Forgive me while I break a writing rule and employ a cliché: Knowledge is power. But, you knew that, right? Then why do you refuse to start talking about money?
Talking about the nitty-gritty of your financial life is one of the most empowering things you can do for your career. Sharing salary information with colleagues arms you with information you can use to negotiate pay, set goals and learn about the market.
Get talking about money, seriously!
Talking about take-home with friends who work in other industries gives you a sense of what people of equal smarts and hustle feel they’re worth. One of the tenets of business is that a product—or service—is worth only what the market will pay for it.
How do you know what you can earn if you don’t have a clue about the marketplace?!
The only way to learn about this marketplace is to talk to other human beings about money.
Specific details about money.
I know, talking about finances is considered impolite in most circumstances. I venture to say it is the last taboo. I can think of no other topic still off the table in nearly all social and even professional circumstances than trying to talk about money.
I find people speak more freely about the inner workings of their marriages, sex and sexuality, religion and politics than their salary, net profits or investment balances.
And these bad habits are worse amongst women — women who are far more often oh-so-shy about being impolite or offending. And women and their goddamned pay gap and yammering about how to close it. We don't even talk about money with our family and children. (Hopefully you're open with your partner!)
I'll tell you how to close in on that 81 cents on a man's dollar: Let’s grow up, ladies, and speak up about cash!
Here's how to bring real-world dollars into your personal and professional conversations:
1. Share first. I make it routine to share financial information–even if I don’t have an agenda for learning someone else’s. I may casually mention how much I paid for my apartment, or the interest rate I got on my car loan, if it works naturally into the conversation. This helps to establish rules for money talk, and puts others at ease about opening up to me.
2. Pay attention to stress points. I learned a lesson about writing long ago: if it makes you uncomfortable to write something – or, in the case of a reporter, to ask a source a question – that is where to good stuff lies. If I find myself holding back or squirming over money topics, it probably means there is some powerful information at stake. It is in these moments when I push myself to break through the discomfort and share.
3. Ask. I recently had lunch with a new colleague. While merrily chatting about contracts over poached salmon salad, I casually asked, “So, how much are you getting for that kind of work these days?” She responded with equal ease. Be courteous, and keep a light tone which allows for the other person to politely decline to share.
4. Act normal. Don’t pad your money talk with embarrassment or shame. Avoid disclaimers like, “If you don’t mind me asking…” or “Don’t tell anyone, but…” or “I promise this is between the two of us.” Instead, just state the figures as facts. “I got $10,000 for that project.” Or, “I have $15,000 in credit card debt.” Try: “How much is that client paying?” or, simply: “How much did you pay for your sofa?” You may be pleasantly surprised by how candid, normal and relieved your friends and colleagues are in return. Because if you want to know, they certainly want to know, too.
Examples of how I talked about how much I made
I recently had a fantastic revelation that could not have happened if dollar figures were not revealed.
A business coach I know mentioned a client – a coach herself – who bills $400,000 each year. Holy smokes!
According to this client’s website, this young woman was adorable and quirky (not unlike me, right?) and I began to think more critically about my own early notions of launching a digital media business. All my negative thoughts about such an enterprise (it’s a service business model I want to avoid in an industry flooded with hacks) suddenly went out the window and I allowed myself to dream about my own endless potential.
A second example: An established author friend shared with me her latest book advance: $30,000.
She also shared her frustration of not owning rights to her own material, which has lacked marketing support from the publisher and as a result sold poorly, which has all but destroyed her ability to land subsequent book deals.
Then last week I read an article by an opinionated blogger (not unlike me, right?), James Altucher, who details how he successfully earned many times my friend’s advance in the first month of publication by self-publishing his work.
If my friend had merely complained in broad terms about a lousy publishing contract, she would have sounded like every grumpy writer who has lived in the past 300 years.
And, if Altucher had merely bragged about his outrageous writing success, he would have sounded just like every egotistical writer who has lived in the past 300 years.
But with hard dollar figures to support their cases, these two professionals made strong points for their cases–and strongly informed my next professional steps.
How I urge other women to reach their earning potential
A few weeks ago before heading out I was settling in the new babysitter — a beautiful, sweet and academically brilliant 17-year-old. “Your mom said you usually charge $10 per hour — does that work for you?” I said.
“Yes, or $8 is fine, too,” she said.
“Never suggest less!” I admonished. “When someone says ‘$10,' you say ‘$12.'”
I find myself yelling at women about money all the time. I learned a lot about money from own mom, (One nugget: “Always negotiate. Otherwise they won't respect you.”) a 1970s feminist who also often said, “Women are women's worst enemy.” Interpret that as you will, but I take it to say that if women aren't earning as much as men, it's because (at least in large part) collectively women don't do enough to further the cause of equal pay. Poke holes in that all you want, but when a promising young woman instinctively suggests fees lower than offered, we have work to do.
Tons of progress has been made in promoting women in education, business, government and pay. Plenty of legislation, research and programs. Yay! But advocacy also happens in little, everyday conversations — conversations we have been conditioned to avoid. Convention tells us it is impolite to a) talk money, and b) tell others their business. Guess what else is convention: Women earning less than men.
Which is why I say you should start yelling. Yell because you care about the women in your life and you want them to succeed and be financially successful. Yell also because you want all women to be financially successful. Because what is good for me is good for you is good for her is good for them. And by “them,” I mean women and people everywhere.
A few more recent examples of how I helped other women see their worth:
-My housecleaner Sandra and I were renegotiating our arrangement. I asked her: “How much will it cost now?” Her answer: “Oh, I don't know — tell me how much you want to pay? I hate giving quotes!” I told her: “Sandra, you do awesome work and you know it. Tell me your fee.” She went high and I agreed.
-After speaking at a conference recently, a woman from the audience approached me and complained that she has been in her role as a hospital administrator for six years and been promoted several times without any merit pay increase. She estimates she earns $60,000 less than market value. $60,000!!!! “That's crazy,” I said. “It's your responsibility to get more.” This articulate, professional woman went on to rationalize that her family doesn't need more money, and she likes her boss …. and all the usual crap women say. “You need to turn this around,” I told her. “They're taking advantage of you because they don't respect you.” I volunteered to coach her into a higher salary or new job, but she never followed up.
-A friend is miserable in her job and complains at how poorly she is paid and treated. Finally, yesterday, after sustaining another gripe session, I told her: “You know you have to leave and you deserve more money. If you don't have those things it is your responsibility. I'll help you find a new job but I won't listen to you complain any more.” She finally accepted my recurring offer to connect her with a colleague who can help her.
Tell me: What do women you know do to sabotage their finances? What do you tell them? Share in comments, ladies!
More on how women can make more money
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.