Following up my earlier posting Take My Advice and Live Happily Every After, I know my readers have been waiting anxiously for the next installment, so here it is.
Take Care of Yourself First
We’re all familiar with the airline safety procedure telling us to put the oxygen mask over our own face before that of children. The benefits may seem obvious to most of us but not everyone gets it. This metaphor applies to life in general and in my experience no more so than in the business world.
Boomer Broads were raised to be dutiful, considerate, self-effacing models of compliance. In a generation of women who were now expected to also hold our own in the working world, we carried these values into the workplace. As a result, we were easily taken advantage of and not always given our just rewards.How many Boomer Broads and other women do you know who worked their asses off and never received the recognition they deserved.
I remember the days when Help Wanted ads in the newspaper were worded, Help Wanted – Male, and Help Wanted – Female. In the early 1970s, a friend of mine was an early challenger of the implicit disadvantages for women in this system. Jeannette worked on the order desk for an international chemical company, a job shared with one other person, a man. Jeannette made $96.00/week and the man made $117.00/week to do exactly the same work. When he gave notice he was leaving the company, they advertised in the Help Wanted – Male section of the paper and offered a salary of $117.00 per week. Jeannette applied for the job and set in motion a turmoil at her company that left her wondering whether she would even retain the job she had. Her employers were unaccustomed to such a challenge, but Jeannette figured she could use the extra $21.00/week and she was doing the job already. After a great deal of huffing and puffing on the part of her employer, she was awarded the matching salary.
That was the beginning of changing times. While Jeannette’s situation seems unbelievable by today’s standards where equality is assumed, it was somewhat radical at the time. There are still subtle forms of discrimination in the workplace today but for the most part, we’ve made progress.
One area I think where some women still struggle is in being assertive in stating and insisting upon rewards we have earned. A few years after my friend’s experience, I too felt I was being underpaid for the work I was performing so I decided some action was required. I read one of the early books on corporate gamesmanship for women called “Games Mother Never Taught You” by Betty Lehan Harrigan and set about doing my homework. I researched other businesses to see what my work was worth on the market. I summarized my strengths and weaknesses, my contributions to the corporate bottom line and overall corporate business practices. I made a list of anticipated questions and objections I might face and developed strong, appropriate responses. I detailed exactly what I wanted and why I felt I deserved it. I outlined a future plan for my job. I even had girlfriends quiz me and rehearse me so I’d be prepared.
The day of the interview I felt ready although somewhat nervous. When I walked into the room to face the Vice-President, I encountered not one but three Vice-Presidents, all sitting with smiles on their faces ready to take me on. I can even remember what I was wearing that day in 1980. It was a pink windowpane wool blazer with a black skirt and silk shirt with the requisite 80s matching silk bow tie. I was “dressed for success”, although in retrospect a red blazer would have been a better choice. My heart starting pounding so hard, I looked down and could actually see my pearls vibrating on my silk shirt. I took a seat and launched into my well-rehearsed presentation. Fortunately, the interview went in my favour and I was awarded what I was asking for.
The point of this experience is that had I not taken the initiative, I would probably have never received what I deserved. That was more than 30 years ago and I didn’t entirely learn my lesson. As the years went on, I continued to be a model of dedication and hard work but in retrospect, I was never as assertive as I should or could have been. When a female friend in a similar job at a competitor’s firm left to accept a position doing the same work at another company for twice the salary, I congratulated her and carried on as before, working long hours and trying to “do it all”.
What I learned is that it’s the responsibility of each one of us when we are doing an excellent job to insist upon the commensurate rewards. That may take the form of a higher salary, a promotion, an extra week of vacation or some other type of recognition. I worked for a very enlightened employer who would probably have complied if I had raised the issue of higher salary or more staff. The fault was my own. Instead of asking for additional staff, my way of coping was to string yellow “CAUTION” tape up around my desk and work until midnight.
Take care of yourself in business. We’ve watched men to do it without hesitation.Â If I’d taken better care of myself, I’d have had more job satisfaction, a fatter pension and much lower cortisol levels. Do not be the dutiful, hardworking girl waiting for a pat on the head. Set your goals. State what you want and if you deserve it, ask for it. The worst they can say is no. At best, you’ll be able to buy a condo and take a vacation. You’re worth it. And buying your own diamonds proves it.