Lindsay Riddell is “one of those girls.” You know– the gorgeous ones who do everything so well that you can not believe they’re for real, but they’re so nice at the same time that instead of feeling jealous or insecure, you just want to be friends with them. You know what I mean? One of those girls. When she isn’t sincerely laughing and talking about finance and technology with the people she meets in her role as a reporter, she’s building houses for Habitat for Humanity or competing in full-length Iron Man Triathlons. She’s basically amazing. And even she has needed a cup of cold water from another woman. And I’m so grateful to her for sharing that story with us here…
I was 34 years old when it occurred to me that I’d never once negotiated my salary. With each of four full-time reporting jobs at various newspapers, I’d always accept what the company offered, feeling I had little leverage in a crowded field that isn’t known for its high-paying jobs.
At my most recent job, my company implemented a 5 percent company-wide pay cut that we endured for three years. In five years of working there, I never got a raise, nor a review, and I was growing increasingly frustrated with a job that seemed to reward hard work with less pay.
When I saw my social security statement that showed I was making less money than I had five years ago, I knew I had to do something. But what?
Salary negotiations made me feel awkward. That’s why I’d never attempted to negotiate before. I did feel lucky to have a job in journalism, despite my salary. And I liked my bosses and didn’t want them to feel uncomfortable, or to take away from other colleagues who I knew also hadn’t had raises in years.
I sought the advice of one of my best friends Lisa F., who manages a sizable team at a rather famous technology company.
Lisa told me that I had to ask for what I thought I was worth. That what other people at my company made wasn’t my concern, and that if I didn’t advocate for myself, no one would.
This was mind-blowing to me.
It sounded so callous and I didn’t want to believe it. I wanted to be rewarded for my work. And I didn’t want to believe I was being taken advantage of. But Lisa told me that by not asking for a raise for five years, I was allowing myself to be undervalued and that if I didn’t ask, I would never get the raise.
Even though what she said made sense, I had to process it for a few days before I worked up the nerve to do something.
I timed my conversation with my boss for right after I completed a big project that got lots of great feedback from important people in the community. I went to my boss and used Lisa’s advice to the letter.
“My work here is worth more than what you pay me,” I said. “And the small raises you’re offering employees now, when I make less than I did five years ago, will not be enough to keep me here.”
My boss agreed. It was that easy.
The next day I found out I would get a 14 percent raise. Not humongous, but far more than the 2 to 3 percent we’d been promised.
I was proud of myself and more importantly I’ve already been able to pass on the great advice.
A former colleague called me a few weeks later for a “pep talk” because she’d been offered a promotion she really wanted with almost no raise at all. Her boss said his hands were tied.
I told her my story and we rehearsed exactly what she should say. She got her raise, too.
I don’t know why it took me 16 years of professional employment to learn this important lesson – to value and advocate for myself. But I will be grateful to Lisa for it forever and I am already making sure my friends reap the benefits, too.
Lindsay Riddell is a San Francisco-based journalist. You can follow her on twitter @LRiddellSF.