Monday, June 9, 2014

And Now For Something Completely Different

With all the hoo-hah about women and salary equality, I want to share a couple of anecdotes to dispel the notion that women don't know how to ask for what they're worth. All these tales are about ME. 

Mrs. Linklater [R] with some of her JWT chums, including Ralph and Tom

As usual, most of what I read blames the victim. Mainly, we hear that women don't make as much because they can't negotiate. This is confirmed in the media with timely articles placed by employer PR firms, which claim that the reason women make less is because it's their own fault. We don't hear that employers keep offering women [and minorites] less money than men. Or threaten to fire them for comparing salaries. [Lilly Ledbetter, anyone?] And they will keep paying women less with impunity, because nothing and nobody has been able to stop them. 

Let's be clear -- I think we women are well aware of our value. And we're quite capable of asking for what we want. It's the people we're negotiating with -- male OR female -- who bring their gender biased [and racial] baggage to the meeting. And it hangs over everything like a bug bomb at a mosquito party.  

Yes, it's 2014, but men in a position to decide what a woman can earn continue to devalue a woman's worth. Women in that position do, too. I call it the Stockholm Salary Syndrome. 

Both types enter into negotiations with a preconceived notion of "what a WOMAN deserves to earn." Or make decisions based on how little we can get her for. These are the people who [in my case] negotiate in bad faith. Or, because they're so shocked that a woman has had the temerity to ask for a "man's salary", they forget how to negotiate at all. 

Some back story.

My first ad agency job came after two years of writing retail ads at Marshall Field's & Co. Back in the Jurassic Era. My roommate worked as a secretary for Tom, a writer/producer at JWT. He had a five-minute side gig as an Andy Rooney-type commentator on local CBS-TV.  Between the two late movies he'd make wry observations about linen sales, new car smells, the first day of Spring, things like that. And he needed a script writer to reduce his load. So I wrote up some samples and got my own side gig working for him at $20 a script.  Years later I found out he was getting $50 for my scripts. 

The good news is that writing those TV scripts got me an interview with another JWT creative, Ralph. He hired me in a cab ride after we attended a Reader's Digest media luncheon [known as a "freebie" by ad types]. After Ralph got back to the office, he asked Tom, "Can she write?" 

I started my first stint at JWT [there were three] on the same day as John, a recent college grad. I found out, soon after, that he had been hired for 20% more than I had. [The HR department had set the salaries, not Ralph.] John also got business cards. Same job, different genders. I had two years' experience. He had none. You do the math.

This is why I have written to my Senator to ask that Social Security payments be adjusted to compensate for the 20% discrepancy in pay. Women should get 20% more. Or men should get 20% less. It's my form of reparations. 

Not ballsy enough to ask for a raise at the time [I know, quelle surprise!], I went to the office manager of the creative department [a woman] and asked for business cards. "Why do you need them?" "Because John got them." We both knew the only reason he got them was because he was a guy. At this point, the office manager didn't have a reason to turn me down. I got my business cards. Six months later I also got a 20% raise to match his starting salary. I am also sure that John got a raise, too. 

Lesson learned.

Twenty years later [after ten years out of the biz for marriage, kids, and divorce],  I was on my third tour of JWT, this time as a VP/creative director. One day I got a call for a job as creative director at the headquarters of a medium-sized ad agency in Pennsylvania that later moved New York. 

After a whirlwind courtship and interview, where I flew out to meet everybody and demonstrate my presentation skills, I was offered $20,000 over my current salary. What a joke. I was also expected to fire someone I knew from my early days at JWT. A friend. Over the phone I said these exact words to their negotiator, "You are not even in the ballpark." When he asked, I told him I wanted double my salary. Plus, all my moving costs. And the $20K was my signing bonus. I also asked why they couldn't fire my friend themselves. 

Without even taking a breath, he said, "Okay" to all my requests. You might think that's a good thing. But his quick response is right where negotiations broke down. 

When he said "Okay" so fast, that's when I knew these people hadn't been negotiating in good faith. They were willing to seriously lowball their offer because I was a woman. Man to man I am convinced that wouldn't have happened. It made me wonder what else would they be willing to do later. On the other hand, if I hadn't had to move to another city and disrupt my kids' lives -- if I'd stayed in Chicago -- I might have taken the job. Despite the risks.

Another lesson learned.

Several years later, now on my own, I was hired as part of a SWAT team to help the Chicago office of a Canadian ad agency save their largest account. The person in charge of the pitch called me and said, "I need a loose cannon and your name keeps coming up." Best compliment I ever got.

The first day I showed up for work, the owner of the agency was in town and asked me to write a :60 radio spot for a Toronto jewelry client. I had one hour to do it. Done. The next day he called from Toronto to say the client loved the spot. That was the good news. The bad news? He needed three more in three hours. Done.

Then we saved the account I was hired to work on. Afterward, I was asked by the owner if I would consider becoming the Chicago office's creative director. Although I enjoyed having my own clients and doing my own thing, I was tempted. I waited for the head of the office to formalize the offer. Weeks went by and I continued working on assignments, but nothing.

Finally, I took matters into my own hands and scheduled a meeting about the creative director offer with the guy in charge -- not to be confused with the owner, by the way. During the meeting he never mentioned a salary. So, when things were winding down [i.e., going nowhere] I just told him the salary I wanted. I based it on the lower end of what I knew Group Creative Directors were making at JWT. It was more than I was getting as a freelancer, which wasn't inconsiderable, but the job was much bigger, duh. 

Along with the salary, I asked for a membership at a local health club since I would be expected to spend long hours at work. The guy never batted an eye. He said, "I see no problem with that." So I figured we had a deal. I think we even shook hands.

The next week, a creative director I know is in the waiting room. I say hi and ask him what he's there for. To talk to the head of the office. I play dumb. And it becomes clear that he's interviewing for the job I thought I had.

Two more weeks pass. Finally the head of the office says he needs to talk to me. But he never sets a time. I know he plans to break the news to me, but the guy is such a chickenshit he can't do it. Especially after agreeing to my terms. He's not about to sit down and admit he's screwed me over.

So he keeps making and breaking plans to talk. Until there's only the weekend left before I know the new guy is supposed to start. Will I be home over the weekend so we can talk? Sure. He doesn't call.

So I call his bluff. I don't show up for work. Ever again. I do call the new guy, who says he's looking forward to working with me. But I tell him that he's got the job I was offered. And I won't be coming in again because of the way I was treated. 

He's amazed, since the head of the office told him that I would be working for him. Too bad he didn't tell me, I respond. 

All the head guy had to say, when I made my salary requirements clear, was "I was hoping you could work for less." Or, "I was just assuming we could continue paying you at your freelance rate." It's called negotiation for a reason. But, he ran into a woman who knew what she was worth and couldn't deal with it. He froze in his tracks. 

Then he failed to send me my last paycheck. Payback, I guess. I called the owner and told him the whole story. And got my paycheck.  

The Chicago office closed within a year. 

So don't tell me women don't know how to negotiate for decent salaries. 

We just aren't the lying, cheating bastards so many employers are.  


Jayne Martin said...

This is a kiss-ass post, Judy. I love your attitude. I'm off to share.

Mrs. L said...

Coming from you, Jayne, that means a lot!! Thanks.