It doesn’t matter if you’re Jennifer Lawrence or an Economics Professor at Harvard or a self-published author working from her kitchen table, we all do it. Women,that is–we all play it small too often. And we’ve been doing it so long that we don’t realize it. It’s ingrained in us. We settle for less, demand little, back down, undervalue ourselves. We don’t want to appear pushy or rude or, god-forbid, so pompous that we think our work is worth a lot of money. So we just don’t ask for more.
It’s an issue that has caught my attention several times lately. It started with Jennifer Lawrence and her essay in Lenny. I loved it that she owned her mistakes in negotiating her contract and earning much less than her male co-stars in the movie American Hustle. She didn’t blame anyone but did note that in hindsight her reasons were not wanting to appear greedy or troublesome, two pejorative adjectives often hurled at women who know their worth and ask for it.
Her point stuck in my head but didn’t really hit home until I was listening to a Freakonomics podcast about the gender pay gap. The guest expert was Claudia Goldin, a professor of economics at Harvard University who specializes in studying gender economics. Dr. Goldin presented some fantastic data that showed that most of the gap in pay is not due to outright discrimination, but to the choices that women make, usually in favor of family over career. But it was the closing segment of the podcast that really got my attention. In it Dr. Goldin told a story about doing some consulting work, which she doesn’t normally do, and assuming she would not be paid. The company needing her help offered to pay her $2,000, which she agreed to. Before finishing the project she was told that the other two consultants, both men, were paid two times what she was, because they asked. The lesson is about how we see our work, all work, and how much we value it.
Unless we value our work no one else will.
The men who did the consulting work with Dr. Goldin valued their time and skills more than she did. They didn’t think to offer either for free. No matter what work you are doing, value it–Harvard professor, actress, writer, stay-at-home mom. All our work is valuable.
It’s pretty hard to get paid for mothering or volunteer work, but you can still understand and acknowledge your value by respecting your time. Evaluate each request for your time and feel free to say no. Teach your children that mothering makes an important contribution to society. Note to yourself and your family all the ways that their quality of life is better for the mom things you do.
Women also tend to think they have to be an expert to ask for top pay for their work, men generally don’t. It’s hard to say when you are an expert. Just being in a field puts you ahead of those just entering and means you have something of value to offer. This week I will be teaching a class on how to self-publish, something that is a huge leap forward for me. I’ve actually been teaching for years at a university, but this is the first time I didn’t wait for someone else to tell me I had enough skills in a subject to teach it. Being only two years into self-publishing the lessons I learned as a beginner are still fresh. I vividly remember feeling lost and searching for answers. I can’t tell you how excited I am to offer all those answers to others just joining my field and developing a new revenue stream for myself.
There is an art to negotiating, one that can be learned. While it’s true that you might knock yourself out of the game by quoting too high, it doesn’t look like women are in danger of doing that anytime soon. This is one area where we need to learn a lesson from men. They are taught that they should play big and value their contributions. They know to ask for more, because that’s the only way you are going to get it.
Are you guilty of not asking for more? I am. This topic hit home because I saw myself in those stories. Like Jennifer Lawrence I want to be seen as nice and not make waves. Like Professor Goldin I’m too often willing to give my time and knowledge for free or take whatever money is offered. Comment below and share your stories of when you wish you had asked for more or when you did.