Asking for What You're Worth

Nikki Moore 3x5 sRGB
Nikki Moore

By Nikki Moore (Guest blogger)

I have been perpetually underpaid.

Nationally, women earn $.78 cents to a man’s dollar. While I don’t know that this act tells the whole story, I do know you must demand the pay your worth.

I graduated college in 2008, on the frontline of the Great Recession. Finishing law school four years later, the situation wasn’t much better. After over a year of job searching and hopping, I landed the kind of gig you go to school for.

As the firm’s first, founding associate, I helped open the doors to our downtown, high-rise office with a Capitol view. But because we were essentially a start-up, and I was desperate for the job, I was too timid to negotiate my starting salary.

Big mistake.

Soon after I started, I learned that a fella across the street, with less experience than I, working for a start-up law firm, was making at least $30,000 more than me.

I felt shorted, used and angry. So I started talking.

I spent the next year making my case to get a raise. Sometimes, I was more subtle than others. I got my co-workers to compare salaries. I asked everyone I met how much they were making, and reported it to my bosses. I made jokes over drinks with the partners to “show me the money.” And I wrote an eight-page magazine article outlining the severe impact that law school student loan debt was having on young lawyers, whose salaries no longer justified the cost of their degrees.

When bonus season came around, my efforts paid dividends. In all, my compensation (including retirement contributions) nudged my pay into the six-figures. I no longer felt less valued than my friend across the street. While I was pleased with my progress up the salary stairs, I still felt unsatisfied: I was sacrificing my weekends for this job, and the subject matter was uninspiring.

Then I got a call from an old boss. He made the job offer I waited the last three years for—at my law firm starting salary.

This time, I didn’t wait to negotiate.

I met with my now employers, explained the significant pay cut I would take to make the transition, and told them to give me their best offer. They bumped up the offer by $5,000.

Then, I had to break the news to my firm family. They were bummed and tried to convince me not to go. A few days after I broke the news, my boss offered to double my salary if I stayed put. This was a total victory—I’m talking, pre-recession, big law salary. But I couldn’t take it, and my heart wasn’t in the work. I needed to follow my passion.

I learned a few things from the experience: Value yourself and demand your worth, no one else will do it for you. Start the conversation, be honest about your expectations, and don’t be afraid to make people uncomfortable. Women need to be just as confident as men in demanding their worth. Ultimately, though, money is not everything, and it shouldn’t win out over a job that you wake up excited to go to each day.

Compared to myself last year, I’m making about $.70 on the dollar. And I feel great about it.

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1 Comment

  1. Layla says

    Great story thanks for sharing.
    In the last couple of roles that I’ve had, my bosses would praise “You are amazing. You do the work of 3-4 other people”. It wasn’t until the second time I had that comment (in my second job) when I realise that that reason why they were saying that was that I was being underpaid and overcontributing (ie doing the work equivalent to 3-4 other people).

    So I quit (that and a lot of other reasons).

    When I began looking for work one of the recruiters accidentally included the going rate they have in mind for a position that they said I was ‘overqualified’ for – which was up to $50,000 above my previous salary band.

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