By profession and training, I am an attorney. As a self-described worker bee, I believed that my worth as an employee was tied directly to the quality of my work. Despite all evidence to the contrary, I still believed, and trusted, that my employer would reward me for working hard.
Several years ago, I had an opportunity to represent a very high profile company in my community in a legal matter. I had successfully defended other employers against the same allegations and was extremely confident of my ability to successfully handle the case on behalf of the company. However, prior to my initial meeting with my new client I spent little, if any, time thinking about how much I should charge for my legal services. After all, I had never negotiated my salary for any job. I just accepted what was offered, grateful for the opportunity, no questions asked.
So, as I prepared for the initial meeting with my new client, I assumed and was prepared to allow the client to dictate how much I would be paid for my services. That is until one of my more seasoned mentors sat me down and administered a very strong dose of reality. At the time, my mentor was a seasoned executive director of a non-profit agency. She asked me if I knew how much I wanted to be paid. Before I could even answer, she told me that her agency regularly used attorneys from law firms who charged as much as $300.00 an hour. I had the same or more experience as these attorneys. She asked me to consider charging a minimum hourly rate of $225.00. Initially, I was dumbstruck. When I finally found my voice, I told her that I could not confidently charge my new client $225.00 an hour. I personally think that it is absolutely unconscionable to charge someone $300.00 an hour to do anything. My mentor told me that my fee should be commensurate with the quality of my work and experience. She went on to point out that if I charged too little my new client might doubt my abilities and not follow my advice. My mentor left me to consider what she said. I wish that I could say that I followed my mentor’s advice in its entirety. Ultimately, I settled upon an hourly rate of that I could actually say out loud without stammering. Once again I felt like my ingrained lack of self-confidence stopped me from asking for what I my skills were actually worth.
My inability to negotiate my salary and other terms and conditions of employment has cost me dearly over the course of my career. In nearly every area of my life I never felt that I deserved more. If I discovered that what was offered was not enough, I made it work without stopping to count the professional and personal costs. I continued to labor under this misconception when I became a single parent. As a result, I was not positioned to negotiate for the employment and salary that I needed to take care of my children and me. I cringe at the money and career opportunities that I have left on the table and sacrificed over the years because I was too afraid to ask for what I realistically deserved and advocate for my best interest.
So, what is my point? My point is not that we should all make $300.00 an hour. I believe that as women the foundation of our economic, emotional, and physical security is built largely upon knowing and advocating for what we are worth. Understanding our worth will help us to confidently contribute and be properly compensated for our time and talents in the work place.
As always, be encouraged.
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