My corporate career began with a bad taste in my mouth. I was offered what I thought was my dream job at the organization where I'd completed my final business school internship. But when the offer came in, I was sorely disappointed. The pay was well below what I expected, based upon what I'd earned as an intern and from what other people in the same management program told me about the introductory base salary.

The company wouldn't budge, so I turned the offer down. A few months later I took a role with another company in the same industry. When the offer came in, it was closer to what I was expecting based upon my research, but still lower. Fatigued from the back-and-forth  with the previous company, I committed a cardinal sin and didn't negotiate. I took what they gave me. 

High performance and fair pay don't always correlate.

When I got a promotion two years later, I realized just how costly a mistake I'd made. As internal moves went, I was told "you don't get to negotiate." But when I looked at my salary after starting my new position, I realized, to my horror, that it was below the salary range for the job I was doing.

I had received the "standard" promotion increase, but because my base salary was so low, it didn't add up. I was devastated. 

I talked to my boss. I talked to human resources. My boss talked to human resources. It was a dead end. Nothing happened. I continued to perform at a high level. I received stellar performance reviews. I won a prestigious company award. I got promoted again.

I gave my best, and was rewarded with promotions, accolades, trips, more responsibility--and substandard pay. For whatever reason, my company couldn't show me it valued me in one of the most fundamental ways possible, even by its own standards. Not only was I not being paid what I was worth, I was being paid at a discount.

In my frustration, I talked to a former classmate, also a black woman, who worked at the same company. As we exchanged stories, we quickly realized we both had the same problem: She was grossly underpaid for the job she was doing.

She had also talked to her management, as well as human resources. Nothing changed. Eventually, she left the company. I actively looked for other jobs.

I remember talking to recruiters, and hearing the shock in their voice when they asked 
about my current salary. It was way lower than it should have been. I felt shame.

I got another promotion--this time to a different area of the company. Determined to do a better job of advocating for myself, I made my case to human resources and the hiring manager that my pay raise needed to be more significant, to ensure I was paid within the salary range for the job, rather than just giving me a standard percentage increase off a number that was too low.

I got the increase. I was pleased but struggled to shake the disappointment and anger of what I felt was five years of mistreatment and struggle to be paid fairly. Five years of compounding wages that were lost because I started lower than I should have.

I stayed at the company for four more years. As I continued to get promotions and raises, my financial situation improved, but the bad taste lingered. The damage had already been done. I knew I never wanted to be in a position again where how much I made was in the hands of others, especially if those other people didn't have my best interests at heart. 

Today marks Black Women's Equal Pay Day. For women on the whole, who earn an average of 80 cents on the dollar for the same job as men, that day came in April. But black women earn just 61 cents on the dollar for the same job as men. And that's why for us, equal pay day is extended an additional four months to late August.

Why black women are underpaid, I'm not sure. But I can tell you the impact is real. It makes you angry. It makes you feel undervalued. It makes you question your abilities.

And then, once we realize the problem isn't us, we have a choice to make, to ensure that we do what we need to do to close this tragic pay gap once and for all.

This was my story. But it doesn't have to be for others.

Encourage and teach others to negotiate. Create safe spaces for open conversations about salary. And let us not accept no for an answer when we see someone being treated unfairly.

Published on: Aug 22, 2019
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