Get Your Money: Salary Negotiation for the Professional Homegirl
“I’ve never asked for more money. I’ve always just been happy to have the job offer.” My brilliant homegirl, Nina, recently said this to me during a conversation about women in the workplace. I immediately began offering her some how-to tips that would help her get past being overjoyed by a job offer and move her toward asking for the compensation she needs to live her best life. As I began speaking, I was quickly reminded of all reasons I didn’t always negotiate for my own fair compensation and how I found the courage to ask for what I needed. Here’s how I eventually learned that as a woman, and especially as a Black woman, I must always negotiate for a higher salary.
I was just happy to have the offer. When I landed my first salaried position, I thought I was living large! I accepted a job that I was indeed happy to have so I took what was offered, sans negotiation. Eventually, I found myself routinely behind the 8-ball when it came to savings, retirement, etc. My bills were paid but building any sort of cushion was nearly impossible. Once I realized that it would take me about 2 years to save enough money to cover a single month of expenses, I knew something had to change. So, I did what any relatively evolved young woman does when she realizes something must change. I began by assessing myself.
I minimized my expenses. I really enjoyed preparing my own meals and dwelling in spaces that were styled to make me feel safe and inspired. I shopped at consignment stores, learning the difference between clothing, furniture, and decor that was used and that which had outlived its usefulness. I purchased only things I needed and really loved. In service to the environment and to my pocketbook, I DIY’ed everything from painting my apartment to refinishing much of my own furniture. In short, I embraced minimalism before minimalism was a thing…and I loved it! However, I soon realized that although my mindset had changed to better manage what I had, I would need more income to reduce debt and properly plan for the future. Whereas I previously convinced myself that I could make it all work if I just figured out how to need less, I now questioned why I was still unable to plan for inevitable future needs. So, I did what any millennials do when they have a question.
I did some research to determine my value. A quick google search showed me that although my basic expenses were covered, I was at risk for experiencing many of the most common causes of financial hardship. Using some of the publicly available labor statistics data, realized that people with the same skill set as me were receiving compensation well above what I was receiving. When I talked with peers who held similar positions as me, had similar skill sets and similar levels of experience, I quickly realized there were 3 key factors that differentiated me from my peers who made more money than me for doing similar work.
1. They tended to be male.
2. They tended to be white.
3. They all negotiated the salary they wanted.
My experience mimicked research which suggests Black women are paid sixty-five cents for every dollar paid to non-Hispanic white men. This glaring inequality enraged me and to cause me stress. Then, I realized every job I had ever applied for asked about my previous salary history to help determine what they would offer. It dawned on me that not negotiating for a higher salary as a young professional, might have a long-term negative impact on my finances for the rest of my working years. This single bit of knowledge inspired me to battle the fear that previously left me content with just having a job offer.
I found the courage by focusing on the coins. The first time I negotiated for a higher salary, I was afraid. I was offered an exciting position that again, I was happy to have. Only this time, the excitement simply wasn’t enough. I knew what it was like to have a job I enjoyed but one that didn’t fairly compensate me for my time and talent. I was keenly aware of the emotional labor I performed in order make those around me more comfortable and to feel accepted and valued. I knew the average salary for the position I was offered and I knew what I needed to live at or above the threshold I set for my life. The initial offer I received was slightly below that threshold. So, I had to ask for more money.
I learned to ask for what I needed. After receiving the initial offer, I spoke with the hiring manager to present and justify my counter-offer, which included an increased salary and a modest amount of funding for professional development. After a few days, I received a call. They rejected my offer but countered. I had the presence of mind to say that I would think about it and get back to them in 24 hours. I really wanted to cry because, of course, I needed the job. Also by this point, my pride was wounded. I ran through all the possible reasons why I must not have been good enough and all the reasons I didn’t even deserve the job in the first place. Imposter syndrome was alive and well and speaking very loudly. The next day, to my surprise, they called me back with a new offer, slightly above their initial offer and slightly below my counter offer. I accepted.
In retrospect, my negotiating yielded only a small increase in the larger scheme of things but it was enough to set me on my way to planning for my future. Perhaps more important, what I gained in confidence and negotiation experience was worth the small loss. I have since negotiated for more money with just about every position I’ve been offered. I've mostly been successful increasing the bottom line simply because I was willing to ask for compensation in relation to my value.
At the end of the day, that’s what the negotiation is about. VALUE. As Black women, we must ask ourselves if we deserve a higher salary. If indeed the answer is ‘yes’, figure out why and say it out loud until there is no doubt in your mind. If indeed the answer is yes, then suddenly, asking for more money becomes the next right move. And let’s be honest; the answer is almost always a resounding ‘yes’.