Sis, listen up!

Gif credit: Giphy

When it comes to pay equity, we must learn to embrace the "for us, by us" mindset. And there are a number of ways to do this.

Kianta Key, vice president of digital health at MSLGROUP, shared her journey with us. She is currently one of four Black women VPs in her agency of more than 300 U.S. employees. As Kianta shared her story, Mogul Millennial collected some gems on what Black women can do in the fight for equal pay.

Photo provided by Kianta Key

Do your research

This is one of those things that's so obvious, yet we don't do it! And if we do, we don't realize we're cheating ourselves by only doing a Google search like 'average pay for project managers' and allowing the results to be our standard.

Early in her career, Kianta shares that she was not looking at websites like PayScale to understand what the market range should be for her role. Research means not being afraid to ask around to find out what's average in your industry with your level of experience in your area.

Pro tip: Ask someone that used to be in the role you're seeking. Research also means having your sh** together. Do some homework by having data or results of your work and achievements on deck.

Create a list of requests

Have the courage to ask for what you're worth. Get in the habit of creating a list of monetary and non-monetary asks. That way, if they can't give you an additional $10,000 to $20,000, then what about paying for memberships? How about working remotely a few days a month? Or stock in the company?

Don't misunderstand this: always ask for the cash first! Then, you can follow up with your other requests as plan B.

Example: Let's say you ask for a $15,000 raise and they say they can only do half of that. Consider saying, 'okay, but I'll need at least one work-from-home day per week and my professional development courses covered.'

Kianta also advised to keep your asks in mind as your title shifts from a junior position to manager or senior level.  

Be honest

We have to be open and honest with ourselves and each other, in more ways than one:

  • With ourselves. Most times when we accept an offer, we immediately know we low-balled ourselves. Stop that today, right now! We must learn to advocate for ourselves. This requires a combination of having your accomplishments laid out and asking for what you want and deserve.
  • With each other. We need to get more comfortable with talking to each other about our salaries, so that those that come after us won't make the same mistakes. Being more vocal with each other can also allow us to recognize when we're being underpaid and undervalued. These conversations open the door to having coaches/mentors in our field that look like us and provides us with the opportunity to learn real life skills in navigating salary negotiations.

We have to advocate for each other. That's it. That's the tweet.

Walk away

Don't be afraid to turn down a job or walk away from an offer. "I walked away from a job after six months because they refused to give me a $4,000 pay increase despite the fact I traveled almost an hour to get to work, took on my boss' work while she was on maternity leave, and I have my master's degree. I quit and never looked back because I believe if your'e not getting paid worth your salt, why should you stick around?"

Kianta further mentioned that when deciding to stay or leave, she asked herself these questions and scored them on a scale of one to five where, for her, the average score must be between a 4 to 4.5 minimum to decide to stay:

  • How might this job affect my family?
  • How will this job impact my passion?
  • What is the earning potential?
  • What is the leadership potential?

Assess your company

When it comes to your pay, start assessing your company's culture during the initial offer stage. Did they accept your counteroffer fully, partially or not at all but agreed to revisit it?

Pro tip: We know never to accept the initial offer, so we assumed you provided a counter. After you're embedded in the company for the first quarter or six months and undoubtedly proven your worth, re-engage in the pay conversation. Pay attention to how they respond and handle it.

Example: If you find that employees who have been working there for a long time don't feel valued (specifically as it relates to pay), then you would be wise to consider how the company will treat you over time.

Keep your own data

Kianta reminds us that data is everything and "we have to be really great record keepers of our accomplishments." Don't assume when it's time for raises and bonuses your manager knows everything you accomplished. Keep a work diary to go over your achievements. When it's time for your raise, you should be able to provide why that 3% raise just won't do, and why not promoting you when the time comes is unacceptable. Try as they might, they can't argue with numbers. The proof is in the pudding.

Lobby for transparency

"Once we are in leadership, ensuring that pay equality and pay transparency is something that's important to our company is a strong way to move the needle forward as Black women," suggested Kianta.

It's not enough to make it to the top because the real talk starts when we get there. We are now at tables we weren't privy to before. Depending on your role, you have access to impact company-wide policies, talent pipelines, and other key business development areas. If Black women in leadership make lobbying to senior leadership on behalf of Black women within the company as their responsibility, change may come sooner than later. (Of course, the bulk of this change still falls on the company.)

"The other part of it is industry-specific. We don't know what our [white male] counterparts in similar senior roles across the same industry are making.

Is there an industry cap?

Does your company have a budget limitation to maximize that cap?  

The unfortunate answer to these questions is that we don't know. Because while it's cute to start an employee resource group, we also need our money."

Companies have started putting out their breakdowns of how many Black people are in leadership. But if you're doing that without being transparent about salaries, our question should be why? Will it show a different set of data?

"I think it's about being fully transparent. If the salary range for a VP is $140,000 to $170,000 in your industry, and it ranges based on certain calculations—if you have a master's degree or a certain level of experience—then fine, but be transparent about what that range and calculation is. This is important as it helps identify the barriers in the wage gap."

Share good news and tips as you receive them

Black women should keep the conversation around pay equity going. Talk about it at work with your manager, talk about it with friends, blog about it, share it on social media, and tell your stories. Consider sharing some of the positives so other companies can know it's happening and so that other Black women can get inspired. Kianta celebrates that at the majority of her jobs, she was recruited by a Black woman.

Photo provided by Kianta Key

"At my former job, my boss told me I should also ask for equity in the company. Full stop. Before that conversation, no one had told me to ask for things like that while negotiating. That wasn't on my little list. I was only asking for two days of remote working when I could have been asking for stock. That's power."

How are you going to champion for equal pay in your professional life? Drop a note in the comments and let us know! Let's normalize equal pay for Black women.