America is still in awe of the U.S. women’s national team who won their fourth Women’s World Cup championship title earlier this month. Amid the celebrations, the U.S. women’s team has reignited the national discussion on equal pay. Prior to their win, a gender discrimination lawsuit was filed based on pay inequities of the U.S. men’s and women’s soccer teams. Among other things, the lawsuit claims that between 2013 and 2016, women earned $15,000 for making the national team, while their male counterparts earned $55,000 in 2014 and $68,750 in 2018. What the U.S. women’s soccer team is experiencing mirrors what many women face in their own workplaces. More troubling is the research that indicates that even when women ask for higher pay, they are less likely to get it in comparison to men. Women who ask for a raise reportedly received it 15% of the time, while men who ask for a raise received it 20% of the time, according to the aforementioned research. How can women increase their chances of getting a raise, when they do ask? What must happen in order to create more pay parity in the workplace? Kimberly B. Cummings is the founder of Manifest Yourself, LLC, a company designed to help women and people of color progress in their careers and get paid what they deserve. Kimberly sat down to discuss how women can better negotiate their salaries, get the raises they ask for, and what behaviors may be holding women back in the workplace.
Kimberly Cummings: I started my career…well…the first the job I enjoyed, was in higher education working for career services. The second I knew that one of my students got a job as a direct result of something I did to help them overcome their obstacles, create a professional brand, interview appropriately, I was hooked. Traditionally in college, most people don’t even know where the career center is…I was like, if this happened to this one student I worked with, what would happen if more people had this information? I realized, as I was doing this work…more and more people started to ask, ‘could you work with me outside?’ Or ‘could you speak to my organization about careers in technology?’ Manifest Yourself came out of my desire to really start empowering, especially women and people of color in the workforce…who are some of the people who definitely don’t use career centers. My background is a little different than most in that I was actually trained to be a career coach…my master’s [degree] is in counseling, so I have the foundation of counseling theory…career development theory…so Manifest Yourself is really just about teaching people that they can create a career that makes them happy…and giving people the tools, and tricks, the resources that they may not have had in undergrad or grad, or from mentors, teachers and coaches that they found along the way.
Gassam: Last year, Harvard Business Review published an article indicating that when women do ask for raises, they are turned down more often than men. In your experiences, what are some of the mistakes that women make when it comes to negotiating their salary?
Cummings: When it comes to negotiating salary, I think the biggest mistake that many of my clients make and just women in general is not having an action plan when having that conversation. So many times, when the conversation comes, it’s happening at a time where you’re getting your job offer. So, you’re just so excited to get the job offer and they’re like ‘oh hey, we’re gonna pay you $75,000 per year.’ But you know that this role should be paying about $110,000. So, you weren’t prepared to have the conversation when you counter…I think the first step is planning to have that conversation from the beginning, in the same way that you planned for your interviews, and did your research and etc. etc. So that you can really focus on your unique skillset, the value that you bring to the company, and have confidence in your own research and knowing [what] the market value is for that role…and practicing and rehearsing the conversation so it comes across not only as confident but it is credible when you’re speaking with the employer. I think so many times, women, we think of ourselves as hard workers…it takes more than hard work to get the promotion, to get the salary that you like…coming from a business perspective, thinking of ourselves as a product or service…as a professional, you still are a product or service…thinking of yourself as having a unique skillset, a unique value proposition, and unique input that you can provide to a company…practicing that conversation so you can position yourself as a leader…that’s really pivotal to make sure that you can get the yes. And not taking ‘no’ for an answer…confidently stating how much money you’d like to make…and making sure there’s no part of you that is coming across as scared or fearful…I think that’s the one thing that drives me crazy when working with my male clients versus my female clients, many times you don’t hear men talk about them being afraid that the company is going to rescind the offer for you asking…having that fear-based mindset already puts you at a disadvantage.
Gassam: Research indicates that Millennials are more likely to expect raises and promotions at work. In your experiences, what are the most effective ways for Millennial women to ask for raises and promotions? For a Millennial woman starting a new job, what are some effective ways to get paid what you feel you’re worth?
Cummings: For Millennials…many people in this generation really love to go through a process. They love to know ‘okay, I do this and then this happens, and then this happens.’ Many [employers] don’t necessarily work like that…I talked a little bit about thinking about yourself as a product and having a strong professional brand…the thing I really stress with Millennial women is that you have to focus on adoption of skills and mastery versus chasing a title or the accolades. I think that’s why the Millennial generation gets such a bad name. Sometimes we are not as articulate in [explaining] why do we this title, why do we need this promotion? People assume that because we’re moving so fast, that we may not have mastery of skills, versus Gen-X and Baby Boomers…I think conveying that you’ve mastered a skill is something that Millennials can really utilize when they’re getting that new job…skills are marketable and especially in certain sectors. If you’re looking at tech in particular, a skill is monetizable, so how can we leverage that in the salary negotiation process? When you’ve “mastered something” and can showcase a track record of success, even if it’s only within a year to two-year frame, that will help you in that process in getting a new job and getting promoted.
Gassam: Next month (August 22) is Black Women’s Equal Pay Day. What are some additional barriers that black women and women of color face when it comes to equal pay and salary negotiations? How do you think these barriers can be overcome?
Cummings: I think especially with black women and minority women, we have the same notion of, hard work will get us where we’d like to go…and on the same end, we also worry so much about rocking the boat or appearing angry. If I stand up for myself too much in the workplace, if I push back a little too much, I’m gonna be marked as the ‘angry black woman,’ I’m the one who has the attitude…and that really holds us back when it comes to obtaining equal pay and really getting salary negotiations that are much more profitable than they’ve been for us in the past. When I’m working with my clients, I really try and break down the barriers by helping them focus on developing a professional brand that speaks about them before they even get in the room…how can we take a step back and think about creating a plan and building a strong professional brand that can help expedite you getting new opportunities. I think for women of color; this is particularly helpful…relationships are one of the few things that can expedite your success. So, if you know that next year you want to be promoted to a senior analyst, or a manger, or a director, it’s how can you socialize yourself inside and outside your company to ensure that the relationships that you’re building are supporting your goals…you have leadership that is standing behind you saying ‘hey, I’ve seen her work,’ ‘I’ve [spoken] with her,’ ‘she would be a great fit for this role.’ I think that’s one of the pieces that women of color and especially black women are missing. We have great communities personally, but professionally building a community that supports our career goals is something that we can work on that really helps us break down some of the barriers of equal pay and salary negotiations.
So many times, women of color focus on doing great work in our organization…one of the biggest things I stress to my clients is also building an external reputation…also get involved in professional organizations…that’s one of the things I did early on in my career and it was pivotal in moving me forward. I would not have moved half as fast as I had moved if I did not have external relationships…those relationships that I built externally helped so much…when jobs open up, when things happen, that’s expanding the people you may know.
Cummings: One of my favorites is Elevate Network…I’ve been member of that organization for at least two or three years now…it’s an international women’s network, they have chapters all over the U.S. and it’s a general network for women…I love it because you literally meet everyone…women in tech, women in marketing, sales, etc.…I love National Sales Network because…everyone ne to learn how to sell…you may not be selling a product or service but you have to be selling yourself…those two would be my absolute favorite…there’s a slew of organizations…definitely join your employee resource group…look into employee resource groups and if you don’t know where to find it, reach out to human resources.
Cummings: The first thing I always say is, this is disheartening. It’s really much more common than people talk about. Before you get angry and storm into your boss’ office, you have to ensure that you have a plan and do your research internally and externally. Was this something you saw on a report? Is it something your colleague shared with you? Make sure you have the facts of the situation, to ensure that you’re able to navigate a conversation that could impact change in your career…present your case…presenting the fact that this came to light for you, but not necessarily focusing on that but focusing much more on your experience, skills and value…have a salary in mind. You don’t want to go in and say, ‘I should be making blah blah blah because Bryan is making $10,000 more than me.’ It’s talking about what your skills are, your value and how you can position yourself for that next role. You can definitely walk in any time of year and have that conversation but if it happens to coincide with your mid-year or annual review, I think that’s even a better time to negotiate…I would be lying if I said this wasn’t a touchy topic…it’s a hard conversation to have. So, if there’s any way to align this conversation with a mid-year or annual appraisal, that may also improve your chances of being able to rectify this situation a little bit sooner.
For more information on how Kimberly can help you advance in your career, visit her website.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.