The Salary Chronicles was first published on Forbes.com
Welcome to The Salary Chronicles, where we’re bringing transparency to negotiation and salaries, one story at a time. We ask women to share their experiences negotiating their salary and what their advice is for others doing the same. We share these stories anonymously so they feel comfortable speaking as openly and as freely as possible.
This week we’re sharing the story of a woman who negotiated her raise, and then walked away when they couldn’t reach a solution.
Location: Charlotte, NC
Position & Industry: Investor Solutions Manager, Commercial Real Estate
What was the situation when you decided you needed to negotiate your salary?
I had been working for my company for over 3 years and always felt like I wasn’t earning enough. I took the position when we relocated for my husband’s job. At the time the commercial real estate job market was still sluggish, and I was so thankful to find something that I didn’t even think about negotiating, even though the salary seemed low.
For the next 3 years I received very modest raises, but took on a significant amount of additional responsibilities. As the company grew (from 12 to 35 employees), my position completely changed, but my compensation didn’t change with it. I was unhappy with the situation, but still didn’t speak up.
That all changed when I found out what two of my peers were making. I happened to see an employment contract from one of my co-workers that had been accidentally left at the printer. He had just been hired to the position a couple of months earlier and I was shocked to see he was making almost 40% more than I was. A few weeks later another co-worker was promoted to my level and as we were casually chatting, she mentioned her salary and it was also more than 20% higher than mine.
I was shocked that there was such a discrepancy in the compensation ranges and I was so angry that even though I had been there the longest amount of time I was making the least. Our annual review process was coming up and I decided that it was time to ask for the raise I knew I deserved.
What were you making: $65,000 + discretionary annual bonus
What did you ask for: $72,000 + bonus target of $70,000
How did you decide what to say and what to ask for?
My company discouraged co-workers from sharing salary details, so I couldn’t tell them that I knew what my peers were making. I decided to look outside my company and get a feel for what others in my industry were earning. I started looking at jobs and talking to acquaintances I knew at different companies. Across the board, my compensation was by far the lowest.
I took that information and also made a list of how my role had changed over the past 3 years. When I started looking at the additional responsibilities I had taken on, I was really upset that it had taken this long to ask for a raise. Armed with this research I laid out my speech to focus on the fact that my role had changed significantly but my salary hadn’t changed. I also made a list of my most significant accomplishments and how I’ve demonstrated my value to the company.
And I made sure to practice my speech about a thousand times with my husband so I wouldn’t leave anything out.
How did the conversation go?
I had prepped my supervisor to let him know that I specifically wanted to talk about compensation because I thought giving him a little warning would be a good idea.
That didn’t work as well as I thought it would.
When I walked into his office, he immediately went into what they could offer me. It was a small raise and nothing near what I was asking for. Once he was done, I immediately went into the speech I had rehearsed.
How did he react?
He was actually a little upset with me because I had never mentioned how unhappy I was with my salary. He was completely resistant to the increase I proposed, but told me he would talk it over with the CEO and get back to me.
What was the end result?
A week later he called me in for a follow up meeting. He told me that they just didn’t have the budget for an increase like this, but they could give me a modest increase with a chance to re-review mid way through the next year.
I probably would have accepted that offer and stayed on until the mid-year review, but the company had just increased the amount that I needed to travel and I would be traveling every week for the first 4 months of the year. I really couldn’t imagine taking on even more in my role and still being so underpaid.
I thanked him for his time, but let him know that if they couldn’t afford to pay me what I was asking for, they couldn’t afford me . I put in my notice and began looking for another job immediately.
He was really upset with my reaction and we unfortunately didn’t part on the best terms.
What advice do you have for other women?
Don’t take a position where you feel underpaid. That was my first mistake and it set the bar for what I would earn with the company.
Don’t wait 3 years to ask for what you deserve. If you’re taking on more responsibility, you deserve to be paid more.
Say what you think, be direct, and negotiate from day 1. Everything a man can earn and do, so can you.