Recently, I gave a talk to the Association for Women in Communications in Springfield Illinois (aka AWC Springfield) called Getting What You Want in the Workplace. Since we focus on women in HR on this blog, I thought it was fitting to share what I discussed here as well, especially since I mention this site during my talk:
So let’s talk about today’s topic which is getting what you want in the workplace. Seeing as this is a women’s program, we will talk about it from a woman’s perspective and getting what you want as a woman. In a blog I wrote for Women of HR, I have talked about the first ten years and The Perfect 10, which was the last ten years of my then-20-year HR career. I loved having the flexibility of being able to be a mom and be a professional at the same time. I talk about credibility in the workplace and bereavement leave. Most recently, a drunk driver killed my brother and I shared what it is like for employees to take bereavement leave. It is really not flexible in most cases.
Let’s start with a true workplace story: How many of you have been engaged? How many remember the details of that day? When I was engaged, I was very excited as most would be, but when I got to work I was asked to take off my engagement ring and not wear it for 6 months! Luckily, I didn’t get married sooner than the 6 months as I had already planned to have a one-year engagement so that my husband and I could pay for the wedding.
How would you have felt if you were asked to take of your ring and not tell anyone else in the company you were engaged? I felt terrible. I did write a blog post, called Bride To Be = Discouraged Employee, about this incident. This experience brings me to my first piece of advice – DO NOT LET PEOPLE WALK ALL OVER YOU. In today’s environment, the Internet, which was not available when I first started my career, makes it possible for an individual employee to understand his or her rights within an organization. That incident would not go over well in today’s workplace. I would say stand up for what you want. If you don’t understand your options, what your rights are, look them up. There is no excuse for not knowing as you each have unlimited resources.
My second piece of advice came from the same manager that told me not to wear the ring. She was trying to look out for me and she did not want me to suffer as she had with male challenges in the work place. What she did do was give me a lot of advice. One thing I have lived my career by is to TOOT YOUR OWN HORN because no one else will. If you do well in something, make sure people know about that. If you have been honored in an organization that perhaps does not have to do with the business but is still an honor, make sure your manager finds that out. SHRM actually recognizes volunteerism and will send letters to your boss on your behalf, which toots your horn for you. Make sure you’re tooting your horn and look into those opportunities. Don’t think of it as a selfish, stuck up, or snobby kind of thing to do. It isn’t. It is the way to get ahead. Men do it. Maybe in a different way, but they do it. Maybe over beer or on the golf course. They do it for each other as well. They do not necessarily promote women like they should as much as they do each other. Women don’t promote women like men promote each other either. How many women would look to another woman to promote her? None, women are competing against each other so they are not promoting each other’s efforts. Sadly this is the truth in my humble opinion. I often ask myself, why is that?
My third piece of advice is ASK FOR WHAT YOU WANT. If you want a promotion or a raise, ask for it. I’ve had to that a few times in my career. It doesn’t always come easily and it is sometimes challenging to ask. Most recently, I was honored by a call to interview for a high level political HR position that I did not seek out. The call was based on reputation and the recommendation of others. Although, I didn’t fully consider the position due to a variety of reasons, I did use the situation to my advantage. Since they called me, I let my boss know I was interviewing. It was a toot your own horn opportunity at the very least as it was an honor and reflection on the university as well as my own career achievements. Once I discovered what they pay level would be, I did take it to my boss and asked for a raise. I have used it a couple other times as well. Not just that I had a competitive offer but just simply asking for a raise that I felt I deserved. Back to the Internet resources, you can go on salary.com, Indeed, Monster, etc. and do salary surveys free of charge. You can compare jobs and focus your search criteria to specific demographics. You can go to the Department of Labor to look up salaries as well. It is important that before you go to your manager and ask for a raise, you conduct a comparison, do your homework and be prepared with answers to justify your request. You also must understand that despite the fact that you are asking, you may denied. Prepare for that and understand that there is a budget and a profit to be made. If there isn’t a profit, and you’re in a for-profit organization, it may not be possible to offer a raise; but, at least you’ve tried and you’ve asked.
Another topic related to pay is the idea that 10-20 years ago, it was not kosher to talk about salaries. Nowadays, people will talk about wages all the time and there is absolutely nothing an employer can do about it because of the National Labor Relations Boards (NLRB) current administration. There have been many cases that have been turned around on the employer where they have tried to keep the information quiet and an individual fought it. If any two or more people are talking about a workplace issue, this is what is considered a concerted effort. This used to be only with unionized organizations. But now if you go online or onto social media you will see a big campaign called Fight For Fifteen. This started in Chicago after retailers on Michigan Avenue declared they would walk out on Black Friday if their wages were not increased to $15 per hour. Now multiple organizations and people around the country are on board with this initiative. They are using social media to spread the word and becoming a concerted community with the same fight/request/desire to promote a change. Talk about it. You will not get in trouble. If they do, retaliation laws do exist. If they retaliate against you, there are legal implications in place to protect you. Talking with your co-workers can prepare you with an internal audit as well for when you do approach your manager with that pay raise request. These are your rights as an employee, so ask for what you want.
My fourth piece of advice is to BE NICE, CONSIDERATE AND UNDERSTANDING. Be the person you want other people to be and treat people like you want to be treated. Understand cultures and differences. Don’t be a bitch. You don’t have to be a bitch. There is another article I’ve written about being a bitch as oftentimes, people see you as that even if you’re not. If you are being assertive, as a woman, we are being considered a bitch. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. There are some women that tend to be bullies who are control freaks and narcissistic. You don’t want to be one of those especially if people are coming to you as their manager or supervisor. I’ve never seen myself as that and my prior employers have said I teach them why we have to do what we have to do. Just last week the departments graduate assistant said “On it, boss” but I told her I was “not her boss and if anything, we are a team player”. We are on the same team. I might have a different role but we are on the same team trying to reach the same goal. I might be a catcher and you might be a pitcher but we all have different roles on ONE team. You don’t have to have the “I’m bitchy, better than everyone attitude”. There is help out there if needed! Founder of the Bully Broads program Jean Hollands offered a class for $18k in the early 2000s in Silicon Valley for women considered to be bullies in the workplace which was featured on NBC news. These women can actually go to reform school for being a “bully boss”. So be nice, considerate and understand, and always put your best foot forward.
Finally, HAVE FUN. I remember my father; he worked for an organization for over 20 years that he absolutely hated. You could see it on his face when he went to work and when he came home from work. He was a good father and husband and he was trying to do ‘the right thing’ for the family, but he could have kept looking and found a job that he loved. I really think you should have a job that you love and that you are passionate about, one that you cannot wait to do. I love to be able to share and educate. I need to see an immediate reaction. Occasionally, 10-15 years after an event, I have run into someone who was in a class I taught and they will say “you really changed my thinking” or “you inspired me” and that makes me feel good in a “not that I am any better than any other person in the world” way, but I feel like I made a difference. You should feel that you love your job, and if you don’t, then start looking for that passion. It is out there, I know it is. If you can’t do it working for somebody else, then work for yourself. Sometimes it’s like taking a bullet to your family financials; in fact, we lost half our salary when I quit my job to start my own business, and it took a while to get back up there, but it was worth it in the end. I had more opportunities with my brand new baby boy, and I was travelling all over the country with my daughter. So I really felt like it was the happy ending for me. This, to me, is how you get ahead as a woman in the work place.
So as a summary, here is my advice in just five steps
- STAND UP FOR YOURSELF
- TOOT YOUR OWN HORN
- ASK FOR WHAT YOU WANT
- BE NICE, CONSIDERATE AND UNDERSTANDING
- HAVE FUN
Enjoy your job and find something you’re passionate about. It is so important. These are things that I have learned over the years and share with you to wish you success! So to quote my favorite Dr. Seuss:
Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re Off and away!
You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any directions you choose.
~Oh, the Places You’ll Go
About the Author: Donna Rogers, SPHR aka @HRWarrior. Donna is a full time Instructor at University of Illinois at Springfield, owner of Rogers HR Consulting and the immediate past Director of the Illinois State Council of SHRM. She has over 20 years in the HR field and currently teaches Human Resources Management, Organizational Behavior, Organizational Development, and Strategic HR Management. She practices what she teaches for almost 100 clients in the central Illinois area.