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Work & Money

How To Get Paid Like A White Dude

For starters, keep a log of your Black Girl Magic at work.

Tamara E. Holmes

A girlfriend recently found out that the man who replaced her when she left her last job made $25,000 more than she did. What’s more, there was something she could have done to increase her pay, but she didn’t realize it at the time. “A Black woman HR exec was leaving for a new position,” my friend confided. “I didn’t know her well. We were in the pantry getting coffee and she said, ‘Come visit me in my office before my last day.’ I was busy, I was introverted, and I didn’t do it. Much later in hindsight I know she was trying to hip me to the fact that I was underpaid.”

Think your salary increase is a lock due to the good economy? Don’t book that baecation just yet. Women of color are 19 percent less likely than white men to get a raise when we ask for it, says a PayScale study released this summer. That’s gotta change. I asked sisters who know their way around corporate America to have our backs. Here’s how to break out of your comfort zone, prove your worth and come away with the paycheck you deserve.

Go after what you want. The good news is that women are just as likely to ask for a raise as men. The bad news — only 37 percent of employees actually ask! TV mogul Shonda Rhimes shared some advice she gave Grey’s Anatomy star Ellen Pompeo that helped Pompeo become the highest-paid actress in prime time. Rhimes told her: “Decide what you think you’re worth and then ask for what you think you’re worth. Nobody’s just going to give it to you.”  

The other bad news – we don’t make as much. August 7th is Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, named so by women’s empowerment organization LeanIn.org because Black women had to work until that date in 2018 to make what White men made in 2017, alone. Yes, the sad truth is we make 38 percent less than White men and 21 percent less than White women.

Plant the seeds. To take Shonda’s advice, you need a plan. Black women know what it is to carry the world — and the workplace — on our shoulders. But don’t wait until your annual review to let your manager know that, says Kym A. Harris , president of Your SweetSpot Coaching and Consulting and author of From Life to Lessons: Living and Leading With Emotional Intelligence. Casually mention your accomplishments in everyday conversations. “When you’re ready to ask for a raise, people won’t be hearing about your contributions for the first time.”

Know your worth. “Some people will say, ‘I want to make $85,000 dollars a year,’ but they have no idea what that number is based on,” says Deborah T. Owens , founder of Corporate Alley Cat, an online membership site that offers career guidance to people of color. Websites such as PayScale.com, Glassdoor.com and LinkedIn can tell you the average salary range for your position.

Work your networks. Leverage whisper networks — informal groups who get together and share private career information. This isn’t the time to pretend you’re balling. Instead, get real about your salary. Hollywood women anonymous Google spreadsheets to record salary information so everyone could see who was underpaid. Data by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research shows that white and Asian women make more than we do. By forging cross-cultural alliances, we can uplift each other, the way Jessica Chastain did for Octavia Spencer. “We have to stop being so secretive about how much we’re making,” says Owens.

Prep your presentation. Role-play the conversation. Then schedule time to talk to your manager. Be clear about how you added value to the organization and impacted the brand. While working for a government contractor, Chantay Bridges, 41, kept a written log of every action she took to contribute to her company’s success. When asked to rate her job performance, “I gave myself a raving review and, at the same time, presented my long list and asked for a raise,” she says. Bridges got a 10 percent hike.

Point out pay gaps. “You might say, ‘I’ve looked at three different research salary sites and they consistently indicate this range for my role,’” Harris says. That’s how Melody Simmons-Hudson, 39, director of the documentary Invisible Women: Being a Black Woman in Corporate America , negotiated her first six-figure salary in accounting finance. “I said, ‘This is what I know the job pays, here are my skills, here are my qualifications, and this is what I know I would bring to the table,’” she says.

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