On International Women's Day I thought it might be time to tell this story. It is from ten years ago just as I was stopping recruiting.
I was asked to find a Group Creative Director to handle an important client who needed some special attention or they might walk. Special attention meaning it needed someone working on the business who understood the audience. The alphas weren't getting it. It needed a woman.
(Yes. That happens. All the time. We need a woman. More often than you will believe. How about being asked before every search for every position by every creative director at every agency I did a search for in the entire time I was recruiting. Fifteen years. "We would really love to hire a woman." But this is not the point of this article.)
The woman I had in mind as I was being briefed was conservatively interested. She would meet. She had a good thing. I understood why she felt as she did and agreed with her.
They met. They liked each other.
Now here's where this gets good.
She was underpaid. For the market. For the responsibility she currently held. For the number of years in the business.
If she moved to this new job she would still have been underpaid at the top end of the salary the agency said was available for this position.
She was vaguely aware of this fact but wasn't sure how to fix it. "It's because I'm a woman" never came up in any of our conversations.
Without her permission I went to the CEO and asked for more money. The number I asked for was a third again what this position offered, but would right size her salary to be appropriate to what was being asked of her by her new employer. Managing a team, a pissy client to be saved, lots of overtime and weekends.
The right salary would also make her headhunter proof.
(Important to note here: I recruited for a flat fee - the only ethical model - so nothing about what I was up to would have financially benefitted me.)
Smart client. They said yes. It was a big enough bump that her current employer was not able to even try and counter.
And then it happened. She became the person who should be making that salary. Her deportment changed. It became that of a leader. The transformation was remarkable and has continued to delight me as I see her now also flourishing on the global stage.
What I want to say to you on International Women's Day is this:
Her pay before was not because she is a woman. And it is because she is a woman.
It wasn't the industry or the agency, it was her. A woman told not to make waves and be too demanding.
I have met many of those women.
The ones who don't speak up when they know the answer on the paper is wrong, the ones who don't ask, the ones who are still being criticized by the same mothers who told them to make themselves financially independent - telling us that we don't always have to have an opinion and describe women as 'nice and quiet' as if this is an admirable quality.
Someone with something to say but not saying it.
I am by no means making light of some of the experiences I have been told about - the inequality or the #metoo moments.
I am also not saying it is the woman's 'fault'. I know there are many factors and variables always influencing the outcome.
But I am asking women to consider when they will begin to ask for more money - the right way.
Not in the angry blaming someone way that is prevalent now. In a quiet confident fact based business minded professional way.
In a way that shows our evolution and our understanding (head) and belief (heart) in our equality.
In an inclusive way. Not in an us vs. them (scarcity thinking) way.
In a benevolent way that doesn't seek to oppress the previous oppressors. A benevolent way that knows those tactics don't lift society they just put the shoe on the other foot.
Once you've asked, if the answers aren't what you like - take your talent elsewhere in a non apologetic non blaming way.
Ask for the money. Know what your position pays. Inform yourself. Learn HOW to ask (most creative people of both genders need help with this) and if you don't get the answer you want, make a plan and go.
No - money isn't the only thing but it's a damn fine yardstick. And a great place to start.