I have so many questions these days and not enough answers. First, a disclaimer: We are living through times where many groups are rising up and demanding equal participation, pay, influence and overall control of their destinies. I welcome this and highly encourage it. I do, however, believe we need to do some level setting and collectively need to find a way to create safe spaces from which open and free dialogue can occur without completely demonizing and stirring outright condemnation. It is in this spirit that I, a black man in his early 40s, will attempt to wade into the waters of the #metoo movement and pay disparity, while trying my best not to “mansplain” and trip over my tongue. May the Lord be with me.
First and foremost, I do not believe all women are the same. I also believe the experiences of one classification of women will not be shared by any or all other classifications. So many statistics bear this out and I don’t have the time to breakdown each. But, we need to acknowledge this and not paint with such broad strokes.
There are a few facts, though, that are worth diving into. These facts include women graduating from college at a higher rate than men, starting more businesses than men and while representation at the top of a typical Fortune 100 company isn’t anywhere as good as it should be, more and more women do occupy middle management positions. It is this last fact where my experiences tell me that you will find much of the hiring and negotiations occurring, and it is also here where I find more women occupying these positions than men.
To share, in my experience, I have worked for four companies since I graduated college almost 20 years ago, and at each of these companies I negotiated my salary with a woman. So why are women still paid less than men if this is true for others?
I happen to know many professional women, so in preparation for this article, I asked 10 of them if this was true for them as well. While each of them has not negotiated 100 percent of their salaries with women, they all agreed the majority was with women. So why is there such a large disparity in pay?
The next logical question I asked is how women negotiate their salaries versus how men negotiate their salaries? Again, I do not believe every woman will have this problem, but I have to say some of the responses I received when I asked how a woman approached an interview and/or a negotiation outright upset me.
From the outside looking in, it appears many women do not fight hard enough for the larger number, nor do they appear to carry their self-confidence with them into these meetings. Ladies, it is fair to say that no company in the world is going to go out of their way to pay any employee as much as possible. It is that person’s job to fight and advocate for that wage. If you’re smart, ambitious and motivated, you really need to rock that and let it shine! This is not the time to be meek and mild, nor is it the time to be unyielding. Accepting whatever is offered to you just to accept it and get along is almost always going to lead you to the short end of the stick.
Be willing to walk away, or, at the very least, push for a higher number and have a good idea of how much you can push the envelope so you can get as much as humanly possible. Then, once you have the job and you are able to show your worth, how often do you ask for a raise? Do you ask for a raise or expect to be recognized or somehow be given the same raise by management with little to no conversation? Again, from my perspective, you must be your own advocate and fight for that raise and promotion.
My next question is a little stickier. Do women truly have each other’s backs? I mean really? Now, if you are on the opposite end of the table and it is your job to both recruit this woman while also maintaining the best interest of the company, just how low are you going to push the number you are bringing to that woman? I don’t have that answer, but it’s a question many need to think about.
Men, we, too, play a major role in all of this as well. Many of us have acted rather despicably and/or, at the very least, have not always been the gentlemen we should be. Clearly this is not acceptable and we must do better. I have heard every excuse from, “This was the culture when I got here,” “Some have said yes, so why not try again,” “It’s just playful banter,” and the really ignorant response of “Oh, well.” None of this is fresh, sexy or cool, yet it persists.
Ladies, you are not wrong or crazy. Keep fighting the good fight and as you ascend, be sure to change the culture. Men, we must also be ambassadors of change to help further this process along. As a nation, it does not help anyone to hold anyone down or back. We have large problems before us and it will take all of us to solve them. Much of this seems to be missing from most of the dialogue I am hearing on the news and reading in similar articles attempting to discuss these issues.
I believe Dave Chappelle made a very good point in this regard. In his latest Netflix stand up, Chappelle noted that we have to find a way to incorporate men into this conversation if we want a lasting change. You are our mothers, wives, sisters, daughters and friends. There is a common ground somewhere on which we can land, but we have to talk about it together. This starts at home with the parents of young boys. My wife and I are included in this as the parents of a 4-year-old boy, but this conversation also continues through every single step leading to C-suite advances. None of this is easy, fun or exciting but it must occur if we are going to reach any form of utopia. I remain cautiously and naively optimistic. I sincerely hope you are as well.
I’m sure I may have said something that will rub someone the wrong way. That is always going to be the case because we are all so different and from such a wide array of backgrounds. We can disagree civilly; without yelling or talking over each other. I am certain a common ground can be found, and if not, I am also sure we will learn a lot about each in the process; that too will have an impact. So I will ask again…Can we rap for sec?