How I Made My Case for Fair Pay – And Won
Several years ago I read an article that said there is less pay disparity between men and women in our Nation’s capital. That article was one of the reasons that I’ve never left Washington—I always figured that over time, I would be better off staying put.
In 2005, I was hired to be the only IT person for a 50-person firm just a few blocks from the White House. They hadn’t had a full-time IT person before, so they said they were looking for a “help-desk” person. When a managing partner made me a formal job offer, the salary was lower than I thought it should be based on the work that needed to be done, but I didn’t really know how to express that without sounding ungrateful for the offer. I had absolutely no idea how to negotiate a job offer, or that you even could! I accepted, and had it in the back of my mind that this was going to be a great learning opportunity with a lot of responsibility, and that I would grow from the experience.
Little did I know! They didn’t need a help-desk person—they needed an entirely new network infrastructure and round-the-clock attention. It was a dynamic place to work, very busy, and when I asked them for more purchasing authority and the freedom to replace the entire network, they happily agreed. That first project was a success, and they gave me a great deal of leeway to take on more responsibility (and more work!).
After about two years, my salary had only increased slightly, and I started to look at different job descriptions on the internet, comparing them to what I was doing. I certainly couldn’t be classified as “help desk” anymore—I had taken on responsibilities that made me more of an “IT Manager” and I was answering directly to the CEO and the President of the firm. I needed a way to communicate my value to them, and I wanted to be sure that I was being paid what I knew I was worth.
I made a complete list of everything that I did for the firm on a daily basis, and then I compared that line-by-line to standardized job descriptions that were available on government websites. I matched my job duties to the available job descriptions as best I could, trying very hard not to fudge or exaggerate—I didn’t want to do anything that would weaken my case. When all was said and done, I came to the conclusion that I should have the title of IT Manager, with a salary that was a $27,000 increase over my current salary.
I knew I didn’t have a chance of getting a $27,000 increase, but I didn’t think it would cost them anything to give me a more accurate title, and I was hoping that I would get some extra money in the deal. I prepared a PowerPoint presentation, and got an appointment on the calendar with both the CEO and the President, and told them that it was to discuss my job description.
When I walked in with my laptop, my mouth was so dry I could barely speak. I fought to keep my voice steady as I walked them through the differences between the help desk and the IT Manager job descriptions. I made it to my last slide (which was the salary comparison) and held my breathe while they contemplated the fact that I told them that I was being dramatically underpaid. I never made it personal, and I never accused them of any ill intention—I just made my case as neutral and fact-based as I could. On my way out, I gave them my supporting research, with citations so that they could replicate my work if they wanted to.
Two days later, I got a memo that informed me of my new title and salary—a $27,000 increase.
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