She Works

with Rachel Braun Scherl

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Pay Gap

Taking a strong stance

Rachel Braun Scherl

Founder, Fundraising Heavy Hitter, Public Speaker and Market Strategist

Lessons Learned

Do not stay quiet if you suspect your salary is not properly reflecting your contribution.

Be prepared to say what you need to say and always have a backup plan.

If you choose to take a strong stance, you have to be prepared for people to dislike it.


Lesson: She Works with Rachel Braun Scherl

Step #7 Pay Gap: Taking a strong stance

I had an experience at one of my jobs where I was hired the exact same day as this peer. He had come from consulting, I had come from industry and my primary clients were in the companies that I had come from, which is why they hired me. I think I was minding my own business, in the ladies room, one day and someone started a conversation with me. This was right after we had been reviewed and this colleague and I had started on the same day, so we got reviewed at the same time and for whatever reason they shared that if they were ranking us that my review was better. We were both performing well but I was performing better on a couple of dimensions that they thought were important.

Somehow a woman started a conversation with me in the bathroom, and communicated to me that this colleague who had the same amount of experience, although different experience, and who was not performing as well as I was, was being paid dramatically more than I was. I don't mean a rounding error, I mean 30%-40% more than I was being paid.

You know, and filled with piss and vinegar, I was maybe 27 at the time, I marched myself into the boss's office. I will say I did one thing, I called a couple of friends from business school and asked for advice, "How do you think I should handle this? You know, I'd like somebody . . ." I called my dad, which I often do, because I wanted to go in – It was an emotional situation and I wanted to go in and make sure that I presented the conversation appropriately.

So I went in and I asked to speak to the person who made the decisions, my boss's boss, about who got paid and who got promoted, and I said, "My job as a consultant is to determine the value of goods and services in the marketplace. I think I'm being undervalued in the marketplace and most specifically the marketplace of this company."

I said, "I haven't seen a piece of paper. You'll be able to verify whether this is true or not, but my colleague who, you recently told me I'm outperforming, is making 30%-40% more than I am. I would like my salary to reflect my performance." and I got an answer which sounded very much like, "Okay, honey." The words were "Well, you've been here a short time and we aren't ready to do your salary review yet, but when that time comes, you know, we'll certainly take that into account.", and I said, "With all due respect, I've never worked in organizations where that automatically happened. So I thought it made sense for me to bring this situation to your attention, at the time I became aware of it." Ultimately whether it was two months or three months or six months, in some reasonable amount of time they rectified that disparity.

Literally, if someone hadn't been talking to me and assuming that I already knew about this pay disparity, I wouldn't have known. The issue really is about equity. It's that your salary or your bonus should reflect your contribution, and I don't think anyone should stay quiet when they think that's an issue. It's a very dicey conversation to have. It's very uncomfortable. One of the things I would say, as a general rule people aren't taught, whether it's in professional schools or in jobs, is this art of negotiation. For me, for whatever reason, I think of it like an aerobic sport. I feel like my endorphins are getting going and I enjoy it. There are other aspects that I don't enjoy. Lots of people don't want to negotiate. You have to go into one of these situations having a backup plan. It could've backfired. That could've affected the rest of my time at this organization, so I needed to have a plan. You have to prepare for these things. Was I going to have to leave? If I did leave was I going to find a job that I thought reflected the skills that I had, and where I was compensated appropriately?

One of the things that I learned is that if you're going to make a strong stand, you have to be prepared that there are going to be plenty of people who don't like it. That can affect how they judge you from a professional standpoint, how they judge you from a personal standpoint. You have to decide what you're willing to live with and when it's time to choose another avenue.

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