Welcome to “Dear Dana”, our weekly column to give you career and workplace advice/coaching. Please write in and tell me about a career challenge or frustration you’re facing at the office! – Dana Theus
For a number of years I had my own business. However, I decided to return to being an employee to expand my experience. I came onto the team as an individual contributor, and was told I would become a manager in a year or two. Colleagues already in line for a promotion made it to the next level, but I wasn’t stressed because I knew I was new.
Then there was a reorg. I was placed in a new team. I was also told that I wouldn’t be promoted for another 3-5 years. Also, I learned by accident from a peer who did get promoted that she was making +$50K/year more than I was. Sure, she had 15 years more on me in the company, but still. +$50K?
What should I have done differently when I went to work for that company?
— Shoulda-coulda been a Manager in Milwaukee
Hindsight is tricky. There are certainly lessons for you there, but it’s also too easy to beat yourself up unnecessarily. The key is to realize that all your previous experience—good and bad—has made you who you are today, and that you’re still learning and growing. Comparing yourself to others is never going to give you the insights you need to find the way to your highest potential as well as comparing yourself to your own highest aspirations for yourself.
That said, you did get some big lessons you can learn from going forward….
The real lesson for you here is to look back at what you wanted and what your intentions were during these times when you realized, in retrospect, that you could have made better choices. You “excused” yourself and the team for not getting promoted “because you were new.” Did you really want a promotion then? If not, you weren’t putting out the signals to your bosses and teammates that a promotion was something you wanted and were working for. Don’t confuse “hard work with no intention for a promotion” with “hard work to back up a strong intention to get you a promotion”. Those are two different things and they communicate differently to the people around you. Most of the time when we don’t get what we want, if we are honest with ourselves, we realize that the intentions in our hearts weren’t fully aligned with “what we wanted” in our heads.
For many women and men, this often looks like a conflict between greater responsibility and having a balanced life. But not always. Sometimes we’re worried we won’t perform as well in a higher position and don’t really want the pressure of potential failure looming over us. These may or may not have been factors for you, but it’s always good to look deeply into your heart for what you really wanted to learn more about what you were communicating verbally and non-verbally to those around you at the time. The more aligned your head and your heart is moving forward, and the more willing you are to adjust your thoughts, feelings and behaviors to these aligned desires, the more likely you are to succeed.
Regarding salary, since companies in the U.S. aren’t incented or required to normalize pay scales, there are a million factors that go into determining salary and the company will always work to “get the best deal it can” in negotiations with you. It’s possible that the other woman had been negotiating more intentionally for her salary and in the 15 years additional experience she had on you, it’s very reasonable that between negotiations and normal salary increases she would have gained $50,000 more than you. In 15 years she could easily have gained several $10,000 increases when she moved into new positions (especially if she was changing companies or divisions where she was competing with candidates outside the company.) And if she started at a higher salary, there you go.
The key to negotiating your salary is to always ask for more, and especially when moving to new jobs and competing with a broader pool of candidates. Even though you may not always get what you want, you will always get more than if you don’t ask for more. Over time this really adds up. Studies show that a major reason that women retire with less money in savings is that these little incremental “losses” pile up over their careers and, when combined with the motherhood penalty, do significant damage to our lifetime income.
P.S. – Have a question you’d like anonymous support on? Write me!