Two weeks ago, I quit my job after discovering that my male employee made the same salary as me. Yes, me, his boss; the woman who had been at the company four times longer and had double the amount of industry experience was being paid almost exactly the same amount as a guy who had barely been at the company for six months. When I complained, I was shut down and humiliated. So I quit. And in the process, I learned something I couldn’t have discovered any other way: It is possible to be paid what you’re worth. You just have to stop settling.
Leaving my job wasn’t easy. I work in marketing. Starting out in this field is tough, and most people work for companies they don’t necessarily like, which is why I was so excited when they hired me almost five years ago. It was a cool place to work: one that that churned out creative products, and enriched the lives of their employees and consumers alike; or so I thought.
I liked working hard. I was one of the most successful employees in my department. I started with an entry-level gig, but after four years of late nights, long commutes, and about 100,000 PowerPoint presentations, I finally worked my way up the ladder and began managing my own team — an all-female powerhouse that consistently crushed our competitors. I had been given modest raises before as I moved up the ranks, but never stopped to consider if my salary was fair or not; I just always assumed that the company would take care of its employees, and I wouldn’t need to worry. Now I know that was naïve.
As my team’s success grew, I had the opportunity to bring more talent onboard. One afternoon, I pulled aside a hardworking young guy — let’s call him Ryan — and asked if he’d make the lateral move onto my expanding team. He gladly accepted. But when I opened his employee file and came across his salary, I felt my stomach flip. It was the same as mine — and 25 percent more than the women on the team, despite having the exact same job title and responsibilities as them. I figured it must be a mistake. This was a massive corporation with a big HR department; plus, our executive leader was a woman. She must know better, right? A company this big wouldn’t let this type of blatant sexism occur right under their noses, would they?
I decided I’d address the issue the next day. That night, I did some research and found out that someone with my experience, education, and job title should be making a minimum of 28 percent more than my current salary. I jotted some quick data points and frazzled notes on my multicolored note cards and asked for a meeting with the executive in charge of my department.
When we met, I sat across from her in a cold, bare conference room and began to talk. After I’d finished, she sat back in her chair and sighed. “In regards to the women on your team, just table that issue for now,” she said. “Nothing’s going to change there. I might be able to do something for you …but I’m going to need you to create a presentation about the value you bring to the company, and how much you’re going to grow our revenue this year, you know, so it’s an easier sell.”
A presentation? Was she serious? I was appalled. Had I not proved my worth in the four years I’d spent working harder than everyone else? Had I not proved my worth by having the most successful team in that department? I stopped listening after that. She had demeaned me, and entirely dismissed my complaints about the women on my team. Don’t get me wrong, I am fully supportive of Ryan making as much money as he can; I wish the best for all of my employees, and firmly believe everyone should have the opportunity to hustle — but Ryan didn’t have to make a presentation about his value in order to be paid 25 percent more than his female counterparts; he just had to show up. And I know that if Ryan knew this was happening, he would feel embarrassed and angry. But at the end of the day, this is not about Ryan, this is about what Ryan represents. And this is about how our executive leadership placed a higher value on a man over the women on his team, despite the fact that his credentials did not compare.
I didn’t expect that my boss would be able to wave a magic wand and make everything better overnight. I knew that there were budgets and red tape and all kinds of expectation management to deal with, but I guess I assumed that we would combat those things together. Women supporting women to make equal pay or something. But that was a fantasy.
I walked out of that conference room angry as hell. I had had bad days at work before — like spending countless hours working on projects that got canceled at the last minute, or having vehement disagreements with other teams. But this was different. I knew I couldn’t just forget it. I couldn’t continue working as if nothing had happened. Something had happened.
That night, I updated my résumé; and by the next afternoon, I was already getting responses. I was excited to see my inbox swell with kind words and fancy promises of higher salaries and plentiful vacation days. But I also felt kind of sad that these offers were such a surprise to me. Had I really been working for so long without knowing my own worth?
A couple of weeks after my meeting with my boss, I accepted a very attractive offer from an industry-leading brand. I was fully prepared for a long negotiation on compensation (now that I knew what to ask for), but to my delight, their offer exceeded even my highest planned ask. When that offer came in, my first thought went to how naïve I had been about my salary before. I vowed to never be that naïve again.
I’m sharing my story because I want women to learn from it: If you’re not getting what you deserve, you don’t have to stand for it. I also think women should talk about salaries more, and stop it being such a taboo subject at work. The only ones who benefit from private, hush-hush salary talk are the employers. The more open employees are with each other about their compensation, the more it forces employers to play a fair game. If you uncover a wage gap, bring it up to your boss and HR. Let them know you feel discriminated against and will be taking this seriously. Don’t settle. Make noise. Be heard. And most importantly, know your worth.