Why Women Should Talk About Money at Work

two young women discussing their finances

Which situation is more awkward: asking your coworker how much sex he has, or asking him how much money he makes?

For many employees, openly discussing salaries among your coworkers is just as impolite as talking about sex lives. You were probably taught that money, along with politics and religion, was a taboo talking point — but were you taught that financial silence would ultimately hold you back?

Money Should Be Seen, Not Heard

Why aren’t women talking about money? I believe that most women don’t discuss money because we’re taught not to. My mother was always honest when it came to money, but it came with a single stipulation: this is a private conversation and you shouldn’t talk to your friends about it. These conversations did make me more conscious about my finances, but I often held my tongue around my friends — even in my new marriage, I had to overcome a deep apprehension to openly discussing my finances.

If I couldn’t talk to my closest friends about money, there was no way in hell I’d be comfortable talking to my coworkers about it. And I’m certain that I’m not alone. When we’re taught not to talk about money as children, we’ll carry that attitude to our workplaces. In this day and age — where more women than ever are the primary breadwinners of their families, yet still earn less than men across the board — we can’t afford to be shy about our salaries.

Thanks to the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, employees are allowed to talk to their peers about salaries, whether your employer is aware or not. However, learning about your coworkers’ pay is often frowned upon. Just think about it: how would you feel if you knew your coworker was earning more than you for doing the same job? Would you lose morale? Would you look for a higher-paying job?

What Elephant in the Room?

Ignore the elephant in the room and ask for a raise. Easier said than done. When a man negotiates, his efforts are seen as confident and ambitious. Women often face criticism; she may not receive the salary and provisions she asks for. In some cases, she may have her job offer completely revoked.

In 2014, a woman known as “W” brought attention to the double standard inherent in negotiating. W was already offered a tenure-track philosophy position at Nazareth College, and her requests weren’t outrageous: she asked for an increased starting salary of $65,000 (which was equitable to others in her field), a semester of eventual maternity leave (which she was verbally promised), and a limited amount of new class preps for her first three years.

W expected to “ask for a number of perks and get some of them.” Instead, Nazareth College pulled the job offer entirely.

It doesn’t matter if you’re an entry-level office worker or Jennifer Lawrence; the pressure to be liked often outweighs the desire to negotiate. Appearing too aggressive or “pushy” can have more severe consequences for women. How can you get what you want without potentially damaging your relationships at work or chances at the job?

Regardless of how you try to negotiate, you need to go in prepared. Be ready to provide examples of what you’ve done for the company and precisely why you deserve a raise. When you’re ready to actually negotiate, you may find success by framing your argument in a different way. Using another job offer as a negotiating tool may work to your advantage, but could lead your team to negatively perceive you. Alternatively, you should approach a negotiation with your intentions at heart, but with a communal context; turn your negotiating skills as an asset that can benefit the team.

Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend

You are worth more than you think. Repeat it and let it sink in. You are worth more than you know. Learning your worth starts with knowing what you deserve, and thankfully, accessing that information is easier than ever. If your supervisors forbid discussing your earnings (again, that is against the law), websites like Glassdoor and Fairy Godboss allow you to see salary information for your position. Think you’d make more doing your job at another company? Now you can be certain.

The easiest way to find this out is to learn what your peers are making. Let’s say that you and your coworker, Sean, were hired within the same year for the same position. You’re an excellent employee, and although you’ve been verbally recognized for your hard work, you wonder if your stagnant salary doesn’t reflect it. One day, you decide to ask Sean about his annual salary — only to find that he’s taking home $10,000 more than you.  You decide to talk to your boss about a raise. What should you do if you’re denied?

Don’t feel like you have to stick around.

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