Near the end of my last term in public office, my secretary left for California and I had to replace her. Rather than do a long search for a job that would last less than a year, I hired an independent contractor. After that, I turned my attention to the task of winding down the office. Six months went by harmoniously and then a few weeks before the new budget year, my temporary worker appeared at my desk and asked for a salary increase. The regular staff was getting theirs and she thought she should too. I agreed and made the upgrade.
I was glad she’d spoken up. Being occupied as I was with creating a smooth transition for my successor, I’d given the temporary worker no thought at all. As a long time feminist, I was shamed by my oversight and apologized.
I suppose my embarrassment at the time stuck with me because the memory of that experience came flooding back after reading an article in which Satya Nadella, new CEO of Microsoft, was reported to have told a young woman at a women-in-tech conference that she should not ask for raises but wait to be recognized. “It’s not really about asking for a raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will give you the right raises as you go along,” he advised her. (“Women in Tech,” The Week, October 24, 2014, pg. 16.)
I couldn’t contain my howl when I read his remark. That he would advise anyone, especially a woman, to keep her silence about her salary was advice from the dark ages. As statistics show, “women have become more educated than men and climb ever higher on the career ladder…[yet] are still treated differently, earning just 78 per cent of every dollar [made by] their male counterparts.” (Ibid pg. 16) Given the new demographics of employment, women need to shed their fear because “preconceived gender roles haven’t caught up with today’s workplace.” (Ibid. pg. 16) A woman must feel free to stand up for herself.
That women have kept silent about their pay for so long may be one reason a disparity exists between them and their male colleagues. But women needn’t be shy. Bosses aren’t always sexist. Like everyone else, they have their own agendas and demons to confront. In the case of my secretary years ago, I valued her highly. But if she hadn’t spoken up, she would have fallen behind. Any woman who feels she is entitled to a raise should gird her loins and ask for one. Silence isn’t an option.