I spoke on a panel last week on “Women in Technology: Challenges and Opportunities” at Frankfurt Kurnit’s offices in New York. I was invited to speak by Suemyra Shah via James Andrews’s #Authenticated Slack channel, so I had to accept.
I’m a serial entrepreneur and founder, a veteran of 4 startups as well as some big enterprises. I’m fortunate I get to share my experiences at a lot of tech and academic conferences, and I’m often asked about how to raise investment and how to start and grow a business. At the Frankfurt Kurnit panel (which included angel investor Susan McPherson, lawyer Suemyra Shah, fintech entrepreneur Jess Gartner and was moderated by Laura Rosenblum) we fielded questions on the impact of the #MeToo movement to inclusion and diversity in the workforce. What moved me the most were the two women who approached me after the panel and asked, “How do we go about making sure we are paid equally as men?” “How do we find out what our colleagues make in comparison to us?” I not only wanted to help them but also the 75 million women in the US workforce who may be underpaid.
I had little time left and had to rush out to have dinner with my son so my response to both was very brief. I felt I did them a disservice for not giving them proper counsel and enough time. I also thought that these two women are faced with an important career move which must not be taken lightly and may matter to many others.
I learned to ask for, demand and negotiate what I’m worth over several years of startup life, as an employee, founder and now as an advisor and consultant. In the 20 years since I started my first company BoutiqueY3k, I’ve been learning as I go. I devoured business books and business publications to figure out how to run a business and read biographies of those who have successfully done it. My 3 years at a startup as employee #6, female employee #1, and only person of color was my business school. Within 2 years of joining the company, it went public, and I suddenly found myself as VP of Client Services at a publicly traded company with over 65 employees and blue chip clients. We were growing so fast that it seemed as if everyone from the CEO to the web developers were all winging it. A large part of my job was to tie it all together, help close Fortune 1000 clients, manage their accounts, supervise the teams and projects, deliver websites that satisfied our clients — and make us look professional.
And it was here that I learned my first lesson on pay inequality: I found out a male employee who reported to me was making as much as I was even though I supervised more than 20 people and had business development responsibilities too where I brought in clients and he didn’t. When I confronted management about it, their response was “Well we didn’t make as much money as you when we were your age.” I was 26. I responded, “Well, you didn’t have my responsibilities at my age.” They clammed up, didn’t give me a raise so I left and accepted an offer from another company who was recruiting me and paid me 40% more than the startup.
In 2017, there were 75,175,000 women in the work force representing 46.9% of the total labor force in the US. (via catalyst.org). Median earnings by women in 2014 was $39,621 while men’s were $50,383. The salary discrepancy exists despite more women having degrees than men. Women have had more bachelors degrees than men since 1982. Women have earned more master’s degrees than men since 1987. Women have earned more doctorate degrees than men since 2006. If the median salary of men was $50,383 and women are paid on average 15% less than men, women are missing out on an average of $7,557 in payment per year. For the 75 million women in the work force that represents $566 billion dollars of salaries owed to women.
How do we empower women to 1) gain confidence 2) ask for what is rightfully theirs 3) have businesses update their payment practices to accommodate equal pay without penalizing women?
Last year, I was asked to lunch by a former CFO of a European company I had worked for and she told me that in her 15 years as CFO of the company, I was the only female executive who negotiated her package. Even she never negotiated her package or asked for a raise and simply accepted what she was offered. She asked how I was able to do this. I told her 1) I knew my value as I was being recruited by her firm 2) I was coming from a position of strength as I also knew they had interviewed 30 candidates for the position and the CEO didn’t like any of them 3) I had nothing to lose. I already had a job I liked and paid well. The only thing that would make me leave was a significant increase in salary and the quality of life clauses that I negotiated. This was 2006. I had launched Burberry’s e-commerce business 3 years before and spearheaded all digital marketing. At the time I was a single mom, sole breadwinner and my son was a toddler who was also calling his nanny “Mommy” since he spent more time with her than with me. What I learned the hard way was that for every day the company where I worked kept me past 6pm, it cost me money because I had to pay my nanny overtime plus time away from my son which I cannot make up. I realized that if I deducted babysitting costs from my salary, junior employees made more money than I did. So I negotiated not just a 30% salary increase with the new company, but also 9am to 6pm work hours clause so I can at least have dinner with my son and put him to bed. I also asked that I not be required to travel more than 4 times a year and that each travel time last no more than 5 business days. I negotiated the terms before I even came in for the interview and got the job.
Being a working woman is definitely not easy. 70% of working women have children under the age of 18 in their households. 13.6 million of them were single women raising 21 million children. So what advice would I give the two women who wanted to ask for equal pay and the others out there who may need it?
What will happen if they don’t give you the raise you deserve or equal pay? We don’t know but you’ll never know until you try. The odds are they will probably give it to you. If they don’t, at least you know you’ve tried.
Cecilia Pagkalinawan is a serial entrepreneur and has launched 3 venture backed companies. She also served as head of ECommerce and digital marketing for Burberry, Frette and La Perla. Cecilia is working to launch her 4th startup BRWN, a storytelling platform for and by people of color.
This article first appeared on medium.com.