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How One Woman Leveraged A $75K Job Offer To Land A Six-Figure Salary

In this climate, it's important to also understand the navigation of salary expectations and negotiations.

Finance

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.

Here's why:

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 garrett.carmen@gmail.com.

Featured image courtesy of Carmen Garrett

You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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