Recently I read an article in which a woman wrote about her experience interviewing for a new job. She did all the research on the job and knew how much she should be paid. During the interview, the men who interviewed her offered her 30% less than she expected and said it was because she was married, her husband had a high-paying job and her career was secondary to her husband’s. Her response was simply “If that’s how you think then this job probably won’t work out.”
Reading the article my first response was ‘Bravo! See you proved there still are gender biases.” But halfway through my gut response, I stopped myself and wondered why she didn’t challenge them or push back. She just walked away. We should never do that!
There are a few sexist behaviors that we should never let go unchallenged. One is unwelcome and inappropriate physical contact. Another is unfair compensation – MONEY. As a woman working in traditionally male roles, equal pay for equal work was a continuous concern.
Back in the early 80’s when I began my career most married women didn’t have careers. If they worked they had menial jobs so, the men in my all-male office didn’t understand why I pursued a career on par with them. I could have been offended and cited a feminist mantra but that wouldn’t help me build rapport. So I gave them a creative but honest answer: “My husband has a long list of expensive toys he wants to buy and my income helps us do that. Wouldn’t you like it if your wife earned as much as you? It takes all the financial pressure off you and you get to buy more toys.”
After thinking about my answer for a couple of minutes one of my coworkers asked “Can you talk to my wife?”
Over the years I’ve come up with other creative and yet effective responses. My responses flip the situation and make men think about how their sexist behavior could personally impact them:
- “So you guys are willing to pay a man who won’t do nearly as good of a job as me, more money, just because he has a family? That sounds like a really bad business decision and like you really need me. How hiring me instead of him hurt your bonuses? Will your wife appreciate you bringing home a smaller bonus because you had to take care of another man’s family?”
- “My husband and I may be getting a divorce. He would very much appreciate it if you would hire me and pay me as much or more than him so he doesn’t have to pay spousal or child support. Are any of you divorced?” (Believe me, that gets men really thinking!)
As women we want the workplace to be a meritocracy where we are fairly compensated based on the results we deliver. Our performance also helps determine our manager’s bonus so we flip the situation and make our compensation about his bonus. I have no qualms about asking the simple question: “Who do you want to trust your bonus to – him or me?”
It works because men place a specific monetary value on their work and the correlation between their effort and their compensation is never far from the front of their minds. We sell them on ourselves by offering more compensation (a bigger bonus and possible pay increase) with less effort. They do the math and they get it.
As women we always have a concern that our compensation is less than our peers so ensuring our compensation is equitable is something we must always stand up for.
Admittedly when we are faced with a compensation offer that is unfair, it is difficult to come up with a good response in the moment, other than expressing our anger. Too often we let it go. We out to our car or back to our office and think of all the things we wish we said. We kick ourselves for not saying them and that only feeds into how we already let someone else diminish us.
However, just because we didn’t respond in the moment, it doesn’t mean we missed our chance to stand up for ourselves. To stand up for ourselves we again flip the situation and our perceptions – we make it all about them.
We realize inappropriate, dismissive or demeaning comments and offers says nothing about us. Just because someone tries to diminish us, it doesn’t mean we have to accept it. We can push it back on them and make it say something about them. In this case, it means they are stupid – like really stupid. Who in their right mind in the 21st century makes a sexist offer or comment?
There is nothing to stop us from going back in (when convenient) and saying in our “dumb me, I just realized this” tone, say “I can’t believe you did that in an interview. Do you realize you’ve given me a reason to claim discrimination? Do you realize the can of worms you just opened? You realize of course I have to report this! Good, I have your business cards. Thanks for wasting my time while I deal with this!”
Yes, a little acting does help. It’s even good to be a little nervous, flustered and upset because it makes them more nervous. They just had the ownership of their stupidity put back on them.
Follow up and report it to someone else in the company. You will probably get a very favorable response, especially if the company is larger. I did this early in my career when I was being interviewed for a contract job and walked out with a very generous contract.
When we stand up for ourselves we step into our own empowerment and demonstrate we won’t get pushed over and run over – and that is very important to our employers. Think of it this way – if you aren’t even willing to stand up for yourself, then you certainly won’t be willing to stand up for the company. Employers want people who take a stand.
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