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Closing The Gender Wage Gap With Claudia Miller

In Episode 114, Claudia Miller, Career Coach at Claudia T. Miller, LLC, joins Melinda in an empowering conversation about strategies and guidelines we can all implement to help close the gender wage gap. They explore mindset shifts and techniques that underrepresented identities can use to build confidence and better negotiate what they are worth. They elaborate on the importance of organizations implementing pay transparency policies. They also discuss how HR folks and people leaders can develop a talent pipeline to create a stronger pathway to leadership for women in the workplace and address compensation & equity gaps.

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If you want to know [that you’re not being underpaid], and you truly want to understand…, the best way is to reach out to people that are two to three levels above you. If you’re a manager, reach out to director or senior director; if you’re an individual contributor, reach out to manager or director level, whether it’s internally, externally, through your networks…, then ask that question, ‘I would love your expertise and insights. I’ve been in this role, or I’ve been in this industry for quite some time, and I’m looking to move to the next step in my career. But I want to know, what is the true salary range for this role?’ Once you ask enough people, you’ll start seeing that range, and then you get to choose what range you want to be at, not just because that’s what’s given.
Photo of Claudia Miller, a Latina with long brown hair, round pearl earrings, and a white/black patterned sleeveless dress, sitting on a grey couch with a blue and orange painting on the back
Guest Speaker

Claudia Miller

Career Coach at Claudia T. Miller, LLC

Claudia Miller is a sought-after Career Coach and she’s helped her clients land fulfilling jobs in less than 90-days all while getting on average a 54% in salary increases ($30k-$140k).

She also partners with companies and organizations in identifying rising stars within their organizations and providing strategic insights and support in developing a leadership and talent pipeline with a focus on Women and Women of Color. Due to her efforts, she’s worked with Top Fortune 500 Clients and has been featured multiple times in Forbes, MSNBC, Thrive Global, and Business Insider put her in their top global list of Top Innovative Career Coaches.

Learn more about the host and creator of Leading With Empathy & Allyship, Melinda Briana Epler.


MELINDA: Hello, everyone. I’m Melinda Briana Epler, Founder and CEO of Change Catalyst and author of How to Be an Ally. I’m your host of Leading With Empathy & AllyShip. Welcome!


Allyship is about learning, showing empathy, and taking action. That process often includes learning, unlearning, and relearning, then building empathy for people with different experiences, and above all, taking consistent action. So each week, we’ll learn from somebody new. Please be open to new ways of thinking and understanding. You can learn more about my work and sign up to join us for a live recording at ally.cc. 


Let’s get started. 


Today, our guest is Claudia Miller, Career Coach at Claudia T. Miller, LLC. We’ll be talking today about how we can all improve the pathway for women to be leaders in the workplace. That includes a mindset shift that people with underrepresented identities can make, to better negotiate and sell ourselves. It also includes ways that managers and other folks around us can better support and advocate for women, to be compensated and to be valued for what we’re worth. 


So I’m really excited for you to join us today, Claudia. Welcome!


CLAUDIA: Thank you so much. I’m so excited to be here, and especially with some of the topics we’re going to be discussing today.


MELINDA: Yeah, absolutely. Claudia, can we start with your story? Could you share where you grew up, and how you made your way to becoming a career coach?


CLAUDIA: So I was born in Guatemala, and I came to the US when I was four years old. So I’m the oldest in my family, and I’m also the first one to graduate pass eighth grade, and now I hold a Master’s of Public Health Policy & Administration. When I graduated from college, I did everything everyone told me. I did well in school, I did internships, I joined extracurricular activities, I networked. So I figured if I did everything, then once graduation came and I started applying to jobs, that I was just going to get a slew of interviews, and I will get to hand-select all these opportunities that I wanted to go after. Unfortunately, I had one interview, and thankfully, they offered me a job. But at that point, I felt helpless, hopeless, and ashamed and embarrassed. Because I didn’t know what I was doing wrong. I did everything everyone told me to. But clearly, that wasn’t enough, and it didn’t get me the results that I was looking for. 


So I knew then that I needed to figure out how am I going to advance in my career, especially knowing that I’m the only one in my family really going through this. It’s not like I can connect with some of the family members or neighbors. So I knew I had to be very resourceful, and I needed to figure this out. Otherwise, I’m going to continue to see myself in these types of positions, and I never wanted to be in that position ever again. That’s when I invested a lot in reading, courses, and workshops. I worked with career coaches, I worked with resume writers. But I almost felt like nothing couldn’t really apply or work for me, especially because I am Latina. So I’ll take it into that cultural aspect of it as well, a lot related to my mindset, especially growing from humble beginnings. It was just a lot of things to get through. So when I really started seeing massive changes is when I started my side business as a virtual admin. I applied business principles to my career, and that’s when things just started shifting. It started skyrocketing. I was able to pivot from finance, to education, to healthcare, to healthcare tech, and every single time, received a $30,000 salary increase at least. I was probably only 30% qualified, but I still got the job, and I was still very successful in that role, so much that I was handpicked by the CEO to lead specific projects and task forces.


MELINDA: Awesome. So how did you go from there to being a career coach? It got inspired by your changes, obviously.


CLAUDIA: Yeah. So a lot of my friends and family, now they were asking: “Well, how did you do that?” I ended up going to an event about how to gain publicity, and this was more geared towards my business. I was talking to one of the editors at Business Insider, and somehow came to the topic about my career. She’s like: “Wait, you received a 30k increase? How did you do that?” I’m like, well, it’s about principles. All of a sudden, I found myself in front of Business Insider in a four-part article, where it highlighted that, and all of a sudden, it had over a million views, I think in a day or two, and all of a sudden, people were asking me. I didn’t feel comfortable at the time, because I had only tested it with friends and myself. So I did almost like some cases were pro bono, and I started testing this out: Will it work across various industries and different levels of experience? Actually, it worked out better for them. 


So now I’ve had clients that have received anywhere between $30,000 and even up to $140,000 in additional earned income, and they’ve been able to pivot across various industries, landed manager, director, and executive roles. I primarily work with women and women of color. So even seeing more women in senior leadership roles really fulfilled that mission aspect as well, plus seeing them and finally gaining that confidence and having control of their career really helped with the empowerment. Not only for myself, because that’s something I want to enjoy doing. But also, for them, and really seeing, all of a sudden, that change that they have in mindset.


MELINDA: Yeah. I think it’s really important too, that not everybody changes jobs because they want a salary increase. There’s a huge growing number of people that have changed jobs over the last couple of years, in particular, that are looking for a career change or looking for more meaningful work. When you do that, when you’re pivoting in any kind of a way too, you have to retell your story; you have to rethink and reposition yourself as well.


CLAUDIA: Correct. For a lot of them, it’s finding that fulfilling job. Especially since COVID and working from home, a lot of them have had time to think and realize, “I don’t want to spend hours commuting, I don’t want to spend hours in the office. I actually can get more done while at home. I could spend time with my family, and even take care of some of the household things that I can help, or take care of my elderly parents or family members.” All these opportunities just opened up, and they realized that they could still do their job successfully from home. Now I’ve seen that massive change where they’re finally realizing, “I don’t know why I’m in this role. I don’t like it, or I’m not thriving in it, or I want to learn something else, and I want to find actually a job that is fulfilling for me.”


MELINDA: Absolutely. Then the last thing I will introduce is just how many layoffs we’ve seen in the tech industry. I’m here in San Francisco, and the tech industry has had a number of layoffs over the last several months. As a result, there are a lot of folks that are looking to position themselves in the workplace for those new jobs, whatever that looks like for them. So there’s lots of different reasons that people are looking for career changes: moving up, getting bigger salaries, and compensation more than just a salary, because they may have been laid off, and so on. 


So can you share some of the things that you see? Especially when you’re working with women of color in particular, what do you see? You mentioned your story a bit. Do you see other folks with similar stories, from different cultures, experiencing similar things?


CLAUDIA: Yes, definitely the biggest impact has been their confidence. So they’ve been either passed up for promotions, or they’ve been told “You’re doing stellar work, great job! We just don’t have an opportunity for you to move upward right now, at the moment. Oh, we can’t also give you a salary increase, even though we’ve had record high numbers for the company this past year. But just keep doing the job. Because you don’t have that manager director experience, why don’t we put you in that job, have you do it for the next two to three years without any additional pay or increase in title, and just take on those responsibilities? So that way, you can acquire that experience. Then, we consider giving you that job title and salary increase.” Whereas, I don’t see that as frequently as with men, but with women, they’re being asked of this. 


I do think that there’s a two-part process, where the company should not be asking their employees to do these roles, and they should be having a process within their companies to start developing upcoming leadership; you start grooming, you’re creating mentorships, being able to forge different types of programmes where they can shadow different organizations. So that way, you’ll have a leadership talent pipeline that can move on, not having the person take on additional responsibilities without the pay and without title increase. But there’s also the other component of how many times are we going to let this happen to us. At some point, they can only have this power if we allow them to. So if we were to say “Thank you, but I don’t think that’s reasonable, or I just want to talk about an adjustment and compensation based on the added responsibilities.” We do need to have accountability for ourselves, and also ask for the pay increase. Because systemically, we know that we’re not being paid fairly equal, in comparison to our male counterparts. So really advocating for ourselves and having a company will be the ideal situation. But at times, all I can focus on is: Well, let’s work on you as an individual and how we can help you and what is the best place for you to really succeed and thrive in, and where can we find that fulfilling job, whether it’s internally within your organization or we need to start working elsewhere?


MELINDA: Yeah. I want to talk too about, in addition to the wage gap, which actually I think we talked about this as we were prepping for this call that that wage gap has actually increased. I don’t know if you want to talk about that really quickly, and then I want to say something else.


CLAUDIA: Yes, unfortunately, we’ve gone backwards when it comes to pay increases. Just to give you some figures, for women, currently, women are getting paid 83 cents on the dollar, whereas African-American women are getting paid 57 cents on the dollar, and Hispanic women are getting paid 49 cents on the dollar, and native women are getting paid around 50 cents on the dollar. So we’ve actually gotten worse, we’re getting paid less. Especially, COVID has really impacted primarily women and women of color and communities from underrepresented communities and areas where it’s been impacting as the most, and that’s why it’s even more vital to negotiate your salary. It’s even more important to be able to know how to sell yourself and be able to ask and know that you are well-deserving of that salary as well.


MELINDA: Yeah. So I want to add on to that, that in addition to the wage gap, there’s two things. One is, there’s an equity gap. So when women or people of color work at startups, they get less equity in those startups, and there’s a lot of other bonuses and other things that go into compensation. So overall, there’s a compensation gap. Then on top of that, there is an expectation gap. I think that’s where it gets to the confidence, and perhaps what people might call impostor syndrome, or that not asking for what you’re worth. But there’s also an expectation gap where 65% of the time, a woman’s salary expectation is lower than a man when they’re applying for the same job at a company. So in our minds, probably because we’ve been paid less over time, but in our minds, we’re not expecting as high of a salary either. That all plays into it. It widens as women get older, and as they reach their mid-30s, it continues to rise. So it’s increasing as we continue to work in our workplaces. Then it also is wider for Black women and men and Latinas as well. So changing that expectation is really important, too. I think that is part of the competency we’re talking about, and maybe we could talk about that. What are some ways that we can build that confidence? What are some ways that you build that confidence with your individual clients?


CLAUDIA: Well, one, first letting them know. I mean, I can quickly know, based on their experience, just talking with them, whether they’ve been underpaid, or they’re paid fair market wages. Usually, I have yet to come across a client that is making well above market range. So most of the time, I let them know: “Well, based on your experience and what you’ve been doing, you’ve actually been doing the two roles, and usually we’re getting paid this much. But we know that you’re already being underpaid.” So one is that self-awareness. 


Then where we start increasing that confidence is, working on mindset, and really understanding that what are some of those misconceptions we tend to have when it comes to salary. Depending on how their upbringing is and some cultural norms, just to kind of tell a little bit more, at least as a Latina, is we’re told that we should just be grateful if we’re offered a job. That we shouldn’t toot our own horn or be bragging about ourselves. Instead, we should be working really hard, and eventually, we’ll get recognized for our work. That’s not how it works usually in corporate America, you have to tell them what you’re doing. It’s just making that shift of saying, what are some of the behaviors you’ve been doing throughout your career, and what are some of these concepts or misconceptions that we have in regards to asking for more or asking for that promotion? 


Once we get to the root cause, then we can start reframing it. So a lot of the things that I have to work with my clients is: “It’s not bragging, it’s just communicating data.” We want to make sure we’re logging our work that we’re doing, because we don’t even remember what we did three or four months ago. I would probably have to look at my calendar to even know what was I doing at that time, let alone what I did for the entire year. If we can’t remember that, how can we expect our managers to remember that as well? So that’s why it’s important to really document the work that you’re doing, the impact, what is the magnitude? People tend to learn differently when you create more specifics around metrics, and what was the outcome, and what were some of the challenges and some things that were learned throughout the projects? Now we start creating that brand value. 


Now all of a sudden, we’re increasing the magnitude of our work. Naturally, a lot of my clients just started realizing how much value they’re actually bringing to the company. They just thought that they were doing X, Y, and Z. Or “I was just doing this marketing campaign. I didn’t know that my marketing campaign had brought in over $200 million, and that now they’ve been able to create a whole new department and they were able to hire an additional 5,000 employees.” But to them, it was just a marketing campaign. But we want to also focus on what is the value and the outcome to the company. All of a sudden, you could start seeing their confidence rising. All of a sudden, it comes out in their resume, in their cover letter, on their LinkedIn, and when they’re interviewing, they know their numbers. All of a sudden, they know they’re a great fit for this role, and they know that they should be asking for this specific salary because of the value that they’re bringing. If they can generate $30 million in one year through five marketing campaigns, I can ask for $140,000. Like, with my work, I more than pay for my salary at that point.


MELINDA: Yeah. I think that also applies for when you’re doing your internal performance reviews as well. A friend of mine told me once recently that anytime you have a performance review, you should already know exactly what’s going to happen in that performance review. Because you’re the one that’s managing it. You’re coming and saying, “This is what I have done, this is what I plan to do.” Also, performance reviews are really tied in most companies to compensation as well. So there are ways, you don’t have to jump from job to job necessarily to be more fairly compensated.


CLAUDIA: Yes. I would even add to that, sometimes, and I’ve seen this in companies, where they’ll have a performance review, but it’s after their leadership has already nominated who they’re bringing for a promotion, who’s getting a salary increase, and how much they’re receiving. So even for some, I would even recommend that even try to reach out to the HR, ask your manager, by when do they typically have to send a nomination for promotions and salary increases? Because it could be a month or two before your performance review, and you cannot wait till your performance review to tell your manager how great of a job you did. Sometimes we need to move that conversation upward, and then start having that discussion. 


Even understanding, on an HR perspective, of what are some of the qualifications or the guidelines or policies in order for someone to receive a promotion, and what is a cap sometimes when it comes to salary increase? Because there are some organizations where, unfortunately, I’ve heard HR hiring manager, they don’t tell this to the employee, but they tell it to me because I like to keep a good pulse of what the market is doing. They’ll tell me, “I know my employees are underpaid, and I just can’t give them the salary that they deserve.” So what HR told me, or the HR policy is, that they have to go apply elsewhere, get a job offer that’s competitive, then I can bring it into HR, and then we can have a discussion on how we can adjust their pay. So some policies and systems are almost set up for the employee to leave. At that point, why is the employee going to stay when they weren’t even valued, whereas this company can see their value and they’re paying what they deserve? They just try and go elsewhere. So it’s really a system of policy that just isn’t set up to be working how they expected it to work in the beginning.


MELINDA: Yeah. I think you’re moving into a new topic, which is, how can companies really acknowledge what we just talked about. That there is that expectation gap, that there is, we know, a compensation gap as well, and we’re to address that. One of the ways is, yes, reducing those barriers and those hindrances.


CLAUDIA: Yeah. I would say, and this is a quote I just read and I loved it, because it said, “When a hiring manager is telling the HR person, we can’t afford to give them that raise that they want, that’s when the HR person should say: Well, then that means you definitely need to give it to them.” Because if you can’t afford the raise, you can’t afford to hire someone else externally. It’s going to cost more. Not only for salary, because they’re going to want more competitive market rates. But also, because it’s going to cost money to find a candidate, it’s going to delay time for us to hire, then the onboarding time. 


At times, employers are asking for an extra $10,000 to $20,000 that is reasonable and very competitive. Yet, companies won’t give it to them. But once that employee brings in that two weeks’ notice and says I’m leaving, all of a sudden, “What can we do for you? You want the title? We’ll give you the title. We’ll give you the salary increase. We’ll match that salary offer.” But at that point, it’s too late. Had they done that right thing from the beginning, they wouldn’t be having these conversations. That’s a lot of the positions that my clients are in. All of them want to leave, but they found out that they were being grossly underpaid. I had a client who was making almost $50,000 less than her direct employees, once she was promoted to a manager, and she had been there longer than everyone else and actually created one of the top solutions in the industry. It wasn’t even existing in the marketplace. Yet, she was getting paid $50,000 more than her direct employee. 


So all of these things, it’s like, how can we avoid that? Well, one is understanding, how can we audit this? This is a system issue as well. How do we audit this? Where are they now, and understanding how can we start making these changes? Why is there such a huge discrepancy when it comes to salaries? There shouldn’t be a $100,000 difference when it’s the same type of responsibility. Then even after that is really understanding, what is happening? One of the things that I’ve seen is, companies sometimes almost punish their loyal employees. They’ll say we can only give a 10% raise if you get a promotion, but yet, they’re willing to pay 30% to 40% more to hire externally. Now their internal employees, who are the ones that are loyal, who have a lot of knowledge from the industry or the company itself, are the ones being penalized here, and they’re not given the appropriate salary. But yet, they’re more than happy to offer that external candidate. So having these systems, again, within their company, is really imperative to understand like, what are the outcomes and what it can lead to towards the end?


MELINDA: Yeah. I want to offer a few other solutions too, or maybe we can talk about them together, is that if you’re a manager, if you’re a hiring manager or if you’re an HR and a part of the hiring process, one of the things that happens when you ask what are your salary expectations is, right at the surface, there’s that expectation gap. So making sure that you’re addressing that. You can ask the expectations, but don’t anchor the salary on those expectations; anchor the salary on the number that you should have for all people under that same role. Negotiations as well. There are definitely companies out there that have eliminated negotiations entirely. Because when you have negotiations like that, it’s generally a Type A kind of extrovert that’s going to better advocate for themselves, somebody that has a high level of confidence that’s going to advocate for themselves more, somebody that has a higher level of financial security. Because if you’re negotiating, you’re willing to walk away, and some people are less able to do that. So all of that, the negotiation itself could be reduced or eliminated too. Setting those salary bands, or the salary and other compensation, so that it is equitable across all folks, is really important as well. Anything you’d add?


CLAUDIA: Yeah. I would say that even now with the salary transparency, I like the fact that they’re doing that and that way candidates get to choose. But even now, I still hear where, and this is just the only across certain states, but there are still HR people and hiring managers asking for salary expectations, but yet, they’re not willing to share what their budget is for the specific role. So how can we expect transparency when the company itself is not being transparent? At the end of the day, what I tell my clients is, and I touched on this earlier, where we don’t negotiate or women don’t negotiate, and therefore, going to the next role or we get promoted, and it almost starts compounding that gap and that discrepancy versus what the market is actually paying. 


The analogy that I like to use is, almost like house buying. The strategy people tend to use is, just to make things easier: “If I’m making $100,000, my next job, I want to get paid around $110,000 to $115,000, I think it’s appropriate.” Versus saying: “Well, I’m getting paid $100,000. But for this type of job and my responsibilities and my skill set, this is $150,000. So therefore, I’m going to ask for $150,000. It’s very competitive in the marketplace.” But people tend to base it off of what they’re currently making. If you already didn’t negotiate, and we already know you’re being grossly underpaid, it just starts compounding. You’re just adding an extra $10,000 or $15,000, not realizing that you are $70,000 to $80,000 behind. That’s why I’ve helped my clients make up that difference, where some of them received even up to $80,000 more, just because they were being so underpaid for so long. 


The analogy that I like to use is house buying. Melinda, if you bought a house for $100,000, let’s just say five years ago, and now you want to sell it, and I’m offering you $300,000, are you going to say: “God, no, Claudia! I only paid $100,000, let me sell it to you for $120,000. It just makes sense.” I don’t think anyone in their right mind will say that. They will say yes, sold for $300,000. Same thing when it comes to your salary. We don’t base it on how much we’re currently making, we base it off of what the market is paying for that specific skill set or that specific job. That’s how we need to start doing it, and that’s how you don’t fall behind in what you’re getting paid. It’s not all about the money. But if you’re doing the work, you might as well get compensated fairly, and you can decide what you want to do. I know with salaries, it’s not only about the salary, but it’s about the options that it can give you. Especially for underrepresented communities, what it can do and the impact that it can make within our communities, within future generations, and what we do with it.


MELINDA: Absolutely. As managers are really looking to create change, as HR folks and people leaders are working to create change, as companies overall are working to create change, what would you suggest that they do to improve? To place more women in leadership roles, and to support women in growing into those leadership roles?


CLAUDIA: Definitely, I would say, if possible, and especially if it’s at an organizational level, how we build the leadership talent pipeline. So not only ask people to almost handpick or advocate, saying, “I want to be considered, or I want to put myself, and I want to be part of this training.” But to your point, and also almost, it’s geared towards those extroverts who are more than happy and have that confidence. But also having managers really nominate, knowing that they have leadership skill sets, they’ll be great. Understanding what does the overall leadership look like? Not only just in the executive board, but also in the board itself. We’ve seen data where when we have more women or a very diverse leadership, there’s an increase in profitability, there’s an increase in innovation, and it mitigates risk. So how can we start developing that, how can we start creating that diverse leadership? 


Also, creating sponsorships and mentorship opportunities, whether it’s within that department or within the organization itself. That’s how you can support and advocate. Just because they said, let’s just say that they’re looking for $120,000, but you know you can pay $150,000, why not offer them that $140,000 to $150,000 that they deserve? Just because that person doesn’t know, for whatever reason, as a manager, you can say: “Well, this is already what we had budgeted for, we understand the value.” Because maybe that candidate doesn’t know now that they deserve that pay. But if they find out later, they’re either going to leave, or they’re going to be a disgruntled employee. So it’s just overall the right thing to do. Plus, it also improves the motivation and the confidence, and they can understand the value that they’re bringing in. As a manager, you can also help educate an understanding overall, how is their department performing, how is their work that they’re doing impacting the overall company in itself, and where’s that value stemming from? So really having these resources and becoming an advocate for them is really going to help, not only for you as a leader, but also in creating that diverse leadership that we’re seeking.


MELINDA: Yeah, just to give an example, it just popped into my head. A few years ago, we were taking on a new team member, and they said: “Well, this is how much I want for my salary.” Thinking, and I could see it, they were thinking that that was a lot in their eyes. I said: “No, you’re not going to get that. You’re going to get this bigger number, because that’s the going market rate.” So we need more managers that do that, that say: “No, wait a minute, just because somebody thinks that they’re worth less than they are, we’re not taking that. We’re saying that they’re worth what they are, and we’re giving them that compensation.” I think that is really important as an ally and as a leader, to invest in your team. There’s lots of data that shows that if you have disparity in wage, that most people find out one way or another. Even if it’s not transparent, most people figure that out at some point, and most of the people who figure out, they leave. So you want to be transparent, but also be equitable from the beginning, be fair in your wages from the beginning. To note when somebody may have an expectation gap, when somebody may not have the confidence, or lots of other things have come into play over the years that have changed how they present themselves.


CLAUDIA: I would even add that even if you’re a new manager and realize that some of your employees are being really underpaid, it’s up to you as a manager to be able to ask and say: “Well, how did this happen? How can I make it fair and make it right?” It might have not been you, it might have been the previous manager that wasn’t ready for that. But doing that really means a lot. I actually had a client, similar to that client, that she was being underpaid by $30,000, and it was her previous manager. She received a new manager, and this manager now was an advocate and an ally. After that, he was able to get an extra 30% salary increase for her, and they actually accounted the three years of the job she did without the title and with the salary as part of the overall experience. Now she was already being positioned for director position. So that really demonstrates great leadership skills as a manager, and now she really values that mentor and that manager and the advocacy behind it, and now realizing how important it is now that she’s leading her team as well.


MELINDA: Absolutely, that’s great. Anything else that we haven’t covered yet, that is really important for folks to know more about when it comes to this topic? 


CLAUDIA: Yeah, definitely. I mean, overall, I think our conversation has been really around salary negotiation itself. Two is, really understanding that there’s a lot of preparation that comes around it. It’s not just, well, let me pick some numbers out of the air. It’s really understanding your research and practicing it. One of the things that I would know is, depending on who you are with and who you’re around with, is be careful of who you’re telling that you’re going to negotiate your salary. What I mean by that is, like I mentioned, my family and my culture is, “Be grateful for what you have, don’t rock the boat, just take the offer, and just work quietly, and you’ll get promoted.” So even after I had negotiated my multiple jobs at this point, and I share with my mom that I want to negotiate this upcoming offer, all of a sudden, the negativity came around. Unbeknownst to her, that’s just how she thinks at this moment. That’s when I started realizing: “Well, thankfully, I’ve already done this multiple times, and I’m very confident in this, and I know how to do this. But if you’ve never done this, and you see some hints of people maybe not being very supportive of that, it’s probably best not to share that information, because it can really mess up with your mindset. That’s when you want to practice on your own, do your research, contact two to three levels above, ask them: what is the true salary range, and what makes them offer them the higher end of that salary, what are those specific skill sets? 


Now there’s companies that do a lot of salary transparency as well, because of law and everything happening. So doing their research is really going to be important, practicing it, and who you’re sharing that with, is really going to help you ensure your success on this journey.


MELINDA: Yeah. Something we haven’t really touched on much yet, too, it’s more than the negotiation of the salary. In order to step into leadership roles, we also have to position ourselves as leaders and tell our stories as a leader. That gathering of data that you talked about earlier, making sure that we’re gathering data that shows that we have that leadership capacity. Is there anything you can recommend for folks to really think about how they position themselves as a leader, to move up in an organization or move up in the industry?


CLAUDIA: Yeah, I would say it’s almost like a two-part approach. I always recommend to reach out to one or two levels above you. Because they’ve already been in that role, they know how they got there, and what is most important to that role in itself. So really asking them: what is the most important, what are the hardest skills to hire for, what are some of the most challenging, and what surprised you the most once you landed that first director or executive role? Having these answers, once you ask enough people, you’ll start seeing a trend, and that’s really important. 


Then also, as an individual right now is, I call it the achievement portfolio. That’s when you want to start documenting everything that you’ve been doing. Like I mentioned, we don’t remember what we do. Some of us may have different types of roles, where there may be multiple projects, or it could be just one or two big projects in the year. You can notate this wherever you feel most comfortable. I usually use a Google Drive, and it will be like a one-pager. It’ll be like, what is the purpose of this project, why am I doing this? If you don’t know the Why, ask your manager, ask other departments. To understand, why is this important to you, and how do you leverage what I use or do in order for you to fulfill your job successfully? So understanding the Why is going to be important. What is the scope of work? When we achieve success, what does that look like? What were the steps taken? What were some of the challenges and obstacles? What would you do differently had you done this role again, or this project again? 


So with enough time, or within the year, you’ll have a really sized portfolio of all the work that you’ve done, and now it’s easier to sell yourself and be able to tell that story. Because you can say, “In the past year, I’ve worked on over 25 projects, and this has impacted over 5 million of our users. Because of that, we were able to create or develop new products or services, and now those products and services have created over $30 million in additional revenue.” But again, you need to understand what you’re doing and the impact of your work in order to really be able to sell yourself, and be able to communicate and really work on your branding. But if you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s going to be really hard to be able to sell yourself and brand yourself, because you’re going in blindly. So you want to make sure that you have that information and the data, and you’re talking to networks who really understand: what is the most important thing, why do you need to highlight it, and why is it very important to the upper hiring managers to really highlight these different types of skill sets?


MELINDA: Awesome. So thinking back to the Claudia that applied to all of these jobs and got one offer, what would you do differently knowing what you know now?


CLAUDIA: Definitely, I would have started networking a lot sooner. I wasn’t networking the right way. I thought it was networking, it wasn’t networking at all. So I definitely would have networked. When I network, it’s usually that I’ll reach out to 30 to 40 people, and I’ll get about a 20% to 30% response rate. So if I’m reaching out to 40 people or so, I would have talked to about 8 to 10, really understood, like I mentioned: what are the hardest skills to hire for in this type of role, what is the most important, and what is the true salary range for roles?” Most people will not tell you what a salary range is for that currently. But when you’re two or three levels above, and you ask them, “Back in the day, when you were an entry level, what is a good salary that I should be asking?” People are comfortable sharing that information. They might say, “Oh, back in the day, I used to get paid this much.” Or they might say, “You know what, it’s been a while since I’ve done that role, but this is how much I pay my employees, and it’s within this range.” 


Once they offer you that advice, it’s like, “Well, what makes you offer them the higher end of that salary range?” Then understanding what is that skill set? Is it something I can acquire on a weekend? Is it like a Udemy course? Is it just having a foundational knowledge? Or maybe you already had that, but that’s something you need to really highlight because you know that’s very valuable to that specific hiring manager type. Then once I had gathered that information, then worked on my resume, my cover letter. I don’t think LinkedIn was popular back then. But had it been, then I would’ve updated my LinkedIn profile. Worked on my interviewing skills, really workshopped that in. So when the time came, I can leverage those networks, find opportunities, apply to jobs with a really well-written resume as well. I would be ready for any interview, whether it happened tomorrow or in a week, because I’ve already prepared for these types of conversations. I already know the compensation that I want and that I’m going to be asking for, and how to pull these levers to position me as a sought-after candidate.


MELINDA: Awesome, love it! So at the end of every episode, now I ask what is one action that you would like people to take coming away from this episode today? What action would you like people to take?


CLAUDIA: Well, one question I have for them is, how do you know you’re not being underpaid? How do you know? You might say: “Well, I negotiated my salary.” Just because you negotiated your salary doesn’t mean you’re not being underpaid. How do you know you’re not being underpaid? So if you want to know, and you truly want to understand, well, I don’t know if I’m not being underpaid, the best way is to reach out to people that are two to three levels above you. So if you’re a manager, reach out to director or senior director. If you’re an individual contributor, reach out to manager or director level. Whether it’s internally, externally, through your networks, or you want to go and contact people through LinkedIn. Then ask that question. “I would love your expertise and insights. I’ve been in this role, or I’ve been in this industry for quite some time, and I’m looking to move to the next step in my career. But I want to know, what is the true salary range for this role?” Once you ask enough people, you’ll start seeing that range, and then you get to choose what range you want to be at, not just because that’s what’s given. If it’s a $30,000 range, well, I want to be at the top $10,000. 


So ask yourself, how do I know I’m not being underpaid? Then go and execute and figure out, are you being underpaid? Yes, or no? Because I guarantee, at least 98% of your listeners are probably being underpaid, especially if you’ve been in your role for over three years at the same company.


MELINDA: Great. Claudia, where can people learn more about you and your work?


CLAUDIA: At ClaudiaTMiller.com. You can also find me on LinkedIn, Claudia T. Miller, and on Instagram as well @ClaudiaTMiller.


MELINDA: Fantastic. Thank you for this conversation, appreciate you.


CLAUDIA: Thank you so much, Melinda!


MELINDA: We’ll share resources and a transcript from this discussion at ally.cc. And please make sure to subscribe to our channel and rate this show, it makes a difference for us. Thank you for being part of our community. 


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Leading With Empathy & AllyShip is a show by Change Catalyst, where we build inclusive innovation through training, consulting, and events. You can learn more about us at change catalyst.co. So let’s keep building allyship across our communities and around the world. 


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