Before you get angry and dismiss this post, let me just say I have good intentions.
And before you say I should be more supportive, kind and empathetic, let me explain my stance. It comes from both my professional work of helping women achieve their full potential and my personal experiences as a minority woman whose career path has been nothing less than a hard won fight.
All my life, I’ve seen women being put in boxes, being told how to behave and what to say in business situations. Although, as my surroundings never failed to remind me, the odds were against me, I’ve learned to find my voice and achieve my definition of success. What did it all come down to?I learned to ask.
With the increased awareness of the challenges women face in the workplace (i.e. unequal pay, limited career mobility, sexual harassment etc.), it is frustrating for me to see us talk a lot about these issues…but what tangible actions are we actually taking and what mechanisms are we taking to reverse the tide. And of course, I realize that we have made strides in our fight for equality, but we still have a long way to go.
Why aren’t we moving faster? According to workplace findings and social science research, the answer is painfully simple: Because we don’t ask.
In an earlier Forbes article, writer Shelly Zalis notes a key contributor to the wage : women are less likely than men to advocate for themselves at work. In fact, 31% of women say they’re uncomfortable negotiating their salary (compared to 23% of men). This can result in a huge difference in income over a lifetime. In a separate article, Zalis illustrates this scenario perfectly by noting,“Imagine two people are given a job offer of $50,000, which is close to the average for a new college graduate, one negotiates an initial $5,000 bump and a 5% raise every three years, but the other accepts the offer and a company-standard 1% pay increase each year without negotiating. After a 45-year career, the difference in their lifetime earnings is $1,062,739.19.” Which proves the point that small raises matter, and the conversation starts with women demanding what they feel they deserve.
We despise that men earn more than us, lament that few of us own or run major corporations, and feel upset about the small percentage of women currently sitting on the country’s most prestigious boards. In fact, Fortune recently reportedthat women make up only 5% of CEOs in the Fortune 500, down by 25% in 2018. The representation is now at an all-time low. We know the facts all too well, but we aren’t taking action on a personal level to bring solutions to life.
Sexism is a real issue affecting virtually all industries, but a little known, yet powerful, way women can fight it is to simply start asking for what they want.
Using Our Voices as the New Currency
I was fortunate enough to work with the Robert Kiyosaki, best selling author of Rich Dad Poor Dad, and I have to share that he is one of the most brilliant men I have ever met. One of Robert’s favorite phrases is, “Knowledge is the new currency”. In my work designing programs that promote women’s professional development, I’ve changed it to “using our voices as the new currency.”
There are several organizations doing incredible work in helping women speak up and speak out . Take the Female Quotient, an organization bringing women together at some of the most well-attended conferences and business gatherings in the world for networking and professional development. There is also Athena International,a 35-year-old non-profit that develops, supports, and honors business leaders as well as offering development programs to help women find their voices through leadership, mentoring, and self-confidence building activities. And the team at the Tory Burch Foundationhas launched some incredible programming designed to support and empower the female entrepreneur.
My hope is that programs like these continue to exist and expand for maximum impact. Women are built, think and learn differently than men. So female-centric programs that bear these in mind are essential to their advancement in the world. In fact, I launched our brand Elevate For Her, for just that reason. We offer professional development programs specifically designed for women and each program type has been selected based on areas where women traditionally have weaker skills so programs like strategic negotiations, confidence-building and empowerment, how to handle unconscious bias in the workplace, personal branding, and assertive leadership -are all part of our Elevated WLD program (Women’s Leadership Development).If you aren’t comfortable speaking up in the workplace and asking for what you want or need, consider investing in these programs.
It’s time to stop dwelling on the issues, and be more proactive about the solutions. Get out of your comfort zone, forget what you’ve been told (“you’ll look greedy”, “you don’t want to be too demanding” and the ultimate “ they’ll think you are bitchy”) and start putting in the work required to empower and elevate your mind, your outlook, and your soul.
Also, do not underestimate the power of our collective voices. When more women speak up and boldly ask for what they want, real change will happen. Let’s get to work!