"Knowing the fair-market value of our contributions at work is a critically important piece of knowledge for today’s (and tomorrow’s) professional woman."
If you read and enjoyed Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, you will probably like Mika Brzezinski’s Knowing Your Value: Women, Money and Getting What You’re Worth. Both authors tackle topics of interest to working women and share their personal experiences and insights about the challenges of finding their way in corporate America in the 21st century.
I’ve always been fairly confident about my skills and expertise, and the value I bring to the workplace. Yet I have always struggled with the monetary side of the equation, especially the process of negotiating remuneration to match what I think I’m worth. According to Brzezinski and the many high profile women (and men) she interviewed, I’m not alone. And while my first reaction is to say that all professionals, both women and men, need to know the fair-market value of their contributions at work, Brzezinski convinces me that women are further behind in this regard compared to their male counterparts. I also discovered that not only do systemic factors conspire against me, I unknowingly conspire against myself!
Work Smarter Not Harder
"Women expect that if you do really well, someone will recognize your performance and will reward you accordingly."
Hands up if the above quote sounded like you. Ahhh, I see I’m in good company. When I reflect on the various positions I’ve held over the years, I can now appreciate how that assumption influenced some of the decisions I made and contributed to moments of feeling ‘let down’ by the organization or my boss.
Working to the best of one’s abilities is something we should all aspire to and is something managers should demand of every employee. However, assuming ‘The Powers that Be’ will sit up and take notice of your dedication and hard work, showering you with unsolicited praise and bonuses, is at best naïve and at worst downright crazy (yes, even at the top ranked companies to work for)! Which makes me, and possibly you, a naïve, crazy, under-compensated professional!
The ‘ah-ha’ moment here is not so much that managers need to change their behaviour (although that would certainly be helpful), it is that we, as employees, need to work smarter not harder. We must take responsibility for our careers and our pay cheques by drawing attention to the great work we are doing and demonstrating how it contributes to the success of the organization.
Build Your Business Case
"What makes a persuasive argument are solid facts and figures about what you’ve done and what other people, with the same skills and experience and accomplishments, are making for the same job."
It should go without saying, however say it I will – there’s a right way and a wrong way to negotiate for things. Brzezinski courageously shares the missteps she made and the lessons she learned from those experiences: stories of apologizing instead of pointing out important victories, of playing the ‘it’s not fair/reasonable’ card, and the cringe-inducing story where she adopted an aggressive alpha male negotiating stance that was neither authentic nor effective. Strategies that failed. Strategies that left her demoralized, despairing and self-recriminating. Strategies built on wishful thinking not thoughtful execution.
A more effective way to get what you want is by building a business case – assembling the facts and data that describe what you’ve done, how it benefited the organization, and how that compares with others doing similar things in your organization or industry. Think of it like an annual report card or resume. We use the quantification strategy to good effect when crafting our resumes yet forget to employ that tactic once we land that dream job!
I recently used this approach successfully when negotiating with a potential client. I contrasted what I could do for them with what other vendors typically offer – in terms of content, approach, time and costs. The client got a reasonably priced, fully customized workshop and I was fairly compensated for my time and expertise. Note to self: repeat this approach!
Build your business case! Buy a blank journal or create an electronic record and spend some time each week chronicling your achievements and contributions. Strive to quantify them and the value they generated for your company. Find and document industry comparators. Then when it’s time for your annual performance review or you decide to ask for a raise, you’ll have all the data you need at your fingertips!
No Excuses, No Apologies
"Because if you don’t demand what you are worth and if you don’t communicate it well, you won’t be treated fairly, and the relationship will ultimately die."
Another interesting observation made by Brzezinski and the women she interviewed was that women tend to be more ‘emotional’ in how they dealt with different business situations whereas men are more matter-of-fact. Women are more apt to value being liked, more likely to take things personally, more prone to accommodating others rather than insisting on being accommodated. Men typically adopt the stance – business is business, take it or leave it. It reminds me of Dragnet’s Sgt. Joe Friday and his “Just the facts, ma’am” mantra.
So my ‘No Excuses, No Apologies’ insight reminds me that I should not make excuses for why I am not receiving my due (it’s nobody’s fault save my own), nor apologize for asking to receive what I feel I am worth provided I have clearly communicated my business case. If I do my homework and can demonstrate the ‘win-win’ for myself and my client, I can more readily silence my tendency to personalize the negotiations and the outcomes. Business is business and successful businesses are built on strong relationships that are mutually rewarding and beneficial. I do not have the time or the energy to invest in propping up a weak relationship. Life is too short for that nonsense!
I selected this book not knowing who Mika Brzezinski is and unaware of the MSNBC show Morning Joe that she co-hosts. I selected it because the title called out to me. I was curious to learn if it was possible to make peace with the ongoing tug-of-war I experienced between what I thought my expertise was worth in the market and what I seemed able to command from previous employers and paying clients.
While the book wasn’t quite what I expected, it was an enjoyable read and I found myself nodding in agreement with many of the observations made by the highly successful women whose experiences Brzezinski shared throughout the book. And although I can’t say that I’ve fully vanquished my value vs. compensation conflict, I’m confident I can manage it better. I can and will be more deliberate at working smarter not harder, building solid business cases, and banishing excuses and apologies from my vocabulary!
Have you struggled to define your value and get paid what you’re worth? What advice can you share on how to negotiate compensation that reflects and values your expertise?