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- After 15 years in the corporate world, I can tell you that working hard has little to do with your success.
- I learned that lesson after a conversation with a coworker. I told her I'd been denied a promotion because my salary request was too high, and she said my request was perfectly reasonable.
- She shared how she typically asked for a raise and then, unbeknownst to me, campaigned on my behalf for a promotion. I sat down with my boss and ended up getting the higher position and a $5,000 raise.
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I'd like to believe that any success I've had in my career thus far was due to my hard work, ambition, and following the rules. But after nearly 15 years in various corporate environments, I can tell you with certainty that advancing in your career has little to do with being the hardest worker in the room. One job in particular provides a perfect example.
A career-altering conversation
Given the many high-scoring performance evaluations I'd received over the years, I naturally assumed that my efforts were appreciated by executive leadership and that I was well on my way to climbing the corporate ladder. That is, until I had a candid conversation with a coworker that completely changed my outlook and majorly impacted how I've approached every subsequent job since then.
As a young woman of color, it can be difficult to navigate the complexities of working in a corporate environment. No matter your education level, expertise, or natural ability, your success is often reliant upon the relationships you build within your organization.
Years ago, I had a conversation with a coworker who shared that she felt I deserved a promotion. I let her know that I had expressed interest in the higher role, but the discussion was shelved as management said they weren't sure they could meet my salary expectations.
Respectfully, she asked if I was comfortable sharing my expected pay range with her and when I did, she was floored. Not only did she feel that I was grossly underpaid in my current position, she was appalled that it had even been suggested that what I asked for was too high.
After thanking her for the talk, I remember feeling so defeated. Here I was, working like a madman hoping to climb up some imaginary ladder; meanwhile, others were performing minimally and bringing in significantly more than me. It was unfair. Aside from her whopping salary, my coworker also shared with me a practice that she used to help her negotiate her pay annually. I immediately knew that I needed to do the same.
Negotiating my pay
Shortly after having this discussion, I informed my boss that I'd like to have a meeting and we sat down in the office to talk. I came prepared, like my coworker suggested, complete with my list of notable accomplishments and began my campaign for a pay increase. I was well-spoken yet assertive, and once I was done, my boss thanked me for my presentation and said he completely agreed with me.
He shared how impressed he'd been with my work for a while and apologized for being wrapped up in other things; discussing a promotion with me had been on the table for quite some time. He also shared that he continuously heard great things about me and said to keep up the good work.
I later learned that the same coworker who became my ally had been on a campaign of her own; she'd sent a detailed email to our executive team highlighting my contributions and praising my efforts in support of helping me get the promotion. I left the meeting with an immediate $5,000 pay increase and we drafted plans to fully transition me into the promoted role within the next month. I was speechless.
The importance of allies
I had come prepared to argue my case and provide proof of my efforts as well as copies of compliments received from across the organization, and I was ready to threaten to leave if I wasn't going to be compensated fairly. But none of that was necessary — my coworker had already done most of the talking for me behind the scenes.
That's why allies are important. It doesn't always require that you perform some radical display of solidarity. By simply speaking up, you can unknowingly become a catalyst for change or make a major impact on the life of someone around you.
How was I supposed to confront the matter of wage disparity if I wasn't even aware it existed? How can you be prepared to negotiate your pay or refute low-ball offers if you aren't privy to where you compare against your peers? Who gets to decide which side of the wealth gap you sit on and what are the determining factors?
As we ask ourselves these questions and look to dismantle the systems designed to separate us all by color and class; it becomes crucial for us to look after one another and seek to level the playing field in the fight for equality. There is room within every organization for employees to be fairly and evenly compensated for the work that they do.
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