It took me 27 years to realize that asking for a raise wouldn’t read as a lack of gratitude that could put my job in peril. Like most millennials, I’ve built a relationship with money that’s painfully influenced by 2008’s Financial Crisis — a world of free-falling markets where steady corporate careers, the abundant mainstay of our parents’ generation, became as scarce as ’04’s worn-out Uggs. Even a decade later, the women I know who’ve secured positions with paid vacation time and healthcare coverage did so only after emerging from Girls-like professional odysseys of internships, uneven part-time work, and first jobs barely skimming $30,000 a year. No wonder we’re so afraid to ask for more; we’ve been balancing ambition against a precarious economy’s erratic swings since we drafted our first résumés.
Unsurprisingly, women’s hesitance to fight for their worth has become a troubling hallmark of corporate culture. According to a recent survey by Glassdoor, 68% of women accept the first offer made by future employers, versus 52% of men. Compound these stats with the austere realities of entrenched wage inequality, in which women earned as little as 83% of what men did in 2015 (that gap becomes even larger when applied to women of color), and you’ve got quite an upward climb towards shaping the conversation surrounding money — a gendered reluctance to push for higher salaries. This is known as the confidence gap.
We sat down with Ashley Feinstein Gerstley, a certified personal finance coach and the author of the Fiscal Femme, to explore the negotiation tactics that every woman should hone before discussing a raise. The good news? If we practice transparency regarding our earnings and invest in the important labor of mentoring female coworkers, we could be well on our way to eroding the confidence gap for future generations of #girlbosses.
For Gerstley, professional women’s reluctance to initiate these tricky dialogues is a predictable symptom of the broader ways that we’re socialized: We’re taught to accommodate others before tending to our own desires. Of course, these deep-rooted feelings influence our approach at the office, where women are significantly less likely to tackle large assignments with murky probabilities for success.
“It’s often a matter of taking on risk,” Gerstley explains. “We may gravitate towards those projects that we know we’ll finish on time and complete perfectly. But we’re hesitant about tasks that we could possibly fail at, though those are of course the ones that stretch our talents and challenge us to develop new skills.” These factors naturally amplify the maddening double-bind that has plagued trailblazers both real and fictional — from Miranda Priestly to HRC: an impossible dichotomy that denounces women who ask for more as “pushy” or “bossy,” but simultaneously scorns those who don’t speak up and are inevitably passed over for advancement.
If all these hurdles have you feeling discouraged, Gerstley also shared some concrete steps for taking control of your financial future. Most importantly, she recommends working to untangle the stigmatizing feeling that your salary is somehow bound up in your self-esteem.
“It’s difficult to talk about earning because we don’t want to feel less worthy than other people, who potentially make more than we do, and vice versa,” she observes. “We’ve gotten into this destructive pattern of collapsing our self-worth with our net worth, but really your salary is just how your services are valued in the market right now.” And when you strip money of its power to dictate your worth as a person, it’s suddenly much easier to share your wealth of professional knowledge with other women.
“If someone asks you about about your position,” Gerstley adds, “be open about sharing salary numbers and advocate for negotiating initial offers. It’s important and helpful to think of this as ‘doing it for the women who come after us,’ even if it’s a little awkward upfront. And remember: We negotiate every day (where we want to eat, what time to meet a friend, etc); practice getting comfortable asserting yourself.”
Finally, never sacrifice your own earning potential to preserve a relationship with an employer who isn’t willing to competitively reward your talents. One pivotal benefit of having robust savings is the freedom to leave a stagnant position and test your value in the marketplace. “If you feel confident in your financial wellness, and you know that you’re not getting paid what you deserve, it’s very powerful to have the confidence to walk away. You shouldn’t have to settle for less.”
Above all, women should never be paralyzed by this widespread, insidious fear of beginning the conversation. It might not be comfortable. It might not always work. But you know you deserve more.
It’s 2017, and yet women are still fighting for equality. Data suggests it will take until 2152 to close the gender wage gap, but it shouldn’t take a century to get what we want. We want more, and Refinery29 is here to help — because 135 years is too long to wait for what we deserve today.