Questions and Answers with Career Expert Jennifer Warwick
Please note: On a somewhat infrequent basis, Quintessential Careers asks noted career experts five questions related to their expertise and publishes the interview in the current issue of QuintZine, our career e-newsletter. Those interviews are archived here for your convenience.
Jennifer Warwick is a women’s career strategist and coach.
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||Briefly, why do so many women find themselves in the position of underearning? An article in your newsletter states that “the fact is that women are not dainty and helpless victims of the [wage] gap: we had a hand in creating it.” Do they not value themselves enough? Are they weak negotiators? How much of the problem is societal — the fact that women have never earned as much as men?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| Underearning is simply the pattern of not making enough money throughout your life, and underearners are both men and women, but more are women. Certainly, part of the challenge is societal — the wage gap is real; our daughters don’t often play games that emphasize competition and negotiation; women aren’t encouraged to be self-promoting and to ask for what they need.
In my work with clients, I focus on the element of underearning that is completely under every woman’s control: her choices. I believe that personal success comes directly from what each of us believes is possible and what we take responsibility for.
It’s not as simple as a self-esteem issue, though some underearners may feel undeserving. And it’s not as simple as learning to negotiate by leveraging your natural abilities as a woman to build rapport and relationships, though that certainly helps! In my experience, many women find themselves in this position because we’ve sabotaged ourselves through the stories we tell ourselves, and each other, about women and money. Too often, we buy into myths that do not serve us: Negotiating is hard. If I do a good job, my work should speak for itself. Women always earn less. I can only be a (teacher, secretary, clerk). I don’t have formal training — who am I to ask for more? Poverty is noble. Every artist is a starving artist. And so on.
We limit ourselves passively, by not asking for raises and not negotiating, by passing on opportunities for advancement, and by not fully using our skills. We procrastinate, and we don’t focus on specific career goals. Or we do it actively, by turning down clients, by doing excessive volunteer work, and by choosing lower-paying jobs or quitting higher-paying ones. We apply for work we’re not qualified for, we create problems with co-workers, and we stop just short of reaching our goals and decide to change direction and start again at the bottom.
It all comes down to making gutsy choices. Women earning six figures or more make different choices than their underearning sisters. They choose their goals and choose to keep moving toward them, despite obstacles. They surround themselves with people who believe in them and their potential. They expect to be well-compensated for their talents and contributions. And any woman can make these choices.
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||You could probably write volumes on how women can overcoming underearning. Can you briefly here provide a few quick tips — things women can do right away to transcend underearning?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| Assuming you already know the basics — make sure you have the best education you can get, learn how to network, choose a mentor — you can get to the real work, which always happens inside. Remember that change is hard, and overcoming a lifelong earning pattern is a big change. This can be a very complicated issue, and a good coach or financial planner can walk you through this process gently, firmly and confidently.
1. Know how much you make and how much you owe. This step can help you find out if you simply need to manage your finances differently, or you are really underearning. Money management, budgets and sensible spending have their place. But all the Suze Orman books in the world won’t help you if the fact is that you simply don’t make enough money in the first place! The crisper and clearer your vision is of where you are today, the sharper your focus can be on your new destination.
2. Figure out why you are in this situation. How does underearning serve you? And it does, or it would not have become a pattern. Is it protecting you? Helping you avoid something? Sending a signal about who you are? Get help if you need it, get clear, grieve it, and let it go. Then you’ll have room to make new choices.
3. Set a goal and make a plan. Coaches have great exercises to help you determine what a satisfying income will be for you. And if you want to be paid seriously, you need to take your career seriously. So choose to have a career, not a job; and take on the responsibility of setting career goals for yourself. Then develop a plan to discover new areas of employment that will feed both your soul and your bank account. Learn what the market pays for different types of work. Decide how your current job fits with this new plan. If it fits, see what you can learn here that will get you even closer to your goal, and get to work. And if it doesn’t, start getting things in order to make you a compelling candidate for a job that does.
4. Relax. Recharge. Resign. Many clients are in jobs that no longer serve them, staying because “I haven’t gotten the department quite into shape yet” or “I haven’t done everything I can here.” So many times, women stay in jobs too long because things not yet perfect — and of course, they never will be. Please, don’t sacrifice your career journey — your adventure — in a pursuit of perfection. A coach or financial planner can help you get your ducks in a row so that resigning can be a realistic choice for you.
5. Get support. Sorry, but spending time with people who grumble and settle for what’s in front of them is not going to inspire you to stay on track toward your goals. If that means finding a new group to have lunch with, then take a deep breath and do it. You deserve to be surrounded with people who believe in themselves and their success, and who believe in you. Find women who are effective negotiators and spend time with them. Whether it’s a mentor, a coach, a therapist, or a group of women successful in your field, it’s critical that underearners spend time with people who expect to be well-compensated for their time and talent.
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||What’s the biggest mistake that you consistently see your clients make and how can your coaching prevent such a mistake?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| I think the biggest mistake my clients make is insisting on being fully, deeply competent at something before they take it on. In my experience, women seem to equate competence with flawless performance, which is an unfairly high standard. It’s also disastrous in a new economy where taking risks is both required and rewarded.
This behavior starts when we’re young — in the classroom, you see little boys raising their hands whether or not they’re confident in their answer. If they get the answer wrong, so what? But little girls, by and large, prefer to have the right answer ready before raising their hands. It’s a generalization, but research shows they prefer not to make mistakes. Sound familiar?
This pattern plays out in the workplace, too. For example, as an executive, I regularly promoted competent, capable men and women into leadership positions. Naturally, a promotion is a new job, so there will be things you don’t know and will have to learn. Most of the men jumped in head first, and as far as I knew, they were just fine: they knew they didn’t know everything, knew they had a team surrounding them, knew where to turn with questions. They simply assumed they’d master the new job through practice. I was pleased with this attitude, as a manager; individuals with this perspective — men and women — are low-maintenance, great team players, and high performers.
Many of the women, on the other hand, were concerned that perhaps they were not ready, they were not experienced enough — they seemed to think they should be able to do the job perfectly before they even got it, and if they could not do it perfectly on Day One, they were a fraud. They came to me vulnerable and hungry for reassurance. While I was always happy to offer that reassurance, it also occasionally gave me pause — employees with this perspective were less likely to take bold risks and effect transformational change. See the difference?
In my coaching, I help women reconnect with their innate confidence, passion and power. Every woman has it. And letting it show can transform your life… because all that a busy interviewer or supervisor knows is what you show him or her. If you show that you’re secure, a quick study, curious and eager to learn from teammates, that’s true. And if you show them you’re insecure, uncertain, lack confidence and need a lot of positive reinforcement, then that’s true. I work with my clients to act “as if” — as if they were audacious, as if they were deserving, as if they were Oprah! You’d be amazed how quickly that pretending becomes truth, with practice and support. When you come from a place of strength, making the bold choices is easy.
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||Are you generally encouraged or discouraged by trends in career success for women — for example, salaries, executive-level positions, women breaking into traditionally male roles?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| Carly Fiorina has been a hot topic lately. I do not believe that her leaving HP has anything to do with her gender. She just did not provide the return that stakeholders expected and demanded. In this age of corporate scandals and reckless malfeasance, it seems that people have forgotten you can get fired for simply doing an old-fashioned bad job!
I am absolutely encouraged and delighted by the business trends featuring women. A 2004 study by Catalyst showed that companies with more women in senior-management positions financially outperform companies with proportionally fewer women at the top! This finding clearly supports the business case for diversity, which asserts companies that recruit, retain, and advance women will have a competitive advantage in the global marketplace.
As a business owner myself, I find the most exciting trends are in women-owned businesses. According to the Center for Women’s Business Research, 10.6 million firms are now at least 50 percent owned by women, and nearly half of all privately-held firms are at least 50 percent owned by a women. In the last seven years, the estimated growth rate in the number of women-owned firms was nearly twice that of all firms. As of 2004, women-owned firms employ 19.1 million people and generate $2.5 trillion in sales.
I think the real demonstration of a woman’s power in the marketplace is that she can now choose for herself whether to stay home, to go for the corner office, or to build her own corner office on her own terms — at home or anywhere else. It’s a great time to be a working woman!
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||If a woman is underearning, how can she justify spending money on coaching?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| Good question. One of the first rules of business is that it takes money to make money. Many businesses fail in their early years because they are undercapitalized; that is, there was not a big enough “nest egg” to keep the doors open until the organization was stable and turning a profit.
It’s the same for your career. It’s important to invest in yourself — your education, your wardrobe, your social skills, and your self-confidence — to accomplish big things in your career, whatever it might be.
Let’s just look at learning to negotiate: for women, failing to negotiate a fair starting salary in your first job can add up to more than half a million dollars in lost wages over the course of your career. Even small discrepancies add up over time; the sociological term is the “accumulation of disadvantage.” Put another way, you could have had a comfortable nest egg, purchased a second home, or put a child or two through college on the strength of ONE negotiation.
One way to break this cycle is to partner with a coach who can support you in learning new skills, making new choices, and moving from simply thinking about change to actually doing things that move you closer to your goal. You can find a good, experienced career coach for $250-500 a month, and since almost all work is done over the phone, you can choose a coach in any part of the world. Even a six-month commitment is a drop in the bucket, compared to the extraordinary changes you can make in your earnings and your life.
Jennifer Warwick, MA, is a women’s career strategist and coach based in Los Angeles, CA. She works with individuals, groups and corporations in the U.S., Canada and Europe through her company, jenniferinc coaching: success coaching for gutsy women. She is also an award-winning national and international speaker. To accelerate your career by learning the Nine Audacious Actions: Success Secrets of Gutsy Women, subscribe to her no-cost monthly e-newsletter.
Check out all our interview with career experts in Quintessential Answers: Q&A’s with Career & College Experts.
Maximize your career and job-search knowledge and skills! Take advantage of The Quintessential Careers Content Index, which enables site visitors to locate articles, tutorials, quizzes, and worksheets in 35 career, college, job-search topic areas.