Episode 7: “Negotiate! Negotiate! Negotiate!”
Is asking for good pay the key to getting it? Thirty-something media professionals LaShawn and Danielle share their real-life experiences on the frontlines negotiating—and not negotiating—their salaries and benefits in the workplace. Also, life coach, author and entrepreneur Valorie Burton provides insight on how to best address the internal barriers that too often keep Black women from pursuing the compensation they deserve.
Due to the pandemic, this interview was recorded by Zoom and/or phone. A transcript is available below. In The Gap was created with the support of the Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting and In These Times magazine. Contact the show at email@example.com.
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CHANDRA THOMAS WHITFIELD, HOST: Welcome to In The Gap, a podcast about how and why Black women aren't getting their green. I'm your host Chandra Thomas Whitfield.
You’ll often hear the advice: negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. But what does that mean? How do you do that? And what thoughts and feelings might be buried inside of you that may be keeping you from doing so?
[FROM RECORDING] DANIELLE: So, I learned that there are other producers at my station where they’re being paid way higher than me with not near the experience that I have.
[FROM RECORDING] LASHAWN: I can’t even tell you how many interviews I went on, how many times I was the top-two candidate, and I did not walk away with the opportunity. And so, when I got this opportunity, I just said yes, because I was exhausted.
WHITFIELD: That’s our first two guests, two young Black women journalists, LaShawn and Danielle, sharing some of their personal experiences at the negotiation table. And then later on, life strategist and bestselling author Valorie Burton weighs in.
[FROM RECORDING] VALORIE BURTON: As African American women, it’s important to step back and see what your fears are around why you have not negotiated in the past, around why you may not even feel the right to negotiate.
WHITFIELD: But first, the statistics are clear. Regardless of education level, the type of job—yes, low-paying, high-paying or in between—where they live or even age, across the board, Black women face a wage gap every day that they show up for work.
Some experts have argued that better negotiating of salary, benefits and other perks up front could help close that gap. But many of the women I have spoken to for this podcast have told me—and this was on and off the record—that they feel like they were never properly trained or even encouraged to negotiate. And as a result, they regretted not doing so, up front and even after they had spent some time under their jobs.
Now this is interesting. Some research, however, suggests negotiating can actually backfire on Black women. So, the process can be especially daunting and hard to determine when to proceed and how to proceed in the negotiating process. My first guests, Danielle and LaShawn—and I’m using their first names just to protect their privacy—now they are two young Black women in their thirties, and they’re going to join us now to share their experiences negotiating salaries, or in some cases lack thereof.
Thanks for joining me, LaShawn and Danielle.
LASHAWN: Thanks for having me.
WHITFIELD: I’ll pose this question to each of you. What comes to mind when you think about negotiating? I’ll start with LaShawn.
LASHAWN: I think over time my opinion around negotiating has evolved as I’ve grown more in my career and just understand more about the dynamics of the workplace. And I think early on it goes back to when I got my first job as a teenager. I was a part of a career readiness program where they actually taught us negotiating skills, they taught us about how to do your resume, they also taught us dress code, things like that. So, that was my introduction to negotiating. I think I was about 14 years old.
After that, I got my job and I was working at Wendy’s. I was being paid at like $6.50 an hour, and my best friend at the time, she actually got a job, too, there, but she was getting paid I think about $6.00. And I remember her being—like one day we were just talking about our salaries—and I was like, “yeah, I don’t know.” I mean, I’d been there, I had been employee of the month. And so I realized then that sometimes you may get paid more than somebody else and you could be doing the exact same job. And then, you know, over time I would read magazines, and I would always read about how women were paid little as it relates to men, and then even at my own career, I always negotiated in terms of pay, even before I became a journalist. But most recently I did not.
WHITFIELD: Mm. Well, we’re gonna have to get into that. So Danielle, what comes to mind when you think about negotiating?
DANIELLE: I think about—well honestly I thought a lot more about what negotiating actually means, being three more years into my career. I guess my second market was in Colorado Springs. I didn’t really know what negotiating was, so I would just kind of accept things or, you know, roles at work without really understanding what I was accepting, and maybe not fully understanding that my role was maybe being looked over, or my skills weren’t being used. So, now that I understand the word and I guess the verb so much more, it’s the same as what LaShawn was saying, how your skills are being used.
I also definitely think about salary now. That’s huge with negotiating, and I learned that way more, it just comes with experience and learning you know past mistakes and current mistakes and just talking with other professionals and reading books, too. Understanding you really have to talk yourself up, because nobody’s really going to see it except you.
WHITFIELD: Mhm. A lot of women—and I talked to women who were in service industry all the way up to engineers, lawyers, all types of women, Black women, for this podcast—and several of them said, “You know, I really realized that I just didn’t really negotiate.” And even when some of them said that they tried, they didn’t necessarily feel equipped. So, do you all feel like going into your current positions, and you’re both producers—do you feel like you were prepared? Did you kind of go into it blindly? And kind of how has that changed over time? So, Danielle, maybe you start.
DANIELLE: Sure, so, I know that I can definitely speak to that, because I went in blind with my current position. So like I said, my previous market was in Colorado Springs, and when I accepted my current position here in Las Vegas, I was offered a higher salary. And so to me, I was just like, “Ooh that’s a lot more money! Wow, I can do a whole lot more, yay me!” And I think that maybe within a year I realized, “you were really lowballed.” And I learned that when I was at NABJ actually.
WHITFIELD: And that’s the journalism convention that so many Black journalists attend.
DANIELLE: Mhm, I learned that there, and I was talking with you know other reporters, other news directors, some producers, and they were explaining, “yeah, you were ripped off going into your new position. What I have learned three years here is to definitely do research, learn what you should be making, definitely always go higher than what you are negotiated, and really talk about your past experiences.
Being a journalist is really, it’s a selfless career, and I think if you really love it, you understand that, so you’re not worried about the financial aspect, but you still want to be paid in a way that shows you are appreciated and valued at the station. So, I learned that there were other producers at my station where they’re being paid way higher than me with not near the experience that I have. I’m one of the oldest producers at my station. We have a lot of—I think there’s only two—three of us producing in our thirties. The rest are in their twenties. And all of our salaries are different. So, it’s very frustrating. But I’ve just learned and accepted it’s a learning experience.
WHITFIELD: What about you, LaShawn?
LASHAWN: Well, my experience has been a little bit different, and I say different because when I started my career in journalism, I was in a trainee program. And so, I remember having a conversation with my news director when he told me how much I would be paid, and I was like, “Well, can you guys do more?” and he was like, “Well, because it’s a trainee program, we really can’t do anymore.” But I do remember he did include a move-in stipend with that. So with the trainee amount I was being paid, I was granted a move-in stipend, which helped me out when I actually relocated to Michigan. So that was one of the experiences I had. And also, two, they were really helpful with me, finding my apartment and different things they did to help balance it all out. Because I was moving across the country, I didn’t know anyone and like, they really kind of assisted me with that process.
So, my next position after that, I went to my news director, who was great in terms of that she was a woman. So, I remember negotiating my salary with her, and she just, I remember her saying, “OK, we will pay you that, but you’re going to have to do great work.”
WHITFIELD: So you did take the lead in that.
WHITFIELD: Well, what’s interesting about what you said earlier is that in my research, particularly about media industry, it was actually concluded that in many cases, for example like the Los Angeles Times, there are a lot of training programs for diversity—which are good opportunities, because it gets people in the door and they do get those jobs many times—but, because they started at a lower rate, by the time they actually get on staff—this, you know, research found that they were already starting at a disadvantage. So, if you’re in a training program, and it paid $15,000 or $20,000 less than the average staffer, so by the time you’re actually coming on board, you’re actually getting a raise, but it’s still $15,000, $10,000 less than somebody who just would have applied directly. But a lot of people feel as a person of color, many times that they have to enter into the newsroom through a diversity program. And these programs are not unique to the media; they often exist in other industries. So that’s kind of a double-edged sword. Because on one end, you may not have gotten a job at all, but many times, they’re able to offer you less, because you kind of came in on a lower rate. So, pretty interesting.
But one thing I want to add is, one study by the American Psychological Association—and this was touted as the first study of its kind to look at this empirically. It concluded that African American job candidates are more likely to receive lower salaries in hiring negotiations when racially biased evaluators believe they have negotiated too much. In fact, lead author, who was Dr. Morela Hernandez from the University of Virginia said, “Racially biased people often believe negative stereotypes that characterize African American job seekers as less qualified or motivated than white applicants,” and that “those stereotypes can have huge repercussions for African Americans who choose to negotiate.”
So my question to both of you is, and I’ll start with Danielle, do you feel that any effort to negotiate was received negatively? Or did you have a different experience?
DANIELLE: I had a different experience, because I honestly didn’t negotiate, because I was just happy with a bump in salary. But I really wasn’t thinking smartly about how I was really moving up in my career. I would say that in my own personal experience I haven’t felt in any way that I was being personally devalued in negotiations, and I don’t know if any of my other coworkers have felt that, also. I think it’s just mainly left up to the person itself to really go in and fight for that value that they want.
WHITFIELD: Now LaShawn, you mentioned that for your current position, you did not negotiate. Can you elaborate a little bit briefly on why you didn’t this time?
LASHAWN; Each time that I advance in my career, I was actually paid more, also because I was moving up markets, I was jumping markets. And I also negotiated a lot of those. But when I got to this particular market I did not negotiate. And one of the reasons I didn’t was because it was a really difficult year-and-a-half when I was looking for a job. And I can’t even tell you how many interviews I went on, how many times I was a top-two candidate, and I did not walk away with the opportunity. And so, when I got this opportunity, I just said yes because I was exhausted. I was exhausted from just going on so many interviews, and applying for all these jobs and doing so many writing tests,and all these different things. And so when they told me yes, I was like, this was a relief—
WHITFIELD: “When can I start?”
LASHAWN: Yeah, “When can I start, because this is a relief.” And also, too, not even that they told me yes, because I was actually working for something totally different. My background was majority in television, and so now I work in radio. And so, it was lot of things I was going to have to learn in my new role, and looking back I don’t think I—I don’t know if I made the wrong choice—I mean, did actually Google on Glassdoor and looked at, you know, what’s the average salary of a producer. And so when they offered it to me, it was right in the ballpark.
WHITFIELD: So Danielle, you are potentially in the market. I know things are very different now in light of our lives post-coronavirus, or I should say amid coronavirus. So, what do you think you are going to do differently in your next negotiating?
DANIELLE: So, I actually got an agent. She works specifically with producers. I was thinking about moving up and where I wanted to go, and I knew it was going to be harder, because I want to go a little bit more niche in my producing career. So, that’s why I decided to get an agent. It’s taking the stress off a little bit, because she is knowing where to look and what stations are hiring despite the pandemic. And she’s helping me also realize that you definitely have to be open, like LaShawn was saying. Be open to how you can expand your career and you never know what new skill you could learn. So, I would say for the most part that’s what I’m doing differently, but definitely she is going to help with the whole negotiating process.
That also came with me just realizing my own skill that I need to learn of really going in there and talking up myself more and really understanding my own value as a producer. So, it’s kind of like you have a teacher along the way.
WHITFIELD: I would just say over the years, I had to learn that there were lot’s of opportunities, different things like, sometimes there is no room for more money—usually there is more money than is being initially offered. But even if that won’t work you can look into more vacation time; I’ve had companies pay my cell phone bill, and then of course there were different expenses and things that would be covered. I would also encourage people to fund efforts for career opportunities such as conferences and training programs and things like that, so I think that it’s something that we all should have a mentor, we should all talk to people that are ahead in the industry and get that advice.
In closing, I would like both of you to share your tips and advice. What do you think Black women need to know about negotiating? LaShawn?
LASHAWN: What I would say is just do your research. Become solid in your skills, and also know that basically, no job is going to be able to pay you your worth. I mean, you can’t put a dollar amount on your actual worth. You are in control of your own career, your own life, how much money you bring in, and you have to kind of take ownership in that. I read a book when I was unemployed called “God Is Always Hiring,” and that kind of changed my perspective on a lot of things. Also, too, I listen to a lot of motivational videos on YouTube and things like that, and I do a lot of reading about career readiness. And I think those are the things that, you know, I would tell anybody, any Black woman, any person that is looking to make more money and be paid their worth. Do your job to the best of your ability but also have a plan of what your long term goal is, and just keep continuing to work for that.
WHITFIELD: Mhm. Danielle?
DANIELLE: I think that as Black women, we need a lot of good people in our corner to really be a backbone for us when we really are struggling with a lot of issues within the workplace. And I also think it’s beneficial to you to get into a professional group of some sort. So, that’s really benefited me in my career, and I know that I always have, you know, certain people I can go to for certain things, or if I have questions, or if I’m frustrated about things. I also say, do a lot of research, pick up some great books. I’m definitely on the same page as what LaShawn was saying, and it’s really up to you to control what you want out of your life. If you’re not happy with something, then you have to go change it. Nobody else is going to do that for you.
WHITFIELD: So, thank you, Danielle and LaShawn, for joining me today. We hope that your experiences will educate and inspire more women tackling the negotiating process, so thanks much for sharing your stories.
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WHITFIELD: Now on In The Gap, we are honored to be joined by Valorie Burton. A life strategist, bestselling author and motivational speaker, who has appeared on countless programs sharing her advice. She is an international speaker on resilience and happiness, and the author of 12 books on personal development, including “It’s About Time,” “Successful Women Think Differently,” “Brave Enough to Succeed,” among others. She is also a mom, wife and entrepreneur and founder of the Coaching and Positive Psychology (CaPP) Institute. Welcome to the show, Valorie.
BURTON: Thanks for having me!
WHITFIELD: In light of the work that you do, tell me like, what comes to mind for you when you think about this issue of the gender pay gap, especially Black women?
BURTON: Well, I think the first thing that comes to mind is that there is an opportunity out there for us to set the goal of beginning to increase our net worth by not only asking for more, but finding those ways to effectively get what we are worth. I think this is a really important conversation to be able to have, but you know, it's not enough to just talk about the problem. We have to figure out how to solve it so that we can bring in more income for ourselves and for our families.
WHITFIELD: So, as I mentioned, a lot of the Black women that I have spoken to thus far for this podcast have just said—and I asked them in their stories—you know, did you negotiate? And many times they did say that they did not. They just took the first offer, and then some of them said that in all honesty, I don't know how to negotiate. This was not something that I was taught. This is not something that I feel that as a Black woman, I have been encouraged or socialized to do so. But it was really interesting to me that this study found that many Black candidates actually do attempt to negotiate, and it's perceived negatively. What are your thoughts on that?
BURTON: I would love to understand what the researchers found in terms of why it was perceived negatively, but I think there are a lot of cultural factors oftentimes that we have to deal with in terms of perception, how we communicate and how that can be received. And so my guess is that it sometimes can be tied to that, but I think it's important that we focus on what we can do instead of just being discouraged by it. One of the things I know is that women in general are less likely to ask, and if you look at that very first job that you get, the research actually shows over time, if you don't negotiate on that first job, it costs you hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of your career. Because if you're starting at lower pay, even if you're getting pay raises at the same percentage, if it starts out as a 10, $15,000 gap, those pay raises over time accumulate.
So I think just the awareness, if you don't know how to negotiate, then that's the opportunity. How do I learn how to negotiate? If there's a fear around asking for more, how do I overcome that fear? If it’s a communication issue, how do I improve the communication? I think it's so important to take control of what you can take control of and not only focus on the things that you might not have control of, which often has to do with other people's reactions, motivations and so forth.
WHITFIELD: Yeah, and it is like you said, it can be pretty daunting. You're absolutely right about the fact that it seems to be a snowball effect, where that first job, you accept a lower pay and then yes, you get a raise for the next job or even for the next promotion, but because it was thousands less than you probably should have received, then you never quite catch up.
BURTON: And even if you're changing to a new company, if you're negotiating from where you were at your old company, as opposed to perhaps the skill level and the value that you're bringing to the table, then you may be starting off with much lower expectations or perceptions of what your value is in the marketplace. So a lot of times it's about really understanding what is that value and what's required to get to that value. I know for my first job, I didn't even think to negotiate. I was 22. They told me what the salary was. I was like, I've been looking for a job for a while. I'll take it. [Laughs]
But then I realized it wasn't enough. In fact, I can even tell you the story, Chandra. My first job offer—and this is crazy when I think about it—my first job offer was with a minor league sports league—I won't say which one it was. I wanted to go into sports PR. I got a job offer. The pay was so low ’cuz sports PR is notoriously low, especially when you're just starting out, trying to get in. But rather than tell them, I can only, I could take this, but we've got to get to this number, rather than doing that, I just didn't take the job offer.
BURTON: I didn't even understand that I could go back and say, OK, I would love to have this job, but I can't do X. And as ridiculous as that sounds, that was how I handled it. And I didn't ask anybody for help. I didn't figure it out. I just was like, well, I guess that one's not going to work. I'm going to keep looking. And sometimes it's that we just don’t, we don’t know how it really works. And I'm sure even if I had gone to my parents, especially my dad, he would’ve said, well, here's what you ought to do. But, you know, I grew up in a military family. My mother retired from the Army and Air Force Exchange Service. They weren't negotiating salaries. Those salaries from the government are set. So I just never was around the conversation of negotiating. And I was so young and naive, I didn't even know to ask. I just came up with my own solution, which wasn't much of a solution.
WHITFIELD: Well, you know, your story is actually bringing up some memories for me. I do recall accepting my first job offer, you know, just trying to figure out how to make it work. Now, I know one thing that helped me was that I was living in a very cheap city. And so I used that to my advantage because I had to get a car and apartment and things like that, but—
BURTON: That was mine too, and my parents, like, I remember, ’cuz I added up after taxes, what am I going to bring, OK, what's the cost going to be from my apartment in this city, et cetera, et cetera. I remember my parents were like, OK, one of them was going to pay my student loan and the other one was going to pay my car insurance. And I was like, I did not finish a master's degree so that my parents are still paying my car insurance and paying my student loans. This is not going to work. And if there are any emergencies, there is no cushion here. Like my grocery is going to have to be really set, nothing can happen to the car—
WHITFIELD: Every day, ramen noodles. [Laughs]
BURTON: And I was like, what did I work so hard for? But if I had come back and said, I need to get to this number, I don't know if they would have said, “OK, we can do that,” or “We can't do that, but we can do this.” I didn't even ask. And here's the thing. It doesn't matter if they had been offended or not, because I didn't take the job anyway. So there would have been no harm in asking if there was wiggle room. But I didn’t ask.
WHITFIELD: Exactly, yeah. Well, I know in my case, I did take the first job, but my second job, I actually took a pay cut from the other lower-paying job—
BURTON: Oh my gosh.
WHITFIELD: To actually get into television, believe it or not. I had decided that I wanted to be in broadcast instead of print. I just mapped up this crazy plan about how I was going to pick up these odd jobs. I'm like, OK, so it sounds like a bad movie, like, producer by day and blah, blah, blah by night.
And so one of the craziest things I did—and I still laugh about this —is I took, I saw an ad for delivering phone books. [Laughs] This is one of my crazy stories. Like when they always say, what's the craziest job you ever took? So I don't know why I thought as, you know, I don't know, a 110-pound lady by myself, I could somehow carry stacks and stacks of phone books, but I did. And when I went to the warehouse to pick them up, I noticed that this was normally a family type thing, where they were like children or other people collectively doing this. So it was pretty hilarious trying to see me carry phone books. And this was my idea, like you said, I didn't just say, no, I can't accept this rate, I have to make more money. I come up with this harebrained idea.
But conversely, two jobs after that, I actually had received an offer, and at this point I believe I owned a home, so maybe I was a little more aware of the needs of being an adult. And I saw them and said, I'm sorry, I can't, I literally cannot live off of that. So what they did—this was sort of my foray into negotiating—is they started throwing in other things. So for example, for that particular position, we had parking fees, ’cuz it was downtown, and they said, Oh, we'll pay your parking. I'm like, great. And they agreed to pay my parking for a while. So it was a way of, we can only give you this much money, but that also saved money because I would have had to pay for that. So I think I kind of learned, in a roundabout way, how to negotiate. So what is the beginning? Like what are the first steps that you just really need to start in the process of preparing yourself to negotiate?
BURTON: First of all, giving yourself permission to negotiate. Recognizing that everything is negotiable. Just because something is presented does not mean that that's the last offer. In fact, it is the starting point. And so when we look at things in that way, we begin to see that there are other possibilities.
But I think even before that, as women in particular, and as African American women, it's important to step back and see what your fears are around why you have not negotiated in the past, around why you may not even feel the right to negotiate. It's often around our sense of value and worth. So I made a conscious decision. In my early thirties, I was tired. I was tired of recognizing that I was often doing better work than others, and I was being paid less for the same work.
And so by that time I had started out in marketing and PR for an accounting firm, then I launched my own PR firm and then I discovered my calling, my mission, which is what I do now. And I discovered that at 26. So I wrote my first book at that point and then got a book deal after I had self published the book. And so I had taken that entrepreneurial leap, and I was speaking and I was writing books and I began coaching. And I think I had kind of mystified the idea of why people might make more money than I did doing the same thing. And I decided to quit that. I was like, OK, so what are they doing that is earning them more money? And I realized, oftentimes, they weren't doing something more or better—they set their rates higher. They decided this is what I am going to earn, and they went after it.
And so I made a study of it. I realized that not only was my lack of negotiating and my sense of value something I needed to work on, but all of it was emotional. I was even an emotional spender. So I was making a decision. I made a conscious decision to decide, here's what I want now, what does it take to get here? And I actually remember, this was 15 years ago. I remember coming into 2006, I was on vacation around the holidays and I had a number that I wanted to make. And I kept that number in front of me. Here's what I want to make as a speaker. Here's what I want to be making annually. And then I backed into that like, OK, so what is that going to require? And are there some new skills I need to develop? Are there some new ways of showing up that I need to develop so that I'm perceived in a way that people see that value?
So it was a conscious study and decision that I made. And oftentimes I realized that I was not feeling worthy, and I actually did the emotional work. One of the things as I did that, that I realized like, what was this feeling I had? I had a feeling deep down that I was not at a certain level. And I was like, what is that from us? I was scratching my head. And I started to journal about it. And as I traced the steps back and I talked about this in one of my books around confidence called, “Why Not You?” And I realized that growing up, my parents had made a conscious effort when we moved to Denver to move to an area that was one of the top public school districts in the country at the time. And so I was in an upper-middle class area, and we lived in a great neighborhood and my parents separated and then later divorced.
And I realized there were a lot of people around me who had a lot more. Now, if I had been in another area, I don't think I would have felt this at all, but I had an internal something going on that made me feel as though I didn't have as much value. And I didn't even realize that was in me. So it was a conscious choice for me to say, that's not true. What is true? Like I had to replace my thoughts in order to have enough courage to begin expecting more and asking for more and showing up in a different way. So it's different for everybody. But I realized for me, there was an emotional component that I had to overcome.
WHITFIELD: Now, how do you suggest, I mean, you shared your process, and thanks for doing that. How do you, you know, for a person who's completely unaware of the feelings that they have about themselves, and I do want to say that, yes, we do have personal feelings about ourselves, but we also, one thing that we've covered in this podcast is that this is a societal issue about the thoughts and perspectives about the value or lack thereof of Black women. It's bigger than an individual because when you really look around society, the clues are clear that Black women are not valued. There's issues with beauty and believing that Black women are this sort of stereotype, this caricature and all those types of things. So even if you do have somewhat of a healthy upbringing of self-awareness, there are a lot of messages out there that's telling you, “Nope, you're not beautiful. Nope, you're not that smart. Nope, you're not this.”
So how do you suggest someone who's really not aware of how they've internalized these issues to begin that process that you went on?
BURTON: To recognize that there may be some things that you're not aware of and be willing to ask yourself those questions. For example, and this is self coaching, you know, I'm a coach, so I think powerful questions and being honest in your answers can create breakthroughs.
So what is the reason that you've been willing to accept less than your peers? And you can say, well, I didn't know I was. Well, what is the reason you didn't know what your job and your skills are worth? You know, what are you willing to do in the future so that you don't walk into a negotiation completely uninformed? Like, this is a part of the responsibility of being a professional and being able to negotiate well. So you may find, as you answer some of those questions that you don't even like some of the answers, but that's a great place to start because if you don't like the answer, then the question becomes, well, who do I want to be, or how do I want to change?
You may realize that, yeah, there are some societal issues and messaging that I have bought into that is self-sabotaging and it may be unfair, but you know, my parents always taught me, Valorie, this is not a level playing field. You know that typical speech you may get, as a young Black person, you need to be two or three times better. And so this is another area where we just have to be aware of what we're up against because it's not that you cannot overcome. It may take extra work. You may be frustrated that it takes extra work. But if you recognize what your goal and vision is, and then that extra work is necessary in order to get there, then you just go, it is what it is. I'd like to see the societal changes, but what am I going to do on the personal, individual level to maximize what's possible for me?
WHITFIELD: So what are some active things you can do to start that process of disconnecting yourself from the stereotypes and the negative imagery?
BURTON: Well, I think it's very important, first of all, to have some self-compassion—meaning don't beat yourself up if you're sitting here listening and going, Oh my goodness, I should be at this point or that point, or maybe I should have done X, Y or Z. You know, acknowledging how you've worked hard, looking at your past successes, also saying, where do I have room to grow and what am I willing to do about that? Refusing to step into anybody's box of what they have, of what you can or can't do or should or should not have. I think that's really, really important.
WHITFIELD: So now that you have your mind right—you've gotten that under control because obviously you have to have that as part of your process—what should you be doing to prepare for this job negotiation?
BURTON: So you don't need to do it in a vacuum. Who is doing what you want, earning what you want and what did they do differently that helped them to get there? I think that's a really important question, looking for those role models. And you might not always know a person personally, right? So don't become frustrated because you can't have that one-on-one conversation. But there's a lot to observation, to reading and to asking questions when you have the opportunity.
So let's say you are, you know, you encounter someone and you can tell, like, I think this person is doing a great job of being able to get ahead and not ending up falling into this pay gap in the same way I've seen others. Have your questions ready. What do you think I should be doing as an African American woman in particular, to make sure that I'm earning what I'm worth or that I'm getting opportunities that I don't often see people who look like me getting? And then just listen. Take notes. Seeking out interviews, books—I mean, I really believe in having those role models and not trying to reinvent the wheel because there are women who are doing it.
WHITFIELD: So now that you have done this and now you actually have a very specific position, interviewed, you've done all that. What should you do once you've identified that specific opportunity that you are trying to get?
BURTON: This is true with any negotiation. I know that, you know, we're talking about a pay gap, but we also know, even when Black women go to purchase cars, we as a group get the worst deal of any group when it comes to race and gender. So it's important, first of all, you want to try to get the other side to speak first, right? What is their offer? Because if you have a tendency to undervalue yourself, what you come up with and what comes out of your mouth first may be lower than what would have come out of their mouth first. So when at all possible, you are wanting to get the other side to talk first.
And then not being afraid to ask, and I think having some sort of a script. Oftentimes what gets us stuck is not knowing what to say and being awkward and uncomfortable with asking. You know, women tend to be socialized more, to be polite and so forth, and so having that script. And I kind of said this before, but just saying, you know, is there any room, or can we get to this? Just having your phrases that feel comfortable for you. “I was hoping for” is another. I mean, again, you're saying the same thing, but it's a little bit more gentle, which for a lot of women will make them feel more comfortable.
So I think this is really, really important to have the words and to talk those through and to maybe even practice what those words are. But know what you're looking for. Know what the range is, know what the position is worth, know what you need to bring to the table in order to be worthy of that in that position. So that means doing some homework and being very specific. You're not going into it going, I don't know what the number is I'm looking for. You're knowing exactly what it is you're looking for because it becomes easier then to negotiate. You should know what you will not accept, and you should know the range of what you will accept. When you're negotiating, you're looking at benefits, not just salary, right?
You're looking at vacation time, sick time, the ability to work remotely. What are some of the other bits of flexibility that might be meaningful to you? It might be time of day or how you're able to work within your team. So what would make your life better and easier? What would make this a more dreamy opportunity for you, so that even if they don't have the exact dollar amount, there might be some other things that hold a lot of value for you that you could ask for that they would feel good about being able to give. But if you don't come to the table already knowing what some of those things are, it makes it harder for you to be able to negotiate.
WHITFIELD: You and I are both parents and working moms. For me, flexibility and time with my family became way more important. So, you know, I think that we have to expand our idea of negotiating. Like you mentioned, to work remotely, that's golden. Now, of course, as you mentioned in 2020, a lot of places that just felt that was impossible, suddenly realized it is possible.
BURTON: Yep. [Laughs]
WHITFIELD: So it definitely changes as your life changes. And I think that what helped me was I've even had employers pay my cell phone bill. So even though they didn't necessarily give me money, that was money in my pocket that I didn't have to pay for.
WHITFIELD: And there are so many types of jobs, and for this podcast, we're really kind of open in a sense of, we're going from the service industry to corporate, as far as the types of women that we want to reach. But where do you suggest, what resources are out there to kind of research what this type of position usually pays?
BURTON: I would start on Google. [Laughs] I would start with just doing a search, and there are lots of, any of the career websites, anywhere where you might be posting for a job. Oftentimes, they're going to have some info on salary. So, you know, putting in what the position is and “salary” after the word. And then also, who do you know in that industry? Ask them. If you don't directly know people in that industry, who do you know that might know some people in that industry? Ask them if you can, you know, can you have anybody you might suggest I reach out to? I've got some questions about what the salary range is for this type of a position.
And you'll be surprised if you start reaching out to your connections, how many people you know who know others who might be able to answer some of those questions. So communication is critical. And I find that a lot of times we will do things in a vacuum and not reach out and ask for help or see asking for help as weakness as opposed to seeing it as strength, because, you know, when we talk about how we are socialized as African American women, you know, being the strong Black woman—
WHITFIELD: You took the words right out of my mouth.
BURTON: Yeah, and if you believe that you need to know all of the answers, that can be a real hindrance. That's a mindset that you want to get out of. You don't have to know all of the answers, but you do need to know the right questions.
WHITFIELD: What's funny to me is that I feel like those stereotypes and those fears actually feed right into the gender pay gap because if you're scared to discuss your salary because of what other people would think, or you're scared to ask for help, that actually feeds right into the employer's game of keeping you in the dark. And you may not even realize what you're doing because you're trying to do this alone.
WHITFIELD: I kind of feel like it feeds right into you not getting what you deserve because, you know, I feel like the gender pay gap is the perfect crime, because let's just be honest, and this is not a racial thing whatsoever, but people do not discuss how much they make. And that's how a lot of these situations happen because people don't discuss it, so you don't know that you're actually being undercut and they like to keep it that way.
BURTON: On top of that, we know that for many of the people of color coming into the workplace, they may be less likely to have parents who've already been in that professional environment. They may be the first who came out of college, and they may have less of that information, of people saying, OK, when you finish that job interview, let me tell you what you need to do when they come back and make you the offer. Let me tell you what you need to say. Let me tell you what you need to expect.
So it isn't simply being African American or being a woman. Oftentimes it is the dynamics and the connections that are more likely to be around us or less likely to be around us. So I think there's a socioeconomic issue here as well that you might find if you just looked at people of the same socioeconomic background who are Black and white, you may find more similarities than someone who perhaps doesn't have that same safety net and those same connections around them. And so we're more likely to be in a lower socioeconomic group, and so we've got more of these challenges that come up. And over time, I think we'll see some of that begin to change, but we need to be, we really do have to be aware of it and be willing to ask and to see asking as a strength. It means you are being curious, that you are trying to learn, you're recognizing the gaps in knowledge and you're even recognizing, you know, some of the inconsistencies and inequalities that exist. Be very intentional about trying to close those gaps as well.
I think it's extremely important to look for the opportunity and to recognize that there are people who will help you. And in fact, when I talk about this whole idea of knowing what you're worth, I'll never forget, in 2009, I was asked to be a keynote at the National Speakers Association, quite an honor. I mean, you have to earn a certain amount as a professional speaker to even be a member, but then to be asked to do the keynote was a big deal to me, and a little nerve-wracking to speak to 1,500 professional speakers. [Laughs]
WHITFIELD: I can only imagine.
BURTON: But I remember coming off the stage and there were two people I met at that convention, and both of them had run speakers bureaus. Both of them were white. And they were asking me, like, what I was charging for a keynote and so forth. One was a woman. One was a man. And both of them told me the same thing of what they thought I should be charging, and it was almost double what I was charging. And I kept questioning them like, are you sure? And they started reading back to me my credentials and qualifications that justified why I should make that much.
So I left the convention and I was like, OK, two different people who have run speakers bureaus, which means they work with a lot of clients, have said what I should make. A few days later I got a call, and the person's asking, what do you charge now? I felt very nervous about saying it. In fact, I was too scared to give the number that both of these people had told me. So instead of making a 100 percent increase, I just made a 50 percent increase. And the decision maker did not bat an eye.
BURTON: And that's when I realized, oh, it took me about a year before I started quoting the number I was given. And I have never looked back. There is hope, and we are doing better than we ever have. We have a ways to go, but we are not alone in this, and we have to see that.
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WHITFIELD: Again, special, thanks to LaShawn and Danielle for joining us earlier and sharing their experiences. And of course, we have to thank Valorie Burton for imparting her words of wisdom and advice and tips.
The In The Gap podcast is hosted and produced by me, journalist Chandra Thomas Whitfield. This episode was edited by House of Pod. You're listening to “Convoy Lines” by Blue Dot Sessions. In The Gap was created with the support of the Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting and In These Times magazine, which has been covering issues of equity and social justice since 1976. To learn more about In The Gap and the pay gap for Black women, go to www.inthesetimes.com/inthegap.
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