally, a new report shows women won’t reach pay equity until 2056.
That means my kid will be 43 years old before that happens. It also means it’ll be almost 100 years before the vision of the Equal Pay Act is realized. Pretty sure that’s not what its founders had in mind.
There are a host of reasons outside of the wage gap that women are paid less than men: some take time off from work to focus on raising kids, which is more than a full-time job on its own. Women are overrepresented in lower-paying occupations and underrepresented in the highest, best-paying companies. And the pandemic created a mass exodus of women leaving the workforce because, as much as things have changed, the personal life stuff still tends to fall mostly to women. Having it all, it turns out, is a farce.
But even if those things have not affected some women, there is still a wage gap. The PR vendor was unwilling to pay me to keynote their event but had no problem paying a man.
And why is that?
The Value of Valuing Your Work
Trust me, I have overanalyzed it to death. I am more qualified in the PR industry to speak on the topic than the man they ended up hiring. In fact, he’s not even a communicator or a marketer. It was even easy to hire me because I was just a few miles from where they held their event, versus the 600 miles away he lives. I probably quoted them less than he did—and they didn’t have to pay my expenses.
So why would they hire him over me, particularly after telling me I was their first choice?
The only thing I can come up with is, because I’m a woman, they thought they could get me for free. And, when that wasn’t the case, they freaked out and returned to the drawing board. And, instead of coming back to me with hat in hand and admitting they were embarrassed not to have had budget to start, they went the complete opposite direction.
I clearly still overanalyze it. I don’t regret sticking to my guns. I could have easily said, “Oh, sure. It’s great exposure for me and I don’t have to travel. I’ll do it.” But what would that have done for me? And what would it have done for every woman on earth who deserves to be paid for their expertise and their time? What I do regret is quoting them half of what they ended up paying their keynote speaker.
Even though I stuck to my guns, I still undervalued myself. And that, my friends, is the crux of the real issue. To achieve pay equality, we must stick up for ourselves, advocate for ourselves, and demand to be paid what we are worth.
But You Must Negotiate
One of the things I hate most about hiring women is that they almost never negotiate their starting salary. In fact, in all of the years I’ve been hiring for my agency, I’ve never had a woman negotiate their salary. Every man I’ve offered a job to has negotiated every fine detail. But women? Not so much.
It’s gotten to the point that I will leave room to negotiate with them and when they accept the offer, I use it as a coaching moment. I ask them why they didn’t negotiate. I’ll get answers such as “I didn’t think there was room to do so” or “I didn’t want to risk losing the job offer.” Both are reasonable answers, but also not acceptable.
I then have them negotiate with me—and I tend to be ruthless, just to give them the practice. It’s a safe spot for them because it’s not going to risk their losing the job offer. I want to teach them how to do it. And, when it’s time for our clients to ask for raises or promotions, I spend a lot of time with the young women to teach them how to do it. We do a lot of role-playing so they get comfortable with the idea of asking their boss for what they deserve. In fact, one time, I got to be in the meeting when one young woman asked for a raise. Her CEO pushed back on her pretty hard—but she held her ground. Because we had role-played that very scenario, she was ready with the reasons why she deserved what she was asking for. In the end, he acquiesced and gave her exactly what she had asked for. I’ve never been so proud! He called me later that day and asked, “Did you have a hand in that?” I just smiled to myself and said, “I don’t know what you mean!”
But the mere fact that he knew she had not done that on her own is part of the problem. He went into that meeting fully expecting to walk all over here and give her a measly cost of living raise. It never occurred to him that, like her male counterparts, she would actually ask for more and have compelling reasons why.
That makes me mad—and it should make you mad, too!
And Demand What You Are Worth
Many of you know that I do one-on-one coaching. It started out with agency owners and has grown into also working with comms experts who work inside corporations and need an extra boost in their career. This is the number one topic we discuss during our coaching: how to ask for what we are worth.
It’s a universal problem among women and I say that to them. You’re not alone. This is hard for us. But it’s also necessary to stand your ground and ask for what you are worth. It goes for salaries, for raises, for speaking gigs, and for client work. Do not undervalue yourself!
The pushback I always get is, “What if they can’t afford me?” OK. So what? They go on to find someone they can afford and you go on to work with someone who can afford you.
The negotiating with ourselves drives me crazy. You won’t know until you ask for the right number. If they say yes, you’ll know you have higher to go. If they say no, either they weren’t the right prospect for you (which is the most likely) or you might have gone too high (not likely). But don’t negotiate with yourself. That’s a habit you must break!
Sixty Years In the Making
Sixty years have passed since the fictional Midge Maisel made a big deal about making as much money as a man in her writing job—and not much has changed.
If we don’t change this for ourselves, we’ll never change it for the collective group. This is not something that someone else will do for you. Starting today, state the mantra: I will negotiate. I will ask for what I deserve. And repeat that every day from here on out until it becomes habit and you are comfortable standing your ground.