I give talks to women in the beginning or middle of their careers. Pep talks to help them get through a job change and/or negotiation. I tell them to be brave for 10 seconds, say it, and shut up.
I plant a seed of useful guilt: if you don’t negotiate on behalf of yourself, you are screwing over all the women coming up behind you. Don’t take their titles. Don’t take their salaries. It’s not fair.
I am energetic and strong. I model the behavior and attitude I’m recommending. They leave invigorated. Some follow through and step up. Others cave (understandably) to the many voices in their heads telling them that they are the negative exception — they really aren’t worth the raise, they won’t be able to do the job, they are paid enough, they don’t NEED more anyway.
I get mad on their behalf.
But I also crumble on my own behalf. Regularly. And I’m not at the beginning of my career. I’m experienced, senior, executive-level, and privileged. I’ve written books and am a recognized thought leader in my field. I’ve got a lot going for me and I’m a power to be reckoned with.
I talk to younger professionals. The people I talk with are my squad. My squad is a small group of truly impressive women. There are ones that I’m super close with, and those that are on call. They are my friends, my role models, my confidants. I trust them to be the safe-deposit boxes for my self-confidence when I lose track of it. I do the same for them.
I do not allow myself to make major business decisions or negotiate without consulting them. I know I’ll cave too early.
And so will they. I feel myself get enraged at some of the situations they find themselves in, the pressures that they take for granted. Some of the utter bullshit I hear them making excuses for. It makes me crazy. I sit sizzling with power and fury on their behalf.
When I’m the one who is spiraling, they are the ones who see on my behalf. They are the ones to get mad and righteous.
We take turns.
Perspective can be nauseating.
I know what it’s like to procrastinate on getting my squad’s opinion because I know that caving would be easier. I’m still good at convincing myself that my proposal isn’t worth more money or more equity or whatever. Sometimes I don’t want to hear how inequitable the world is, or how I should be fighting for more.
When it’s their turn, I can sense the sick feeling when they hear me revving up to talk about how they are not getting the right title or the right equity or the right pay.
Maybe it’s me who says: “Yes you did get a recent raise. Yes, you did get a huge stock grant. Yes, I know you did that and it was a win. That’s AWESOME.”
But then a week later: “By the way, I still don’t think it’s enough. You’re worth more.”
She’s not happy to hear it. “No. I got what I set out to get. You don’t understand,” in a voice tinged with anger, resentment, and exhaustion. She is telling me that she is post-battle, so she shouldn’t be pre-battle.
“OK. I get it. You’re right. Sorry.” I drop it. I’ve been on that side of the call many times too. I know the feeling.
I hang up and feel bad because I’ve added to the pressure instead of being supportive. I just gave her another voice in her head telling her she’s not doing enough. MY voice. And I don’t want that to be my voice.
But, a few days or a week or whatever later, she mentions that, actually, she’s not satisfied. Yes maybe the equity was enough but the title is still wrong. The pay is wrong. It’s not high enough for what I’m doing. Also, I’m the only senior woman there and this is utter bullshit.
What she didn’t say: “I had a second. I took a deep breath. I had a few of those moments at work, the ones where it’s super clear that I know what the hell I’m doing and I’m really good at it. I also had the moments of seeing how NOT good my colleagues are at all of this crap. You’re right. We’re right. I’m right. It’s not enough. And I am not ok with that.”
We face an exhausting truth.
For women, the negotiation is never over. We are never fully compensated. We are never sure where the top is, but we are pretty damn sure we haven’t reached it. It’s very hard to see glass ceilings. It’s impossible to compare colleagues at the top echelons of organizations. Who is more valuable? Who should be making what? No one knows. There is no finish line. There is only the very safe assumption that, if you are a woman, you are not at the top of any of those piles.
Almost everyone has voices in our heads telling us that we maybe aren’t as good as we think we are. Experienced women have another voice in our heads: I’m not getting my fair share, and this voice is probably much stronger, and certainly more correct, for women who don’t have the benefits of privilege that I do. It says all the work you’ve done so far isn’t enough.
When is the voice strongest? Right after we’ve successfully taken a step up.
With every elation comes deflation.
Experienced women have to continue doing our jobs well, and we have to endlessly prep for the next battle for position, title, compensation, equity. It’s not a choice. We have to do it for ourselves, but we also have to do it for our squads, and for the women coming up behind us.
That’s because no one is going to step in and fix compensation and titles for experienced women. We have to fix it — us, the experienced, established women. Sure, we fought to get where we are. But we are not there yet.
On calls with my squad, it’s great for me to hear the new energy, the old energy, come back. It’s great to coach from the sidelines and say “this is so important because it’s not just about you and your company. This is the way we help all women in business.” And she says ‘it’s true!’
Ten minutes later I realize it’s her turn to tell me that I’m undervaluing myself, that I’m under-compensated, and that I have work to do.
You always were, are, and will be stronger than you think. Especially if you have help.
You’re not alone. All of us are like Sisyphus. The boulder we’re pushing doesn’t roll back down the hill (at least, not all the way). But the hill is always bigger than it looks.
So here’s what to do:
1. Find or hire a squad.
A squad is one or more women who trust each other enough to talk about money and stock and exhaustion and power and bullshit. A squad who has proven to each other (over years, usually) that they may have moments of professional envy, but they will never stab each other in the back. A squad of cheerleaders who cheer because they absolutely believe in each other.
Want a squad? Step one is to find a woman with more experience than you, preferably one who does not work at your company. Maybe an old boss. If she can’t sign up to be your mentor, ask her if you can run money and compensation issues by her.
If you have close, trusted colleagues you’ve known for years, have a conversation about being a squad. Talk about ground rules for talking about money (“It was enough” doesn’t cut it. Squads talk actual numbers). Discuss envy. Try it out.
If you can’t find a squad, hire a coach. The investment will pay off.
2. Celebrate. And then brace yourself.
When you do have a win, small celebrations help, but there’s a catch. Yes, be elated. Take a minute to think “I did it!” You did do it. Take in the view from the top of the mountain.
Don’t be blindsided when, in a week or two, or maybe much less, when you are digging into some new interesting and complex challenge, you’ll start having those “I’m really good at this” moments, and the inevitable “this supposedly-senior person is full of shit” experiences.
That’s your sign that the celebration is over and the new battle is rapidly approaching. You’ll notice that that mountain you’re standing on is actually much taller than you thought and you’re nowhere near the top. You are not going to want to look. You’ll wish you could get back to that ‘I did it!” feeling. You’ll probably try to convince yourself that you actually are at the top.
You also know you can do it. You know it felt really good and actually wasn’t as impossible or scary as you feared. Therefore, you can, and must, do it again.
3. Do it. Again.
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Sweep up the confetti, stretch your muscles (so strong from all this work you’ve been doing), and get ready to put your back into it…again. You have several jobs at work, and one of them will never be done.
Need a pep-talk about negotiating for title and salary? Listen to this interview I did with UX Cake: Negotiate the Salary & Title You Deserve.