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By Bonnie Low-Kramen for Executive Secretary Magazine | November, 2015
Money, money, money, isn’t funny, in a woman’s world…
Are you seriously underpaid? If the answer is “yes”, the bad news is that you are not alone. Far from it. However, the very good news is that you can do something about it today.
The data shows that in the United States, women currently earn 0.77 cents for every dollar a man makes. Given that this article is being read by people around the world, I am pointing out that this wage gap statistic is pretty consistent around the world, give or take a few pence.
This data is relevant because the one-half billion Assistants in the world are 95-98% female and that is why this article is aimed at women. However, this information will also apply to men and I support you all the way to use it.
One of the main reasons why women don’t earn as much money as men is because they don’t ask. Why don’t they ask? According to the Wharton School of Business, one answer is that women fear rejection and not being liked if they ask for more money. To negotiate a higher compensation package has much to do with feelings about self-worth, self-confidence and self-esteem. This directly relates how women are socialized when they are young and those ingrained messages die hard. Very hard.
The bottom line? Only 7% of women will negotiate a salary package contrasted with 57% of men who eagerly negotiate a salary package. The data shows that men do not fear being disliked if they ask for more money. Interestingly and in general, men are hard-wired and socialized to see negotiation as a game and as a fun exercise. Women can learn from this.
Conclusion? Men make more money because they ask for it. Women around the world are underpaid because they accept what they are offered without questioning it. You don’t get if don’t ask.
In my work training Executive Assistants, Personal Assistants, and CEOs around the world, I ask the executives directly if they would view a female negatively if she negotiated for more money and they overwhelmingly say “no”. The managers tell me that they want to see the data and understand the ROI, the return on investment. Furthermore, if their staff are not raising issues then the assumption is that there is no problem. And of course, that is untrue that there is no problem. In fact, there is much suffering in silence out of fear.
Given the data, what can women do to overcome the fear and close their wage gap?
- Do your homework. It is very important to do your homework to determine your true value given the market/city/industry you are in, the skill set you possess, and the level of responsibility that is expected. Once you have determined that number, be ready to justify in writing the hard data, in a professionally formatted document that you create.
How do you find this information? Talk with your experienced and seasoned mentors and speak with one or two recruiters. Need guidance? Write to me. Bonnie@bonnielowkramen.com and join Vickie Evans’ and my open LinkedIn group called, Be the Ultimate Assistant: Your Voice Matters.
- Document your achievements. Throughout the year, maintain a file in which you document your quantifiable achievements. Examples are;
- Thank you notes from happy customers, peers, managers etc.
- Data showing how you saved the company $XXX in office supplies
- Details of how you coordinated the Annual Retreat for XX staffers
- Report on organizing the holiday budget that had a budget of $XXX
It is very easy to forget or lose sight of your achievements given how fast we are all moving in our 24/7 instant access environment. Plus, many women have a tough time with this task because it feels like bragging or tooting your horn which is viewed (because of the socialization) as negative. Again and in general, men don’t see it this way which is why most happily talk about their achievements.
In practice, this document will assist your manager when it is time for your Annual Review and/or revamping job descriptions. Plus, if you don’t keep track of your achievements, who will?
- Especially in the assistant world, going above and beyond your job description is a great way to get noticed and justify a salary increase and/or support for training. Be the person who is known for running towards a problem rather than away from it and watch what happens.
- Speak up. Your Annual Review is not the only time to talk about money. Bring up the subject of money in your feedback sessions so that your manager knows it is on your mind. Say things like, “I want to be sure about the kinds of things I can be doing to ensure an increase/bonus/benefit.” This way you are planting seeds communicating that there is no question that you are ambitious and are willing to earn more money. Staying quiet can be interpreted as satisfied and content.
The only way your manager will know for certain what is on your mind is if you tell him/her. I know this can feel very risky and mega uncomfortable which is why you need the support of mentors.
- Prep for your annual review. Many assistants in our Be the Ultimate Assistant workshops talk about dreading their Annual Review and it causes them a lot of angst. My suggestion is to view this meeting as an opportunity to shine and to reveal your own plan for the next year. This should be a two-way conversation, not a one-way monologue from your manager.
Because speaking up about money issues can feel extremely uncomfortable, I recommend creating a beautifully formatted document containing the following information:
- The job description you were hired to do
- The job description you are actually doing including how much time you are working each week
- Bulleted list of the past year’s quantifiable achievements (the ones you’ve been documenting!)
- Bulleted list of the upcoming projects that you are involved in and the training that you feel would be beneficial for the coming year, including the costs
- Bulleted list of 1, 2, 3 or more ideas that you have regarding ways to save money, increase efficiency, improve a system and/or train the admin team
- Provide an outline of your current compensation package
- Provide an outline of your proposed compensation package (based on your homework) which not only includes salary but a training budget, vacation time, and whatever else is important to you
Send or give this document to your manager(s) several days before your Annual Review so she/he has the benefit of reviewing it and thinking about it before your meeting.
I can tell you that this strategy works and I have more success stories than we have room for. Here’s one.
True story: One of our BTUA students is Laura from California. She was hired right out of college as the CEO’s Executive Assistant at a small company. She accepted an extremely low salary because of her lack of experience. Within two years, Laura was totally up to speed and the CEO (and everyone else at the company) could not live without her. In addition, her efforts had contributed to the profits of the company. Laura prepped for her Annual Review using point #5 above and proposed an increase of $15,000 in order to bring her more in line with what was appropriate. She also proposed including an additional budget for training and another week of vacation. Laura anticipated that the CEO would read her document and ask her to compromise on some or all of her proposal. His response? The CEO was very impressed with the document and gave her everything in her proposal. Needless to say, Laura was ecstatic. Best of all, she will be much less anxious for the next negotiation.
Even better news? Laura’s story is not an isolated situation. Assistants all over the world are asking for more money and getting it.
Besides helping to close the wage gap, the main reason for women to negotiate for more money is that whatever salary you are making now directly impacts what you will earn at your next job. It’s all connected.
Want more? I recommend the books Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, Know Your Value by Mika Brzezinski, and The Confidence Code by Claire Shipman.
Link to the original article as published in Executive Secretary Magazine