We know the gender pay gap exists.
However, doing something about it is a lot more difficult than it seems. Even if I know the inequality is there, I have had a hard time standing up for my self-worth. Until someone said something to me I'll never forget.
First let me back up.
About a decade ago, I just had my twin boys. I was on a long maternity leave, which allowed me some time to reflect on where I wanted to go in my career. I knew I wanted to return to work, but not in the same job I had left. I felt torn between staying at home and expanding on my career. The longer I stayed out of the work force, the more I knew my decision was being made for me. Sometimes, indecision is a decision.
And then something magical happened.
A woman I had been in touch with years ago was hiring again, and she emailed me out of the blue. We had discussed possibly working together in previous conversations but nothing ever panned out. This time, she wanted to meet in person in New York and see if something could be arranged.
It was literally my "dream job." I would be joining a television network in a part of the world I loved -- Hong Kong. I would be jumping from print to television work, which was much harder to do a decade ago. I couldn't believe I was so lucky.
I had good feelings after our meeting. We clicked. We laughed. We hugged. She seemed sold on me after we departed. The atoms in the air were feeling well placed and undisturbed. I waited patiently for her offer letter.
A few weeks later, it arrived in my inbox.
The job description, position, location everything sounded great. But the salary was terrible. It was far less than what I was expecting. I began to furiously look up cost-of-living information about Hong Kong and soon realized to my disbelief that I would likely be "paying" to have the privilege of taking this job.
But I really wanted the job. No, I needed the job. This was the proverbial fork in the road -- the moment that defines your life.
So what did I do?
I took the offer. I emailed her the next day, typing my happy words, "Thank you and I'll be ready whenever you need me!" I didn't want her to think I wasn't enthusiastic. I wanted her to see I was going to be a great part of her team. I hid any unhappiness in my correspondence and in the two years that I worked with her, I showed only my best, cheery side.
We both loved working together and by the time I left to take on an even bigger job, she took me for a good-bye toast. I wanted to take that opportunity to thank her for giving me the start I needed.
However, minutes into our drinks, she paused and said, "You know Betty, one thing that I've always wanted to say to you is you should have never taken that first offer. You really surprised me when you did. You could have easily gotten more."
I was taken aback. For two years, I had kept that notion bottled up inside me. I knew I was getting paid far less than my colleagues. I knew I could have easily gotten paid $25K, 35K a year more if only I had asked. I knew I had sold myself and my family short. I just didn't know she knew it too.
Looking back, I want to face-palm myself. I was so frightened the job would go to someone else or that another job offer would never come up that I had to grab the first thing that came. That is how little I valued myself and my abilities.
Things are a lot different now. I thank her for this and for the lesson she taught me. I tell women now to never take the first offer and if they're struggling with how much to negotiate, to start at least 10 percent higher than the initial number. It's not a perfect solution but it's at least going in the right direction of closing that gap. And I'm also oddly reassured that I am not the only person who has faced these career mistakes -- several CEOs on Radiate told me they also made some big career blunders that cost them. Watch them confess in their own words.