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We all know that women are underpaid in the workforce, and the gap only gets wider when we begin to look at race. Studies show that Black women make 61 cents for every dollar in comparison to their white male counterparts. As a woman of color, I’ve learned that it’s important to fight fire with fire and not allow feelings to get in the way when it comes to salary negotiation.

Whether you learned that you were underpaid from overhearing conversations between your coworkers, or you’re about to move into a new role and know it’s the perfect time to negotiate a salary that reflects your contribution to the organization, this is a conversation that takes planning and precision.

In honor of Black Women’s Equal Pay on August 22, 2019, I’d like to share three tips for Black women looking to negotiate a higher salary.

1. Stop relying on hard work and a great resume.

As a career and leadership coach for women and people of color, I’ve learned that many people of color don’t believe in career and leadership coaching. There’s this notion that hard work and a great resume should speak for itself — and that is not the case.

In other communities, additional education, training and mentorship to help professionals brand themselves in a way that aligns to higher level roles and projects is the norm. We’ve got to step away from our desks and start to think of our professional careers as a brand that needs to be marketed to hiring leaders and companies.

This isn’t to say that hard work isn’t needed, because it is! You always need to maintain your professionalism and a high quality of work. However, we also need to socialize ourselves inside and outside of the company, seek out mentors and obtain the additional information to build a professional brand that speaks for itself.

Focusing on skill adoption and mastery of a marketable skill set is the first step in positioning yourself for a salary increase. While you can showcase your skills on a resume and in your day to day assignments, these attributes need to be marketed to hiring leaders and companies to ensure your professional brand is known before you even begin to interview for new roles and enter salary negotiation conversations.

2. Know your numbers.

Most professionals know the amount of money they would like to make, but they have no idea what the market rate is for the role and/or industry. In order to increase the likelihood of your proposed salary being accepted, the numbers need to make sense based upon your specific skill set, professional brand, company and industry norms.

For example, if you’re looking to negotiate a $85,000 salary with a $15,000 signing bonus for a role where the median salary for the role and industry is only $60,000 without a signing bonus, you may be fighting an uphill battle. This can also signify to the employer that you may not know much about the organization and/or industry, which won’t help your case.

However, if you are able to showcase that you have a unique value proposition that warrants the higher salary and signing bonus, your chances of success will increase. For instance, if your company will be deploying a new system or technology to the workforce that you have significant experience with, that’s a unique and marketable skill that you can leverage in salary negotiations.

If we also take a step back from the actual salary number, there are a whole suite of benefits that can be negotiated when starting a new role. Some of the most popular benefits to negotiate are additional vacation time and remote working arrangements. While this may not increase the amount of your paycheck, it may increase your overall work/life satisfaction, and remote capabilities can decrease commuting costs.

3. Don’t be afraid to walk away.

When there’s an offer on the table that doesn’t align with your skills, interests and salary requirements, it’s OK to walk away. Many times we feel obligated to accept the offer because there’s nothing else available at the moment, but that’s never a good reason to accept a low offer.

When you accept a low offer, you may not be able to rectify the salary later during performance discussions. Additionally, after the initial salary, generally there will not be many opportunities to raise the base number without much more stringent, internal salary guidelines in the organization.

When you are paid according to your unique skill set, the industry standards and you’re walking into a role that you're passionate about, not only do you personally benefit, but the company will benefit from having a happy employee.

Embark upon a career that creates opportunities for you. Through creating a strong professional brand, knowing your numbers and being clear on your worth in the workplace, salary negotiation will become a normal part of your conversation during performance discussions and job offers.


Kimberly B. Cummings is the founder of Manifest Yourself, LLC, a career and leadership development company created to help women and people of color navigate the world of work, make more money and become industry leaders.