Statistically speaking, black women are grossly underpaid. So much so, that an entire holiday (August 22) was created to bring awareness to the issue. That's right—despite having the same credentials, or better, an equal pay day for black and brown women needed to be organized so that they are paid equally and/or more than the current average of .63 cents on the dollar.
But even in this climate, it's important to understand the navigation of salary expectations and negotiations.
My curiosity got the best of me as I wondered how many women in my life have had experience in actually negotiating their salaries. And to my sheer disappointment, I discovered that most women are terrified to do so at all.
Recently, we met with a woman who took her life into her own hands by taking the power from her companies to get what she wanted. To set the scene, Carmen Garrett, a Clinical Data Manager, was working for a Fortune 500 company when she was offered another position elsewhere. Upon learning that she was resigning from her position, her company offered a promotion and bonuses to stay in her current role. When she told the new company she was no longer accepting the position due to her promotion, they topped her company's offer entirely, and threw in additional perks that she could not refuse.
Ultimately, Carmen accepted.
Tell us about your career journey.
I've always been interested in research, but wasn't exactly sure how to pursue it. I fell into clinical research in November 2009 after I graduated with my Master's Degree in Psychology and couldn't find a job. I thought therapists made a lot of money (from watching TV and movies) and said, well, I like helping people and I'd like to be successful as well. So, I went into clinical research focusing on Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder. But it was during that time that I realized I wasn't strong enough to take on everyone's psychosis. I discovered that I was an empath. With this, I became unhappy with work, financially, and romantically. Things had to change and they did, but not until after they got worse.
Tell us about the thought process of moving forward with your new job.
I was EXTREMELY stressed at work, to the point that I was clinically depressed for almost a year. I did the absolute bare minimum with my life, friends, and family. I wouldn't even answer my mother's phone calls because I was too exhausted to speak (a lot of wasted time that I would eventually regret). When things cooled down at work, I started to relax and come back to myself, only for my mother to pass two weeks later. At that moment, I began to regret staying so long and wasting a year of my life by not being myself or actively engaging with my mother, friends, and family. At the same time, I wasn't meeting my financial or career goals while waiting for a promised promotion that never came. So, it was simply time for me to move on.
What should women consider when seeking/interviewing for new positions, accepting job offers, or negotiating their salaries?
Before, I was always afraid to counter offer because I felt I didn't fit 100% of the job description. This absolutely does not matter. Can you do the job? That's what matters. It wasn't until I saw literally almost everyone incompetent around me get promoted that I said I need to sell myself just like my colleagues. I also learned to always ask for the salary range. Make them show you their hand and decide if it's something you want to move forward with. My go-to phrase is: "I'm not sure what the range is for this position. I'm seeing jobs offering $80K-$120K, so I'm not sure where you fall in this." I once had one company offer me $75K when they initially contacted me about $100K. I stood firm because it is a simple math game for me in my industry. I was willing to walk away from the offer because they did not negotiate with me at all even though I knew $100K was in the budget. Then a week later, I was contacted by my current company that met my asking offer and my previous company could not match. I knew my worth and went for it.
"Make them show you their hand and decide if it's something you want to move forward with. My go-to phrase is: 'I'm not sure what the range is for this position. I'm seeing jobs offering $80K-$120K, so I'm not sure where you fall in this.'"
What are common factors black women face in the workplace? How did you not let them affect you?
As an African American woman, I quickly realized I had to play a different game than my other colleagues. They were afforded the right to cry, become loud, rude, and overall unprofessional and it be chalked up to "having a bad day". The world would not stop for them. I am very aware that my presentation has to be different. The key is to do your job well so no one can question you, and when they do, be ready.
"The key is to do your job well so no one can question you, and when they do, be ready."
How would you personify the confidence needed in negotiating your salary?
It's funny because I interviewed with my current company a year ago and they immediately rejected me less than 24 hours after the interview. They reached out about three more times before I stopped to reconsider again. At that point, I knew their hand. My company is very large, so it was very unlikely that I would interview with the same team AND I knew exactly what I did wrong. In the year since first speaking with them, my experience level had increased which made me attractive to them, and I was aware of that. I asked my recruiter to submit me at the highest offer for this position because I was expecting to negotiate. The worst they can say is no and meet you somewhere in the middle. I completed the interview, asked some great questions, but was still very nervous the next day. I didn't get the immediate rejection email the next morning, but got a phone call that afternoon from my recruiter saying they agreed to my offer plus a sign-on bonus. We were both shocked, but ecstatic—which made me think I didn't ask for enough—but I still sold myself anyway [laughs]. It was an AMAZING feeling!
What was the driving force behind your decision to leave your current workplace?
At first I thought it was money, but I reached a point in my life where I realized that although I'm comfortable, I'm going nowhere fast. I needed specific experience to help increase my salary over time and I simply wasn't getting it. I moved on to a position that's extremely fast-paced, three levels above where I was, but it's what I needed. Everything can be overwhelming until you get the hang of it. But I had to go in fearlessly, so I did.
What advice would you have to young black girls negotiating their salaries?
HR expects you to negotiate. Again, they have ranges and will try to bring you in for the lowest amount possible. Understand that it takes a lot of time and hard work to hire someone, so if they want you, they will give you the number you want (or additional PTO or increase your bonus target or increase your 401K contribution). Remember, everyone is running a business, so do not take anything personally. If they cannot increase your starting salary, negotiate other things. Know your expectations and keep in mind what you will agree to. Be realistic, but ALWAYS negotiate.
If you would like tips or just overall support in how you can negotiate your salary, feel free to reach out to Carmen directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Featured image courtesy of Carmen Garrett