New year, and a new post in our He Said, She Said series. As a quick refresher, here’s what these posts are all about…
We are telling your stories. We aim to highlight the (mostly) unintentionally biased language that is often used in the workplace towards women. These are real stories from professional women about their everyday working relationships with their male counterparts.
We want to hear the most seemingly mundane sexist comments just as much as we want to hear about the issues that deserve attention from the highest levels of human resources within your organization. We believe that each point along the spectrum provides an opportunity to provide education about what is and is not appropriate in the workplace.
Today’s story comes from a brave soul who chose to remain anonymous, but wanted to be sure that her story was told. At the time of the story, she was 27 and living in Washington D.C.
Tell us your story.
“I don’t understand,” my manager was saying to me over lunch, “you’re young, single, don’t have debt and don’t have kids. I think we pay you enough.”
I nearly choked on my cafeteria salad as the words hit my brain like a thousand tiny meat cleavers. I thought to myself, Wait, did he really just say that? Yes. Yes he did.
To make a long story short: I was killing it at a great job with a really great company, but was underpaid. Like, by tens of thousands of dollars (a fact acknowledged by HR, bosses and some trustworthy peers in whom I chose to confide.)
After five years of fighting for a salary adjustment—
pro tip: if you find yourself in this situation…it’s never a “raise,” it’s a “salary adjustment” since, you know, you should already be getting paid fairly
—and being told “just a matter of time!” and “keep doing what you’re doing!” the writing was finally on the wall: It is no longer a conversation.
If I choose to stay, I will need to accept that I will always be a smart, successful, underpaid woman.
What is your relationship to the man who made the comment?
This person (who was otherwise a fantastic person and boss) was my immediate boss at the time, and is still one of my favorite bosses I’ve had so far.
Why did the comment strike you as inappropriate or offensive?
To have a superior acknowledge the fact that you are severely underpaid, then turn around and use your marital status, age and childlessness (and, let’s be honest…gender) in defense of paying you less than your peers is demoralizing.
How did you respond?
At the time, I remember feeling stunned, defeated, disappointed and angry all at once, which doesn’t lend to an elegant response. There was a definite “deer in headlights” moment. Through my exasperation, all I could ask is if he would ever say that to a man (a question he left unanswered, but I can guess he wouldn’t tell a man he doesn’t deserve fair pay because he doesn’t have kids.) That was the end of our lunch and the moment I decided to start looking for a new job.
Looking back, how do you feel about your response?
In the moment, I wish I had called him out more emphatically. I was no longer willing to work somewhere that refused to acknowledge my value with fair compensation, but I also felt great disappointment that, in the end, regardless of my contributions, hard work and achievements, being a woman still held me back. Aren’t we better than that?
Please share any other information that you think would be helpful and inspiring to women that may experience this type of comment in the future.
The good part of this experience is that I’ll never put myself in that position again. Knowing your worth, fighting for it and (if it’s needed) making a life-altering change to get it is empowering.
Be prepared to push. Hard. I began to feel like a broken record with numerous conversations about money and hated every single one. But, I got really good at the conversation.
Know when to move on. When it isn’t working, and you’ve done everything you can do, be ready to pack your bags. Then go get what you are worth.
This story highlights so many of the challenges (and disappointments) that come up time and time again in our workshops—a lack of awareness of what is offensive, inappropriate, and even illegal. I am so impressed by this woman and her ability to call out her boss, with whom she had a great relationship, to point out the fact that she was being treated differently based on her gender. Bringing this awareness to the forefront of someone’s mind is a huge step in the right direction toward equality. I also know that the practice of demanding to be respected and treated equally is just that—a practice. One we can and should all continue to work on, push for, and remember each and every day.
I also think it is important to repeat the wise ‘pro tip’ from this woman:
If you find yourself in this situation…it’s never a “raise,” it’s a “salary adjustment” since you should already be getting paid fairly.
Thank you for being an amazing human, keep fighting the good fight. xo