Talk Money, Get Paid
Talking about money is uncomfortable for lots of people—including us! But way too many of us aren’t getting paid what we deserve, and if we want to change that, then we all need to start speaking up—for ourselves, for each other, and for a more equitable financial future.
Plus, we asked y’all to tell us what advice you’d give your younger selves about salaries and negotiation, and a bunch of you answered! So we have tips and stories from folks at lots of career stages—all designed to help you feel more prepared to go get paid.
The more you do it, the less emotional it becomes, and the more it just becomes a very transactional kind of thing. The only way that you get to that place is by committing to yourself that you will negotiate every offer that you get… Every time you get a salary offer, ask for $5,000 more. Period. Every single time. And it can be more than that. Maybe you are making more money than that and it’s time for you to ask for $10,000 more or $20,000 more—I know somebody who once negotiated $100,000 more! Your ability to do that, though, starts with you being willing to ask for $5,000 more.—Karen McGrane, managing partner, Bond Art + Science
We chat about:
- That time Sara took on more and more work without a promotion—and ended up way behind financially.
- What we learned—and didn’t learn—about salaries growing up.
- Why negotiating your salary over the phone is the way to go, even if email feels easier.
- Why you should wait as long as possible to talk salary when you’re interviewing for a job.
- The “PITA quotient”: Remember to consider what a job will take from you then set your rate appropriately.
- Why Karen thinks you should always ask for at least $5,000 more in a salary negotiation (or, hell, maybe $100,000 more).
- How to “lovingly plot revenge” when you find out your salary is too low.
- Sorting out all the awkward feelings that come along with money talk.
Plus: What we’re doing on our summer vacation, big love to Harvest for supporting us all year, and fuck yeah to already hearing a money success story from a Collective Strength attendee!
In this episode:
- Karen McGrane
- Lauren Isaacson
- Kathryn Meisner
- Cyd Harrell
- Malaika Carpenter
- Sophie Shepherd
- Eugenié George
- Lara Hogan
- Susan Poulton
- Lynne Polischuik
This episode of Strong Feelings is brought to you by:
Harvest, makers of awesome software to help you track your time, manage your projects, and get paid. Go to getharvest.com/strongfeelings to get 50% off your first month.
SWB Shout out to Harvest for sponsoring this episode of SF! Harvest makes our favorite software for time tracking, project planning, and general workplace calm. It’s easy to use, scalable for any size team—including teams of 1—and just plain great. Try it free at getharvest.com/strongfeelings, and when you move to a paid account, Harvest is gonna give you half off your first month. That’s getharvest.com/strongfeelings.
[theme music plays for 11 seconds and then fades out]
SWB Hey everyone, I’m Sara.
KL And I’m Katel.
SWB And this is Strong Feelings! A podcast about work, friendship, and feminism – and what happens when you bring em all together.
KL Today we’re talking about something that ALWAYS makes me feel totally freaked out when I have to talk about it, but actually reassured hearing other people talk about it… and that’s money. Specifically, talking about money when it relates to work.
SWB Yes. This is the hardest thing for people. It’s gotten a lot easier for me but it definitely hasn’t always been.
KL So… growing up, I wasn’t really taught much about money—I didn’t really know how to save it and I definitely didn’t know how to talk about it once I started earning my own. Like, at my first few jobs, I truly thought I should just take whatever pay was offered to me.
SWB This is really interesting – I was thinking back about when I started negotiating salary or when I even realized this was something people did. And I think in my home it just wants a concept. Not just that we didn’t talk about it but you know my mom, she worked for a lot of my childhood as a researcher getting her PhD, so she was a grad student, and then as a postdoc researcher, and those are just not negotiable roles. It’s like, you are on a stipend or you are on a grant, and it just is what it is. And my dad worked for himself and I guess he negotiated stuff with his customers but it wasn’t really that sort of business, so I don’t think I had any experience with this concept of “getting a raise” or “getting a promotion”—until it was me getting a raise or getting a promotion, or—as we talked about last week—you know, becoming a supervisor at the call center and going all the way up to $12.26 an hour.
KL I don’t think I even considered asking for a raise until I was a few jobs into my career after college.
SWB So what was the first job that you did negotiate?
KL God, so I didn’t really negotiate any part of an offer I think until I was in my mid-twenties, getting a job a record label when I was living in New York City. I must have been happy with the salary offer, or definitely too nervous to ask for more (which I am sure that is actually what it was), but I did ask for 3 weeks of vacation instead of the 2 standard that was part of the benefits package. And they agreed—and I mean looking back, that’s not a lot lol.
SWB No, it’s not. [Laughs]
KL [Laughs] They were probably like, sure. Then, the job I had after that, at an advertising consultancy, I did ask for a raise maybe 6 months in, because they’d hired me as an executive assistant to one of the partners, and I was really doing that work plus working on account projects. And I had this amazing colleague who was like, “you need to get paid more money for doing more work.” Which I was like, I guess you’re right.
SWB I remember trying to negotiate at my first couple jobs – like in my early to mid-twenties. Like if you could call it that. One was at an advertising agency, and then when I left there, at a digital agency. I was just like, “hey could you maybe just like barely meet what I was already making, if that would be ok??!!”
KL [Laughs] Like, would that be all right?
SWB I think particularly that first time, I was moving from a job that was like a glorified customer service job that I’d gotten when I was 22—I mean I’d shown up in a new city, needed to get a job. I got this job that had paid be like $33,000 per year. And then I was moving into this agency job that was actually something I wanted to do—well, I thought so at the time—it was a copywriting job, which seemed like a lot more what I wanted to be doing, right? But I didn’t really know what they paid or what to expect, and I had a sense that this sort of junior copywriting job was not going to pay that well, so I was like, just please make it even with what I was already making. But I just didn’t really know. And I remember feeling so nervous about it. I remember actually the parking lot I was sitting in where we had the phone call to talk about money and I can remember feeling the tension that I felt then.
KL Oh my gosh.
SWB So then I stayed at that second agency for several years, and there, I got really stuck financially. Because I kept on getting more responsibility and taking on more complex work, and being in this senior role, so it seemed. But it wasn’t that big of a company, so the structure was really loose, and what I was doing was really an emerging field. They did not have a user experience team, or information architecture, or content strategy. And I was doing content strategy work with a healthy dose of UX and IA all of a sudden, and nobody knew what that was or how that fit or what existing roles that was comparable to. And so as a result, I never got a promotion, I just was doing more and more and more. And then my boss, who had been my biggest advocate, left the company, and I got even more responsibility, which was great, but I got even less support. So at that point, a couple years in there, I knew I was being totally underpaid. So I had had a few raises in there, because it had been like three years, but again, no technical promotion. So one day I remember going to one of the owners of the company, the person I had to go to to talk about financial matters and asking for a raise—or setting up a meeting to ask for a raise—I didn’t like storm in and do it. [KL laughs] I was so nervous about it. And I remember being like, I have no idea how it’s going to go, and I feel so out of my league. He knew, though—the dude knew I was being dramatically underpaid. He was just happy to let that happen as long as I let it happen. So I remember I didn’t ask him for a specific a number, but I was like, “look, my job has gotten much bigger—I have a direct report, I have an intern, and I am working on all of this strategic stuff for more major clients, I’m traveling for these clients. And my salary just isn’t in line with this role. So he ended up offering me a 20% raise the next week. I just took it and was very happy with that, but looking but, the thing is, I was still being underpaid.
KL Wow, yeah I mean looking at the number 20% it feels big, but really only if it’s not baaaarely getting you close to what you should be paid!
SWB Right, if you’re 30% underpaid it’s still… [both laugh]. So then, like, less than a year later—this is how I really know how underpaid I was—less than a year later they ask me to become a director and take over this larger team – and so then I had basically three small teams reporting to me, so there were like 6 different people reporting to me and an intern or two, and they offered me this new salary and he’s like—same person—he’s like, “I’m gonna offer you this new salary to bring you in line with the others.” And it was a big raise, like a 35% raise. And I was like, “oh my god, that’s so much more money.” And I accepted it on the spot and I didn’t negotiate at all. And at the time it felt really good. But what I realized is that it only seemed so big because the previous one that I had received was still really underpaying me—I should have only gotten like a 20% raise. And also, the number that they did offer me for this big director role was still a bunch less than any of the other directors were making. Some of them were making a lot more than that, and I think many of them were making at least $10,000 more than that. And I just had NO idea how to have this conversation, and was so intimidated. I felt like he held 100% of the power in the room and I held 0% of the power in the room.
KL Yeah. Ugh.
SWB So, that is why I am so excited about what we are gonna share today. Because we don’t just have one interview, but a whole ton of insights from women who have learned how to make negotiation work for them. And the first one, the one you’ll be hearing from a lot, is Karen McGrane, who joined us for our first Collective Strength event here in Philly this month. Karen is a dear friend of ours, she’s an author who’s written for A Book Apart, she’s somebody I’ve collaborated with, she runs a consultancy, and she’s so comfortable talking about money. We got audio of our whole interview with her from our live event, and there are just so many great excerpts that we have to share them.
KL So awesome. But Karen is just one person, so we also asked y’all to tell us what advice you’d give your younger selves about money, or what you wish you’d known earlier in your career. And you answered! Which is so awesome. So we have a bunch of tips and stories we are gonna share with you, so y’all can go get paid way sooner than we did. So let’s start with Karen.
Karen McGrane “I am here not as an advocate for the business, but as a spy who has been behind enemy lines, and I am coming here to help you be the worker. [laughter, cheers, and clapping from crowd]
SWB She’s the best spy. So one of the things she mentioned in the interview, by the way, is that she was going to use $100,000 as a sample number just because it’s easy to do math with. So later on, in some of the clips we have from her, if you hear her mention 100,000, don’t think that that’s what you’re supposed to be asking for necessarily, or you should feel bad if you don’t make that much or whatever. It’s just a round number. OK so one thing that Karen talked about early on in the interview was something I think might be counterintuitive to a lot of people, and so I would love to start there. And that is avoiding talking about salary for as long as you can during a hiring process. Yes, pushing it as far back in the process as you can. Yes. So, let’s hear her talk about that.
KM You are never going to have more power with an organization than at the point at which they have decided that they want to hire you and you have not accepted the job yet. That’s the point at which you are going to be able to have the most leverage. Because for them to go back and start the interview process again… you know, if they have decided they want you, then they are going to be willing to cave to your reasonable demands. So when you’re thinking about that conversation, it’s really helpful for you to go in with an understanding for yourself of how much money you want to make. So you should go into that thinking, ok the number I want to hit is $100,000. Now they are going to try to get you to tell them and they are going to try to get you to tell them what you want to make. To the best of your ability, you want to avoid having that conversation. And this is one of those things where it’s like, practice really comes in handy. If you’re scared and you’re like, “I don’t want to disclose that information” and the recruiter or HR person is like, “oh I really need that information,” and you’re like, “oh ok here, here you go,” you really safely can tell yourself: they are lying to you. They do not need that information. And you can find ways to work around that so you don’t have to give up that information, and you really should try to. Now that’s at the very initial stages; you’re really just trying to figure out, is this the right fit for you? Do you want to work there? Money’s not on the table. As you get further through the process and you have to decide, “if they offered me this job, would I actually take it?” then it might be ok to broach the conversation of, “do you have a salary range for this position?” or “what should I expect for this?” And if they ask you, that might be an appropriate place to say, “I am interested in $100,000.” You don’t want to waste a lot of your time and you don’t want to waste a lot of their time if the number is wildly out of whack. But I would also say, if it’s a job you really want and your number is within, say, 20%, I would continue having that conversation because the likelihood that if they really like you and they want to hire you, that they might be able to find more money. That’s where the negotiation comes in.
KL Oh my gosh, this advice is so brilliant. And I do definitely think this is one of those things that’s easier said than done.
SWB Right, I think one of the big concerns we heard about at Collective Strength is that very thing: like ok, sure, I get that I should skirt the conversation. But how do I actually skirt this conversation? It’s easy to say “oh just avoid it” but how do you do this in a way that’s not totally weird.
KL Right—but I also think that we, women, probably just don’t get as much opportunity to practice it. It also makes me think about how a lot of other situations in life when I would’ve benefited from just like, pausing—this just comes in handy. Obviously this is more than pausing, it’s a little bit like…stalling. But what sticks out to me most is the part about them caving to “reasonable demands.” And I know personally, that’s where I got hung up a lot earlier in my career—not believing my requirements (or needs! or desires!) were reasonable.
SWB Ugh, yes. Like, having no frame of reference for what reasonable even meant—is $2,000 reasonable or is $20,000 reasonable? And if you don’t know, it’s very scary. And then feeling pressured to make a decision or accept something right away.
KL Yeah, I have a friend who recently got a new job, and when they were in the offer process—they had offers from two different companies actually—and one of them was offering a much bigger salary, but the company wasn’t quite as desirable. And my friend was weighing the pros and cons, kind of, you know, doing due diligence. And the one company with the bigger offer also asked them to make a decision on a Friday evening. And I was like, if you tell them you need at least the weekend to consider everything and that company gives you shit or rescinds the offer, then those are not the people you want to work for, period. And my friend knew that, but they also just felt so much pressure! They were like, “what if this is my only shot?”
SWB It’s so easy to get into this mindset, like, “this is my only shot.” And I think that that’s usually not true. And sometimes there might be a dream job you really don’t want to let slip away, but even still, thinking about it as like, “if I don’t get this I have nothing”—that’s never going to serve you.
SWB So I think Karen is pretty helpful about that—she says it’s all about getting the right attitude. Which is hard to do, but I love the way she describes it. [KL laughs]
KM Fundamentally you need to go in with the attitude that they don’t need this information. They are lying to you. No I’m serious, they are lying to you. They do not need that. I think the first line of defense is just to be very confident, tone is important here, but you just want to come in with this vibe of like, “oh, I’m sure that I will be fairly compensated.” And you can’t say it like [sarcastically] “oh well I expect to be fairly compensated.” You gotta like channel, you’re applying for this job at the company owned by your dad’s frat brother and they’ve been playing lacrosse together for 25 years and it’s a done deal, and you know you’re gonna get this job, and you just go in and say, “I know I’m gonna be fairly compensated.” Because you know you’re gonna be fairly compensated, and so it’s not even worth discussing.
SWB So this actually ties to something we heard from a listener on Facebook—that it’s not just one conversation. It’s a whole process. So what Kathryn says is, “I wish I had known to prep for counter-offers, not just the initial ask in a negotiation.” This rings really true to me, because I think it’s like, it’s easier to prep for that first conversation where you say, ok, I ask for $100,000, I’m firm, I’m ready to go. But then, if they come back with $90, it’s really hard to then be like, oh, well, how about $95? It feels like you did all this work to prep for conversation one and then conversation two rolls around and you’ve done nothing. And also, that you feel like you’ve already pushed for something. I’ve done this in other scenarios, where you feel like you already pushed back once, so pushing back a second time I feel like, “oh gosh, are they gonna think I’m fill-in-the-blank negative?”
KL Right, exactly. Yeah, I haven’t been through a ton of hiring processes where it was rounds and rounds of negotiation strictly on salary, but I do wish I’d done more kind of holistic preparation—like knowing whether I should ask for broader benefits or an equity option to bolster a salary offer that wasn’t quite as high as I wanted it to be. And I also learned way late in my career that I should always write down notes for these conversations. Even if I can’t have them with me, it’s so helpful to put it down on paper (and say it out loud if possible).
SWB Yeah, I have actually sat on the phone with friends while they practice saying the number out loud over and over again till they sounded super-comfortable with the number. I think that’s huge. Ok so speaking of preparation being able to write things down, we also have some advice from Karen on how to have the conversation where you even could write things down.
KM The only time I am ever going to recommend that you have a phone call is to do your salary negotiations. And here’s why: you’ve got basically three choices: you could do it in person, you could do it on the phone, you can do it via email. Email might sound desirable, because it’s quieter, you have some space to think. But you don’t get the immediate back and forth of actually getting an answer right away. I have definitely seen people try to do their salary negotiations over email. And they send an email Friday afternoon and then they sit there the entire weekend beating themselves up, like, “what did I do, what happened, why haven’t they responded?” Well, yeah, because it’s Saturday morning. Conversely, so if you do it in person—negotiating in person is fine, you should learn how to do it—but you have to assume that you are going to be a bundle of nerves, and the person you’re talking with doesn’t care at all. So you are going to bring a lot more stress to that conversation. And the likelihood that you are going to lowball yourself—I can just imagine people going in and being like, “I would like $100,000.” And you wait a beat. And they look at you. And you’re like, “ok $90. Ok $85. Ok $75 and that is my absolute final offer.” Don’t do that to yourself. So if you do it on the phone you have the benefit of getting some real-time feedback, but you don’t have quite the sense of the emotional intensity of it. So you’re on the phone, you wanna be able to negotiate the number that they offer. So they offer you $100,000 and then you say, “I was thinking more like $110.” And then don’t say anything else. This is honestly, like, the magic of this…there’s a saying in negotiation, “the person who speaks first loses.” You just have to be able to get yourself to a centered enough place to say, “I was thinking more like $100.” And then keep your mouth shut, because if you start going back on….”buh buh buh but I mean 105 maybe sure no $100 is fine.” Let them say something. Say you were thinking more like $110. Don’t say anything in response. And they are gonna give you a reply. They are gonna say ok, they are gonna say we’re not sure, they are gonna say we’re gonna go find that money, they are gonna say no way, we’re firm on $100. Once you have that you can start having a conversation.
KL Ok first, I have definitely had a dream vision of me sending an email with a salary requirement and the employer writing back shortly thereafter saying “Perfect. Done. When can you start?”
KL Which, [laughs] let’s all just dream of that.But I love this advice because I feel like it builds on the concept of creating space and time in the conversation. And I do feel like phone calls can be awkward, for sure—but it’s easier to have some silence or a pause on the phone, versus being in person and feeling like you have to respond immediately because someone’s like staring you in your face. And a lot of this can also feel like a game, and it is to some extent I feel like, because you’re anticipating each other’s moves—but it’s just that. I think if we can expect it a bit more and prepare for it more, that helps a lot. But also, I do think that if a potential employer or client is playing too much of a game, that’s something to be wary of.
SWB Huhuhhuh indeed. Yes. So speaking of that, I actually want to share a story from another listener. It’s Lynne Polischuik, a user research and product strategy consultant. And she definitely has an anecdote where I think some game-playing was happening.
Lynne Polischuik When I had first started out being a freelance designer, I was approached by an agency and offered a role where the hourly rate offered to me was really low. And the partner in the agency, the one partner in the agency, really gave me a song and dance about “it was all they could afford” and kinda made me feel like it was a privilege to work for them, and I should be happy to accept what I got. And then a couple weeks later into the project, the other partner from the agency reached out and said, “why are we paying you this much? This is so low. Make sure you always fight for what you’re worth. Don’t ever accept less than your value.” And that for me was kind of a turning point and a learning point of understanding, it was ok to fight back. It turned out the other designers, male designers, on the project were being paid considerably more than I had originally been offered. The second partner did give me a raise to bring me in line with what the other designers were being paid. But I should have been the one to have fought for that higher rate. I shouldn’t have accepted a lower rate and felt like I was being given a gift. I was providing a service. Money conversations are really difficult. It’s always awkward. I think as women we are not as conditioned to negotiate. I would go back and tell my younger self to fight through that awkwardness, build up those negotiation muscles. Because it’s one thing to be stressed about work. It’s one thing to be stressed about money. But you can’t function properly if you are stressed about work and about money. So you will always end up in a better place—not just financially, but mentally. It helps you on a lot of levels to kind of fight through that awkwardness, demand what you’re worth, and always kind of take what you think you should be paid and add 20%, ask for that, and you might get less want but you will probably still end up where you should actually be paid.
SWB OK, so I hate that this happened to her, but I love that she came out of it with so much more perspective and confidence, and I think it’s served her over the past several years so much, because she’s definitely a badass now when it comes to handling clients and money. And you know, the thing is, Lynne is not the only one we talked to, though, who felt pushed around and manipulated, especially earlier in their career. So let’s check out this other quote we got from Cyd Harrell. Cyd is a design leader in civic tech, so working with government, and she has some pretty interesting stories too.
Cyd Harrell I would tell my younger self to rehearse a little bit before having conversations about money. My biggest challenges have come in the moment when I’ve gotten a surprising question, or a shocking assertion. One of the biggest I ever got was that a company where I had been working as a contractor for a while and had gotten hired—my direct boss had worked really hard on that and then he told me that the CFO is going to talk to you about the money part. And when I went to talk to the CFO, she said, “Well I know your husband works at a big tech company, so you don’t need to max this.” And this was because I had sort of balked at what they said was their maximum, because it was below my historical trend and I was performing well. And I was just so gobsmacked in the moment I said, “well I’ll go and think about it” or something kind of stumblingly. And I really think what I should have done was kick into user research mode and say something like, “that’s interesting. Tell me more about why you say that.” Because I don’t think they would have been able to explain it, and I have my enormous doubts if they would have said the same thing to a guy whose wife made good money working at a major company. So I wish I had practiced some things in front of the mirror for one of those moments when you’re blindsided. Because for me I feel like those are the moments when it’s tough for me. So I don’t know what to say to that younger Cyd who was only 30 or 35 or whatever the heck I was. But it’s something along the lines of, “Ask questions. And have a few that you’re prepared to ask in response to anything they say.”
KL I love the idea of going into user research mode so much—I feel like that’s such a great way to think about it, because ultimately, you and an employer are trying to learn more about each other in this process. And having a few questions ready so that you feel like you’ve got some to draw from is so helpful.
SWB Yeah, and I love it too because when you get into “research mode,” or you’re in that interview space, you’re asking questions. It takes some of the pressure off of you, right? You’re not so hyper-focused on, “what do they think of me what do they think of me what do they think of me.”
SWB And it sort of like, makes you flip a switch. So I like that a lot. And I think it really comes down to some of the stuff that Karen talks about, which is getting to the place where you can feel less awkward and weird doing this thing that you shouldn’t have to feel awkward and weird doing. So let’s hear one more from her.
KM The more you do it, the less emotional it becomes, and the more it just becomes a very transactional kind of thing. The only way that you get to that place is by committing to yourself that you will negotiate every offer that you get. So, I think, this is what I tell my students, and what I hope all of you will take away from this. Every time you get a salary offer, ask for $5,000 more. Period. Every single time. And it can be more than that. Maybe you are making more money than that and it’s time for you to ask for $10,000 more or $20,000 more—I know somebody who once negotiated $100,000 more. Your ability to do that, though, starts with you being willing to ask for $5,000 more. And I guarantee you—people always worry about this, “will they rescind my offer if I ask for more?” And I don’t want to say that that never happens, and if it were to happen, it would happen to a woman of color. It’s not going to happen to a white guy. But the risk of that happening—it’s one of those lightning strike things. Frankly if they rescind your salary, or they rescind the offer, off of you asking for $5,000 more, you dodged a bullet. But I swear to god, you can confidently walk into any salary negotiation that you engage in and ask for $5,000 more, and they will probably give it to you. They expect you to negotiate. It is a sign that you are speaking up for yourself, you value yourself. And if you bring that kind of energy to their business, they like that.
KL Ok so Malaika Carpenter, who is a content strategist, a writer, and I think in our opinion—I feel like I can speak for both of us, Sara—she’s a budding comedy star.
KL Yeah, so she definitely also echoed that message of just asking for more. Let’s hear from Malaika.
Malaika Carpenter Don’t take the first offer. Always negotiate it. Relax, and just realize that it is part of the hiring process. My younger self would just be so excited they said yes to me. Especially after all the conversations, all the meetings, all the coffee dates, all the phone calls, all of the again and again “tell me a little bit more about yourself” questions and navigating those successfully, you get to the money conversation and you’re just like, “yes I will take whatever you’re going to give me because you at least want me.” And you don’t take that fact to really just know what your worth truly is, and to know that you can ask for more, and that it’s typical to ask for more. And men do it all the time without flinching or batting an eye! So that’s what I would say to my younger self: negotiation of money is a normal, regular, everyday thing. And yes, you should always do it.
SWB Ok so speaking of negotiating being an everyday thing: something that came up a bunch of times during our event with Karen was just how negotiating feels really personal for you, because it’s your money, but it is not necessarily for the other party, because they’re just doing business. So this clip really did it for me, and drove that home, and I thought was really helpful.
KM There’s great what’s called “information asymmetry” in those kinds of negotiations. It’s something you do very rarely in your life, you’re uncomfortable doing it, and so you’re kind of at a disadvantage. The person you’re talking to does it all the time. They might do it 10 times a day. And so, for them, it is not a high-stakes conversation. They are literally just trying to write down a number so they can move on.
KL So this reminds of me something Sophie Shepherd said. Sophie is a design manager at Github, and she has this really helpful way of thinking about dollar amounts.
Sophie Shepherd What I always try to do is remember that business money and my own personal money are two completely different things; they’re on different scales. And when asking for money, I need to be thinking of business money, not personal money. So what I mean by this is, say for example I want to ask for a $10,000 raise. To me, that sounds ridiculous saying it. $10,000 is a lot of money in my life! It could be enough to pay off one of my student loans, it could pay off my entire car loan. It’s huge. And it is very scary to ask for that. But if you think about what that money means to the business, it’s not as significant to them. What I try to do is think of all the different things that a business would spend $10,000 on, and how small that is to them. So for example, they might get some new conference room chairs, or get a guest speaker to fly in for an event. When I think of this and what it means to them, versus what it means to me, this makes me feel a lot more confident asking for it.
SWB OK I thought that was so helpful, because for me, just having some of those specifics, like, “oh, yeah, what are the other items that cost whatever amount I am looking for?” and being able to sort of visualize them, that’s so powerful, and I never thought about that before.
KL Yes, totally! And another tip we heard about confidence comes from Eugenié George, a financial educator who specializes in working with women of color. And she wants you to know something about all money conversations.
Eugenié George One, stop telling yourself that you are not good at money. Because that’s what a lot of people have told Americans—like, we’re not good at math, and particularly if you identify as a woman or she, people say that women aren’t good at math. You need to reject the idea because the idea is not real. Everything takes practice. So, just really kind of be ok with that. And that’s actually the mantra that I say right now: “I’m good at math, therefore I’m good with my money.”
SWB I love this because there’s nothing in this world that we are good at without practice, right? Like, you aren’t good at things if you never practice them. And it’s all just a skill. And so I think if you keep telling yourself that you’re not good at something, or if you listen to the messages you’ve heard about not being good at it, and just take that at face value, you’re never gonna get good at it. So we have to talk about it and get over all that awkwardness that Lynne mentioned, because it is awkward and hard when we’re not practiced. Because you know, we have so much shame about money and sort of like weird feelings that we aren’t supposed to talk about it and we don’t share it, it’s hard to get over that. So I want to share one more thing that we heard from a listener. That’s Lauren Isaacson. She talks about just that: we gotta talk about it. She says: “As a freelancer, talk about it. Don’t be afraid to share your rates with your colleagues.” Because, “If you don’t, you never know what’s considered reasonable and the people buying your services will have all the power.”
KL Oh my gosh, I love that.
SWB Yeah, it goes back to that “power asymmetry” thing that Karen mentioned. It’s like, if one person has all the information and the other person has zero information, that’s a really crappy place to be operating from. But she’s really talking about getting to a place where you have some information too! Which you deserve to have.
KL Yes! Oh my gosh yes!
SWB OK so one more piece of advice for independent folks. We got this from Lara Hogan, who was actually on the show last week, and she said that she really thinks about what a project is gonna take from her—mentally and also emotionally. So she told us, “I wish I had known about the ‘PITA’ quotient earlier. Charging more for doing work with someone that seemed to be a pain in the ass, basically. Like—what is doing this work really worth to me? What would saying yes mean? What are the other hidden costs here that I should be considering charging for?”
KL Oh boyyy, yeah, this is so great to keep in mind—and I definitely don’t do it enough.
SWB You know I think it’s really important because it’s like, people who are difficult take more mental and emotional space, but they also take more time, right? It actually takes more time when people are shitty to you, and I think you want to think really carefully if you want to work with them in the first place, and what it’s worth for you to do it. So.
SWB The other thing I noticed at our event was that in general—and this is maybe not surprising—people just have a lot of feelings when it comes to talking about their money, right? So many feelings about, “how do I deal with me wanting a raise even when I know other colleagues are underpaid?” or “what do I do if I negotiate for myself—am I being a bad person for not fixing pay equity for everyone?” But of course, I wish there was pay equity for everyone, but nobody getting paid doesn’t help either. So what it comes down to I think is like, as much as we try to separate our emotions from the actual negotiation, which I think is really helpful in the moment, I also think it’s important to recognize that those emotions still exist!
KL I totally agree, and that’s something that Susan Poulton, president of Door 44 Consulting, spoke to in this next flip: feelings.
Susan Poulton I think one of the hardest and most surprising things for me was in my later career, when I finally got the pay that I had asked for, I finally successfully negotiated a salary that was extremely competitive, and I got it, and then realized that I was one of the higher paid individuals in my organization, and there was a lot of really unusual feelings that came with that—some guilt, imposter syndrome. Was I worth that salary? If everyone else was making so much less than I was, why did I finally get paid what I was worth? And starting to question whether I had done the right thing. And that was surprising to me. And you should never have to question what you’re worth. I think the best way to deal with that was I just became an advocate for others who were still struggling. I fought to pay the employees that I hired a more than competitive wage, I fought harder to make sure others received promotions, and just continued to advise people on how to fight for what they’re worth as well, and what I found worked for me. And then also how to own it once you get it, which I think, it was surprising that was harder to do than I thought it would be.
SWB Feelings! Yes, ok, we are always about talking about feelings. And I really feel for her—I definitely would have felt something like that, too.
KL Yeah, I know. I mean, at my last job, I became a director on a team of people where some of those people had been senior to me before my promotion. So, there were lots of feelings around that for everyone involved—but a little while after I got settled in, I was working on getting a raise pushed through for one of the women on my team, and when it came through, she wound up making more than me. And I felt so deflated and kind of humiliated, which seems sort of like an unfair feeling, because it wasn’t her fault.
SWB Yeah, but ugh.
KL Yeah, and I went to my boss to point this out, and he was like, “yeah, I mean, that’s how it goes sometimes, and she was senior to you previously.” And I was like, “yeah, but now I’m her boss, so…” It just felt so unfair. And then a VP on our leadership team went to bat for me, someone who was totally not my boss, and she got me a bump in salary because she—ahem, a woman—thought it was more than reasonable for me to earn more than the people who reported to me. So, now all of a sudden I was getting properly compensated, but I also basically got a raise because of an administrative error. And I just really wish I’d fought for myself harder in the first place—and it just all felt really conflicting.
SWB Right, I think that’s what Lynne was talking to, too, right? Yay, she got more money, but it was because somebody else advocated for her. Which is awesome! But learning to do it for yourself is powerful. Just, all those those feelings are tough, and even though I think that all the advice we’ve shared today is good advice and I think it’s going to be helpful for people, I know it’s still not easy. I know it’s still tough to go in and talk money. But I do hope that what we’ve covered today is going to help people feel more confident and more prepared and more like, “yeah, I know what to fucking do, and I’m going to go in there and do it.” But we also have one last clip, and I want to make sure we share it because it’s also a little something about what not to do.
KM I found out that a guy, a white guy, who did the same job as me, was making $100,000 more than me. And I went and proceeded to get spectacularly drunk. [laughter] Don’t be like me. [laughter]. Keep that information tucked inside your brain, lovingly plot revenge, and then go get your money.
KL Ok look, I think lovingly plotting revenge is a great tactic for a lot of things. [laughs and SWB laughs] SWB I mean…I’m not saying I have a list but…you know I keep receipts, right? [both laugh][short transition music plays]
SWB Ok so we’ve told you about Harvest’s time-tracking. We’ve told you about their invoicing. And we’ve told you about their project-planning tools. But today we want to tell you one more thing about Harvest. And that’s that they’re just some of our favorite people. Not only do they help us keep this podcast going, but they’ve also invested in supporting Collective Strength—they’re the reason that we host events with cheese plates and plenty of cookies—and it’s so wonderful.
KL Ugh. Their support has been huge in allowing us to put together programming that we really believe in. And so we just really wanted to take a sec and thank Harvest one more time this season—because they’ve been such a fucking rad partner to us, and a product we really do trust and love.
SWB So thank you, Harvest—and definitely if you haven’t yet, give ‘em a shot at getharvest.com/strongfeelings. [short transition music plays]
KL Oh my gosh, Sara—so this is our last fuck yeah before we take a little summer break. Do you have something for us? SWB Not only do I have something, I have something that is extremely on point for our conversation today.
KL Oh my god, what is it?
SWB Ok so one of the women who came to Collective Strength and asked a question about renegotiating rates? Well, we were texting aftward about how she was going into this big meeting with a long-term client, and she wanted a better contract. And I was like, 100%, they haven’t been paying you what I think is a fair rate, and they obviously love and need you. You’re so embedded in their organization at this point. You’ve got this. So she messaged me yesterday and guess what? She renegotiated her fucking rates!
KL Oh my god, that’s so awesome! Did she tell you how it happened?
SWB Ok so she walks into the important meeting, and she said that she was just feeling so much more confident and clear about what she was gonna say, and what she needed, and she wasn’t doing any of that stuff that Karen talked about—like immediately second-guessing or sort of walking it back before you even get started. And she just laid it out. And now her contract is going to get renegotiated in a way that works better for her. And it’s so important.
KL Oh my gosh, that is so huge. Seriously, fuck yeah to her and her new contract!
SWB And like, fuck yeah that we already have one success story coming out of that event, which is amazing, and i can’t wait to hear more of them.
KL All right, well we are taking a few weeks off now, but we’ll be back July 18th with fresh episodes. So while we are on a little summer break—literally, we are taking a beach weekend in there!—we wanna hear from you. If you put some of this money advice to the test, tell us how it goes, what worked, and where you’re still stuck.
SWB Well that’s it for us this week! Strong Feelings is recorded in Philadelphia and produced by Steph Colbourn from Edit Audio. Our theme music is “Deprogrammed” by Blowdryer, which is an awesome Philly-based band that you can check out at blowdryer.bandcamp.com. Thanks to all of the awesome folks who sent in advice for today’s show, and Karen for being there for our first Collective Strength event, and thank you to everybody listening! If you liked our show today, don’t forget to subscribe and rate us wherever it is that you listen to podcasts. And—get some strong feelings delivered to your inbox! Sign up for our newsletter at strongfeelings.co. Bye!
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