Knowing Your Value

There is a Women’s Empowerment Network in my office that holds various events and offers a variety of forums for communication between women in my field. A while ago, someone posted a link to a book called Knowing Your Value on the group’s internal social media page and suggested that everyone should read it. So, I ordered a copy online and decided to finish it before we got to this year’s performance reviews, which are coming up in the next few weeks, so I could be more prepared to positively represent myself during the discussion.

The book focuses on the pay gap between men and women in the same job and, similarly to what I’ve heard about Cheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, suggests that part of the reason women don’t get paid as well is because they are less likely to ask for raises. And when they do ask, they ask poorly and are less likely to succeed than men who ask the same thing.

It was an interesting read, and I think it had a lot of good points. It talked about how women often attribute their status and success to luck, whereas men often attribute it to their own hard work or skill. As a result, women feel lucky just to have the opportunities they have and don’t feel like they deserve a raise. Men, on the other hand, feel their accomplishments should be rewarded and therefore are more likely to ask for more money.

This was a particularly relevant topic for me since just last week, before I started the book, I talked to my manager about wanting to do more work because right now I don’t feel like I’m earning my salary. After a joke about being willing to pay me less he assured me that I am earning my pay, but, the point still stands; I do feel lucky to be where I am and I don’t feel like I deserve a raise. It’s unclear whether these things are actually true or if a man in my position would feel differently, but it’s an interesting thing to think about.

The book also talked about the differences in how men and women ask for raises. Many of the business people the author interviewed said that a significant portion of women begin conversations in which they plan to ask for a raise with an apology. And, they often open with something to the effect of “I understand if it isn’t possible….” On the other hand, men will typically go in and demand a raise. According to the book, men are prepared to leave the company if they don’t get what they ask for whereas women start the conversation by providing a reason for rejecting the request. One of these approaches is clearly more likely to succeed than the other. Knowing that I start many of my conversations (and nearly all of my questions) with an apology, this is definitely something I will have to remember in future attempts to try to advocate for myself.

However, it also talked about the pitfalls of just acting like a man. Women are often expected to be both successful and likable, much more so than men. So where a particular behavior may earn a female manager a reputation for being bossy, the exact same behavior from a male manager might result in a reputation for having good control over his employees. If a woman tries to ask for a raise in exactly the same way a man might, she may be viewed as demanding, rude, or even crazy. This presents an additional challenge in that women must be assertive, but also still “nice.”

Overall I think the book simplified the problem a bit, but it did provide a lot of really good advice for women to make sure that they are getting paid for the value that they are worth. And that’s something that I’m sure will be very useful for me in the years to come.

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