Welcome to back Ambition Diaries, where women share their real stories of striving for more — and what actually happened. I’m so glad you’re here and hope you’ll consider joining us for more conversations like this by subscribing here (it’s free).
This week, I’m speaking to Anna, a 32-year-old IT professional working in Seattle, Washington. Here’s our conversation (edited for length and clarity).
At the beginning of my career here in Seattle I started in a well-defined role, and soon after I started they were like, “Hey, can you do this other thing too for a little bit? It’ll be like ten percent of your time.”
But then that turned into basically doing a second full-time job. So when I realized I was doing two jobs, I went to talk to my manager about it.
I laid it out: “Here’s what I’m doing, here’s how I’m spending my time, here’s what my days look like. I’m doing more than what I was asked to do — can we renegotiate a salary to compensate me for the work that I’m doing?”
And it kind of offended him, like, “You’re asking for more money? We’re a startup.”
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Then he listed off some people at the company that had moved up the ladder and explained: “Those people, like you, did work outside of their title and outside of their job description. And when you do that and you’re successful and management sees that, then you will be rewarded with your appropriate title and pay.”
I was like, wait, you’re asking someone to do something for free for a while and prove that they deserve to be paid for the work that they’ve already done?
It was just kind of like, “You’re ungrateful. How dare you ask for more money, even though we’re asking you to do two jobs, ’cause everyone here does multiple things.”
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That was round one of negotiation. It wasn’t the best experience. It didn’t go anywhere. I didn’t get a raise, and it kind of continued on from there.
There’s this really weird culture of, you should break your back for a company and you should put in all this work and this effort and show how valuable you are. You should work yourself into the ground and then someone will notice and then they’ll pay you.
Do you feel like that affected your relationship with your employer moving forward?
I feel like it did affect how I was valued moving forward, and then the way that my pay increased. From that point, everything was a fight. I was wildly underpaid, and then being in this weird limbo of asking for what I deserve, and being told what I would get paid if I switched into a tech role — and then that not happening.
It was just exhausting to keep saying, “Hey, you promised me a bonus. I didn’t get that.”
“Hey, you promised me a pay increase when I switched to a tech role. My pay didn’t increase to the salary that I was told it would be.”
It’s years of lost income when you do the math on what you didn’t get.
I think the tipping point for me was my last year, which was right before the pandemic was kicking off. Our review cycle was in January and February, and a couple of women at the office actually had some conversations about pay.That’s when I realized how underpaid I was.
That is when I got angry enough to say, “You either have to pay me what I’m worth to do the job that I’m doing, or —”, I didn’t say I’m going to quit if you don’t pay me, but in my mind, that’s kind of what I was ready to do.
I started my second negotiation for my salary increase in the pandemic. I think we brought in a company to review everyone’s job titles and audit the roles and get people on a salary track to be more fairly paid, because I think there were some pretty big gaps.
My title at the time was IT Specialist, but I was the only IT person at our company for almost three years, and we had a huge growth phase. I think that first year we had like a 150% increase, and then we had a 100% increase the next two years. I didn’t get someone to join the team until last October. So I was kind of doing a little bit of everything.
When I went back in [to work at the office in person], my pay bump was lower than what I was told, and that was two years ago. And so that’s pretty much where I was like, “Well, I’m two years behind. How am I ever going to get ahead?”
HR was kind of like, “Well, this is what the company that we brought in said,” but the problem was, no one reviewed me. No one asked me what I was doing. Our CTO left, so I had an interim manager and there was no salary conversation.
So it wasn’t like, “What have you been doing? What has changed? What have you taken on?” It was just, “Oh, this is what she should make.”
IT was my title, but I didn’t just provide tech support. I basically did all of it — like I managed IT by myself. So that was my starting point. I said, “Here’s what I’ve been doing, here is what I’m adding to my plate. Here’s how this doesn’t fit my role. I want a title change and I want a pay change.”
Some people had a review with their manager and then some people didn’t, and I was one of the ones that didn’t. And so from that point, understanding how they figured out what my value was worth and why, I kept having that conversation with my interim manager and then I had a new manager come in and take over managing me, and started the same conversation.
So it was just kind of like a yo yo effect of being underpaid, not really having anyone understand what I was doing. No checks and balances to make sure that that’s being evaluated correctly, and then just having to literally just have the same conversation over and over again until someone did something.
It was exhausting. And it makes you feel crazy. You’re getting feedback like, “This is how you get recognized and this is how you get rewarded.” I did all those things. I wasn’t getting any negative feedback. I wasn’t getting any bad reviews. I wasn’t getting anything that made it seem like I wasn’t doing a good job.
Having to continually ask for something, it starts to make you feel like, “Well, am I over-asking? Do I really deserve to make this amount?”
It made me feel crazy and tired, because you’re not just doing your job, but also you’re having to have the same conversation over and over again, like, “Hey, remember me, I’m tired of talking about this and I know you’re tired of talking about it, but we have to make a decision.”
It actually created a lot of burnout for me as a person. You’re fighting to get paid. You feel like you’re getting there, and you’re having the right conversations, but it’s kind of like spinning your wheels — so it’s just added stress on top of all the other things that you have added to your plate.
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