Advocating at Work

What would you change at work and how would you do it? As young professionals in a very hostile job market it can be difficult to face work environments that don’t give us everything our generation expects. We’ve got a laundry list of things we want and probably should have:

  • Good benefits
  • Decent salary that keeps up with cost of living 
  • Flexible work hours 
  • Telecommuting opportunities 
  • Lots more! 
But we’re like houses in the current housing market – there are lots of us, meaning oodles of choices and good deals for the buyers (or employers in this case). 
But once you have a job and you’re settled into work you have a new opportunity to advocate for the things you want. Only, the gutsyness we were raised with seems to be steadily fading away. If you take an issue or suggestion to your employer and their response is ‘you’re lucky to be employed’, this isn’t very encouraging, and you might be unlikely to try again in the near future. 
Junior staff at an organization one of my peers works for gathered a list of issues, suggestions, and questions for HR and the higher-ups to address. I think coming together as a collective is a great way to approach this, especially for less experienced workers. But the staff didn’t want to turn in this document before reviews because they were afraid it would affect any potential raises. So when is a good time to advocate for yourself and your benefits? It seems like the logical time would be around reviews but young workers seem to be scared that speaking up will end up hurting rather than helping in the long run. And maybe it will be more harmful – There seem to be organizations that are mistrusting of young staff – higher-ups see them as flighty, uncommitted, and too expensive as it is. But the truth is, young professionals might stick around longer if they were better taken care of. Unfortunately, the current model in many non-profits seems to be: get out to move up. So how can we become loyal employees who are taken seriously when we’re not likely to get ahead in our organization? It’s a bad cycle. 
I think that there are office cultures out there that embrace the better model: If you take care of your employees, they will take care of you. But I really want to know the best way to advocate for yourself in an organization that doesn’t function this way. 

‘Just Ask’ isn’t Such a Simple Solution

There are a good deal of statistics out there about how and why women don’t negotiate salaries when starting a new job. For example: 

A May study by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University polled nearly 600 young men and women who graduated from college between 2006 and 2010. The authors found that young men are not only out-earning young women, they’re doing so by an average of more than $5,000 per year. Male participants reported first-year job earnings averaging $33,150, while young women earned about $28,000.
Another report released in May, this one by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, indicated that new female college graduates are earning 17 percent less than their male counterparts.
The National Partnership for Women & Families reports that, among full-time workers in the population as a whole, women still earn only 77 cents for every dollar their male counterparts make. 
When asking the internet what to do about this problem the most common suggestion (in my findings) was “Just ask for more! The worst they can say is ‘no’. But, it turns out that’s not really true. 
Kevin Drum has more to say about this at Mother Jones

E.J. Graff asked all the men to leave the room before she linked to this reddit piece below, but I didn’t. It’s from an HR person at a tech company explaining why women routinely get lower salary offers than men:

The reason they don’t keep up, from where I sit, is simple. Often, a woman will enter the salary negotiation phase and I’ll tell them a number will be sent to them in a couple days. Usually we start around $45k for an entry level position. 50% to 60% of the women I interview simply take this offer. It’s insane, I already know I can get authorization for more if you simply refuse. Inversely, almost 90% of the men I interview immediately ask for more upon getting the offer.

The next major mistake happens with how they ask for more. In general, the women I have negotiated with will say 45k is not enough and they need more, but not give a number. I will then usually give a nominal bump to 48k or 50k. Company policy wont let me bump more than 5k over the initial offer unless they specifically request more. On the other hand, men more frequently will come back with a number along the lines of 65k to 75k, and I will be forced to negotiate down from there. After this phase, almost all women will take the offer or move on to somewhere else, not knowing they could have gotten more if they asked.

At the end, most of the women I hire make between 45k and 50k, whereas the men make between 60k and 70k. Even more crazy, they ask for raises far less often, so the disparity only grows.

I apologize for sticking around, but there’s a reason. I’ve run into this before myself, and have always told women “Just ask! The worst that can happen is that they say no.” But that’s not actually the case. Here’s a bit of research on the subject:

Their study…found that women’s reluctance [to negotiate] was based on an entirely reasonable and accurate view of how they were likely to be treated if they did….”What we found across all the studies is men were always less willing to work with a woman who had attempted to negotiate than with a woman who did not,” Bowles said. “They always preferred to work with a woman who stayed mum. But it made no difference to the men whether a guy had chosen to negotiate or not.”

So listen up, boys: there’s a reason women don’t negotiate as hard as men. Several of them, in fact. But one of these reasons is that men treat them shabbily when they do. So knock it off. Tell the women you love to negotiate the same as you would, and when they do, don’t hold it against them. OK?

I have to admit – I did not negotiate my salary for my current position. I was so tired of being unemployed and I was also pleased with the salary and benefits offer. I realize that this could have been a mistake in the long run – nonprofit models of raises and careers can be pretty broken; you often have to move out to move up and raises are based on your starting salary. But it’s unfortunate that “just asking” isn’t really the simple answer so many people want it to be. 

To Do: Step 1

I wrote last week about Step 1 – figure out exactly what you want to do; I’m still working on it.

The same friend of Mike’s gave me a disc by Brian Tracy entitled “Goals!” and he speaks entirely about the importance of knowing your goals, writing them down, and doing something every single day to help achieve your goal. One premise of this talk is that circumstances are irrelevant because if you know what you want and you work towards it with fervor, it will happen.

When I first started thinking about this, I was pretty stuck in, “what is the EXACT career goal I have”. Now it’s a little different. My immediate goal is obviously, get a job. But is my long term goal to get X job or to get a job that pays X? These may or may not be mutually exclusive but I think a lot of people battle with this.

This topic is polarizing and I understand why. On the one hand, you’re working to live – you might not LOVE your job but you have more resources to love your life outside of your job. Money can’t buy happiness but it certainly can make it easier (Happiness for me would be having no student debt!). On the other hand – especially as a public health professional – I care about what it is that I do. I want my work to make a difference.

As I think about the goals I have and what it is that I want to start working on each day, I am trying to find a good way to marry job X and salary X.

Mike said to me recently that he could look back to his twenties and see many instances in which he got in his own way, making it more difficult for himself to achieve his goals. I think we do that when we give up, stop looking for work, stop feeling positively about ourselves and our situation, and when we settle. Knowing, writing down, and working towards very concrete goals may be a great way to prevent you from getting in your own way.

How Flexible Should You Be?

The Daily Worth asked how flexible you should be with your job search.

A recent Rutgers survey shows that many unemployed people are uncertain about how much to sacrifice in the name of a paycheck:

65% would take a lower salary
59% would accept a lower-status job
70% would accept a temporary job
Source: Daily Worth (

One thing I really liked about this read was the concept of the “new normal”. This might mean that a less-than-full-time job is your best option. Or that you’ll need multiple streams of income. Before embarking on the job hunt I assumed I would fall into a single full-time job with benefits and pay that would help drastically reduce my college debt. I’m not really sure that’s going to be my normal.

I have applied to jobs with salary ranges that don’t thrill me and titles I thought I could have had with just my Bachelors. Right now my title is Job Hunter and I think lots of things would be better than that so I’ve given myself wiggle room. 

However, as a young professional, I also worry about what my resume is going to look like to prospective employers. The time gap between my last job and future job keeps on growing and I’ve heard that doesn’t look so good. Pursuing work that isn’t in my field may help with my financial situation but what will it do for me in the long run and could it be detrimental? Unclear.