Our new Salary Paths series aims to give fellow Elphas a reference point for salary negotiations and encourage more women to talk about compensation. We hope that opening up the conversation will contribute to more pay transparency and equitable pay.
Interested in sharing your Salary Path with us? Please fill out this form here and we will get back to you (can be posted anonymously, too! 😉 ).
When I first started as a young French professional over 10 years ago, fresh out of university, being able to work in other countries already felt like an immense privilege to me.
I worked multiple jobs in the luxury and technology sector, across China and the USA, and I was feeling infinitely grateful for these opportunities. Salary considerations were not my priority as long as I could learn… and sustain a living! As a matter of fact, renewing my consecutive visas was one of my main concerns for about 4 years. The prospect of being an “international businesswoman” was already a great achievement in the eyes of my family considering my father was a local entrepreneur and my mother didn’t work due to a terminal illness.
I didn’t know what a typical salary in the corporate world would be, let alone for a female executive, but I knew I wanted to be responsible for myself and build a career.
As my American visa failed to pass the lottery, I landed a Project Management role in London, which initially didn’t pay much but was the perfect fit for me at the time. I was digitizing conferences and traveling all around the world to support these conferences, having a great lifestyle through my work but not getting much money to bring home. I progressively grew within the company, took on more responsibilities, started managing a team of several people and was loving it.
New investors came on and they saw in me someone who could take on some more work. I was proud at first that they saw this potential in me but it resulted in me working two jobs at once: I was still traveling every week and responding to customer requests at any hour of the night and I was working on that second role, building a new platform from scratch. I was burning out, barely sleeping at night.
Raising the alarm and asking for a raise was not sufficient. My boss at the time had recently acquired the company and was not open to any type of compensation discussion. I got an external job offer at twice the amount I was getting paid. That’s how the company I was working at realized they needed to keep me. Suddenly, they did have the funds and made a competitive counteroffer. I negotiated to have a guaranteed growth path and shares in the company.
Here I was, a 20-something woman trying to convince a board of older male leaders to add a guaranteed 10% salary increase year on year to my contract. I pushed and negotiated fiercely because I had another offer that gave me the confidence to try my luck but also the confirmation of the value of my work on the job market. I had understood I was worth more than what I was currently getting paid and could always find something better. I ended up staying as a VP of Product.
Although it is more common to do a significant salary jump when you accept an external job offer, my personal experience has shown that significant salary increases can also happen when transitioning to a new role and negotiating your worth within the same company. Understanding my contribution and its impact on the company gave me the confidence to negotiate and push for what I thought was fair and deserved. That allowed me to double my salary from when I first joined that company. I had reached my secret goal to earn a six-figure salary (in dollars) at 30.
Then COVID hit, and we were in the midst of our n-th pivots. I had been loyal to this company for over 5 years, and it was clearly time for a change. Covid had taken a toll on my mental health, as it did for millions of people, and my self-confidence was hindered.
At that time, I also wanted to work for a company that truly made a positive impact so I was less attentive to money and title. I was mostly focusing on finding a values-aligned company. This is how I found Apploi, a hiring company specializing in healthcare. Their mission to address the nursing shortage appealed to my desire to have a positive impact on the world. Even though salary was not my priority at that time, I nonetheless made a 20% salary jump in transitioning to Apploi.
It was a larger start up and I had joined on a lower title, excited at the prospect of working for a company with values I supported and with a female manager I had been incredibly inspired by during interviews.
As months went by, I was learning a lot from a process and product strategy standpoint when my thirst for career growth sprung back up. My personal goal was not salary-oriented anymore but title-based. I wanted to secure a Director title. I clearly expressed my ambitions to my manager who in return gave me a set of milestones to reach to get promoted. I meticulously addressed each point and took into account her constructive feedback to reach that goal. We went through multiple review cycles where my manager gave me additional objectives and key results to meet until I finally got promoted. Although it felt like a never-ending quest, it took me about a year for the initial salary I accepted to grow by 50%.
You might wonder why I was so hung up on the idea of getting the Director title. This came from the observation that women who go on maternity leave or take a break to raise their kids in the midst of their career ascension sometimes take a long time to find a job at the same level or above when they return. I wanted to secure a Director title in my early thirties to have the freedom to make the career and personal decisions I would want to make in the future, such as potentially building a family.
These transitions were frightening and uncomfortable but they allowed for so much growth. I do not think we have to choose between self-fulfillment and money. A subtle balance can be found as long as we carefully – and patiently – craft the life we want. Remember that you have never reached your full potential: new goals will come your way and you will keep refining your own trajectory.
Here are a few Do’s & Dont’s I have learnt along the way:
- Do not get too hung up on roles or specific industries. Because the professional landscape keeps shifting, the key value is flexibility and having a growth mindset. Your dream job might not even exist yet!
- Do find the soft skills you are good at. Think about what you care about in life, not only in your work. It doesn’t have to be related to a specific field or a craft, it can be as simple as “I like connecting people together”. I had had multiple experiences across a wide variety of industries, always knowing that I was good at strategizing, coordinating, managing cross-collaboration but not so sure about what clear path it was delineating for me. Then I found Tech Product Management as a fantastic cross-functional role where I could thrive.
- Do not hesitate to talk about compensation. Speak with your friends about salary and speak with your peers. Pay transparency is essential to understand how much your peers earn and how much you could aspire to. Not only can it help you set goals, but it is also an indication of what is within reach (on paper). Knowledge is power and having an awareness of what jobs pay can help break the glass ceiling, one crack at a time. More and more start-ups now publish salary grids based on skill set and experience in the hopes of creating a fairer, more equitable, and transparent workplace.
- Do know your worth. Keep track of the compliments you’re getting from work (and beyond) as well as the clear achievements you have contributed to, these are arguments for you to progress… and fight imposter syndrome! I also find it useful to read job descriptions of roles I might be interested in. It makes you realize that you are probably not that far from that Director role or that you are only a step away from this VP role if you check that new box. This can act as a new goal to deliver on and it will all of a sudden feel within reach. Interviewing is an excellent practice: it helps you hone in on what you are looking for but also realize what skills of yours are highly sought after on the job market. It also allows you to adjust how you present your strengths based on your audience.
- Do not be afraid to ask. It is still exceptionally rare that companies grant raises to employees without them asking and demonstrating a desire to get promoted. Although we would all love for the work we deliver to be self-explanatory and to automatically unlock a reward, the most commonly applied rule is that you don’t get what you don’t ask for. I’m not referring to asking for permission but rather to express to your manager what you have in mind for your career path and your intentions to grow. A good manager will provide you with guidance on your path to career growth. It, of course, comes with evidence of your efforts and accomplishments!
Building the career you want all starts with a conversation…