On average, a black woman makes $.63 as compared to each dollar earned by a white man, which means she would have to work more than half a year more than her male counterparts just to make the same amount. For certain non-black women of color, it can take even longer.
We want to use this fact to galvanize all women of color to get the pay they deserve. With that in mind, we spoke to boss WOCs in a variety of fields to get their advice on asking for more. Whether you’re due for a salary bump or a long-awaited promotion, let the hard-won wisdom below motivate you to get yours.
“Early on in my career, I was pitching commercial litigation business to an entertainment company. You’re always asked what your fee is going to be, and I was really hesitant to state what mine was. The meeting was actually with a woman I had gone to law school with. I started to explain why I was a little hesitant. She took me aside and said, ‘Areva, let me tell you. The rate you’re proposing is half of what white men charge us. Don’t be hesitant to state your rate.’
A lot of women think that what they’re asking for is so extraordinary, so out of the range of possibility, but often it’s less than what their male counterparts are already making. From that moment forward, I didn’t go into meetings the same way again. I ask for that which I believe I’m entitled to.”
“My strength is in connecting with people, not in business. So I do not do my own negotiating, and I’ve been much better off since I stopped trying to do it. When I was in the position of negotiating for myself I would try to fit myself in everyone else’s box and everyone else’s budget, but it doesn’t work that way. I was always fearful that I was going to be asking for too much, so I just stopped asking. Now, I give free reign over to the people I trust to be negotiating for me — my manager and my agent. Sometimes they’re going to price me out of things, and that’s OK. There are going to be some opportunities that can’t afford me.”
“Take ownership of what you’re achieving individually. Be prepared in terms of knowing your own skills and ability, in numbers. How many people, how much money? What are the numbers you specifically own? Outline, whether it’s on a monthly or a quarterly basis, what you’re doing and what your metrics are, so that you have them in front of you when you’re negotiating.”
“You have to understand what your value is before you go in and ask for an increase or a promotion. So how do you know? You ask them. Ask for feedback, for suggestions, throughout the year. ‘How could I have done this better?’ ‘What do you think I did well?’ ‘How do you think I did on this project?’ You want to be obtaining feedback, so that when you go into that room, you clearly know what they think of you.
And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with understanding where you’re being paid relative to the salary band. Most companies have ranges — a minimum, a mid-point, and a maximum. There’s nothing wrong with asking, ‘Where am I, relative to the band that I’m in? How close am I to the midpoint of the salary range?’ ”
“My parents divorced when I was sixteen and my mom had sacrificed for her family. She didn’t get a college education — she supported my dad as he went to college, and he was the one who brought in the paycheck. When they got divorced my mother really struggled. I learned that all of the social, economic, and political capital that I thought was our family’s was actually his. I had a very early lesson in experiencing what happens to women when they allow their economic reliance on men to create a sense of vulnerability.
So I never had a problem asking for money. I went into a profession where it was my job to ask for money, as a nonprofit fundraiser. I’ve always felt that asking for more money is really about giving the person an opportunity to allow you to create more impact within the organization. So start with the outcome you’re trying to achieve. ‘I really want this company to be successful. I feel that I’ve been hitting it out of the ballpark here or here, and I really would love the opportunity to continue to do that. I want to have a conversation about how I can receive the compensation that I need in order to really nail this.’ ”
“A handful of years back, I was an associate editor. I went to my boss and said, ‘I really want to talk about a raise. I’ve been here for a few years now, I’ve had this title for a while and I’ve taken on these responsibilities.’ And she said, ‘No, you just have to wait.’ And that was that. I didn’t come in and say, ‘This is my case for why. These are all the things I’ve contributed, this is what I plan to contribute, and this is how I add value to this company.’ I just thought, ‘OK I’m just going to work really hard and hope someone notices. I can be patient, and then I’ll get my promotion and my raise and everything will be great.’ And of course that’s not how the world works most of the time. Lo and behold, nobody really noticed that I was working really hard and producing great work and staying late. I learned a lot in that job, but one big takeaway was that you shouldn’t stay put waiting for someone else to notice you. You don’t always get what you ask for, but you definitely don’t get what you don’t ask for.”
“I worked as an art director at studios in LA. and eventually ended up leaving my job to pursue ceramics and freelance design. I know the feeling of working basically twice as hard for less income than the non-POC next to me. Finding the courage to walk into the office of my non-POC, male boss and ask for a raise was hard, but it also gave me a sense of my own worth. I feel like as black women we tend to hold a level of guilt and shame over our heads when it comes to asking for what we deserve.
I remember asking for a raise — I went into my boss’s office with sweaty armpits and butterflies in my stomach. It’s a feeling like nothing else when you’re putting yourself on the line. You feel like you’re actually putting yourself in danger of losing your job by going in and asking for what you feel like you’re worth. I had to go to the bathroom, look in the mirror, and psych myself up. Just say ‘Kenesha, you got this.’ I had spent so much time and space letting it manifest in my head, ‘OK, this is how much I feel like I’m worth.’ I was given that raise, but even if the answer had been no, getting those thoughts out of my head and into conversation felt much bigger than the paycheck itself.
I truly do feel that when you do ask, it changes you. It felt like something had clicked in me and I had evolved into another stage of my creative journey and my business journey. And so you have to give yourself a very short amount of time to be brave. Give yourself half an hour. Be that brave person before you talk yourself out of it.”
“When I was transitioning to my current job, I was moving from a position in another arm of the same company. I had held three jobs before that, all assistant-level jobs. With this transition I was moving to a more high-level position, and felt that it was a good time to ask for a pay raise. I was a little unsure about it at first, because I have a really personal relationship with the team I’d be working with on the position I was moving into. I didn’t want to rock the boat or push them too hard. And I was already friends with the woman who would be my boss. It wasn’t a purely professional relationship, where she knew me only in the capacity of a potential future employee. She knew me as a person. And I knew they had a certain budget. It was awkward to negotiate at the beginning. It was like, ‘Let’s like be real with each other,’ but at the same time we’re trying to kind of keep a poker face and each get what we want.
But I had an instinct that it would be better to be direct. I knew she preferred that kind of interaction. So I figured it would be best to just skip the formalities, be honest, and not try to play games. I knew what I wanted, so I just asked for it. I wasn’t trying to give her the runaround. That’s how I like to operate in general: Be honest and forthright. And it made me feel secure making the ask in that moment.”
“The first time I made a counter-offer, it was a big deal. I remember they asked me whether it would be a deal breaker if they couldn’t get me the number I asked for. I said, ‘I’m definitely open to further conversations, but this is something that’s really important to me, and this is the number I had in mind if I was going to make a move.’ They told me they’d get back to me, and then I didn’t hear from them for over a day. I was really nervous, thinking ‘What if they take back the the job offer?’ My dad and some of the other men in my life were like, ‘You have to counter offer — that’s obviously what you do.’ But I think those are kind of the things that as women, we worry about, unfortunately. We shouldn’t. We should be able to ask for what we think we deserve.
My counter-offer was successful, and it made me realize that the worst-case scenario is they would have come back and said, ‘Sorry.’ And then I would have to decide whether or not it was worth the move. But the fact that they did offer me what I was looking for showed that they realized my value.”
“In medicine, you’re a trainee for so long. You spend so much of your time learning the medical side, that the business side of medicine is something that a lot of people in the field really know nothing about. By the time we’re ready to go look for jobs, we’re usually in our 30s and we’re just starting to learn the ropes. There’s a stigma once you’re done with training — some people don’t want to admit they don’t know where to go from there. I’m finding that it’s really just about learning how to sell yourself. Yes, I’m going into the job market with a certain level of baseline skills, the practical skills that come with being a physician. But it’s about keeping myself practiced at things so that when I go up for a new job I can say, for example, ‘I’ve done this many line placements,’ or ‘I’m very comfortable and confident doing this procedure on my own,’ so that they know I’m going to come in and get things done without it being a struggle.”
Use the words of wisdom from these women of color to motivate you to ask for more in whatever way works best for you. Secret has been supporting women since 1956, and is advocating for equal pay for equal work. So ask for what is yours and bring us one step closer to closing the wage gap.
Rachel Mosely is a writer and editor living in Brooklyn.