Women Our Voices Matter No Matter the Result

★★WARNING: Vulnerable Share★★

I was inspired by Oprah’s speech at the Golden Globe awards this year, as I am sure you were too. I have many a “ME TOO” stories as many if not most women do. I admit that a couple of my stories are more intense than I am willing to share publicly, right now. However, I am going to share one that does not have a happy ending in the results department but is a moment I am proud of. It is a story about sexism in the workplace.

I am proud I had the courage to speak up and ask for what I want. It did not turn out well for me, as I was shamed for my speaking up. But 18 years later, I know deep down to my toes that my courage to speak up and ask for what I wanted and ultimately deserved is the celebration in this story.

I am sharing vulnerably because I want you to know that when we access the courage to speak up, it is important to focus on our actions, not the results. The results are separate from our speaking up. The celebration for us females is using our voice, no matter what, even if our voices are shaking while we do.

Years ago, I worked in Corporate America. I had recently moved from Chicago to San Francisco. I was excited but also worried about money. This was during the internet boom days in SF in 2000.

I had received a cost of living raise and senior title, but I was still concerned about money and the high cost of living in SF; it was significantly higher than what I was used to in Chicago. Food, rent, and entertainment were all significantly higher.

When I first moved to SF, I did not know anyone. The one friend I had who lived out here moved away the same month I moved here. My friends were my co-workers, and I was still getting to know them. One friend was someone I had trained several months earlier in the Chicago office. One day at work we were talking about money. He had some concerns about money as well. He had recently gotten married and moved from another state and was adjusting to the SF cost of living as well.

Not thinking, he told me his salary. I was immediately angry in hearing what he made in comparison to my salary. First of all, he was making more than me. Second, I had been with the organization longer, trained him, and had a senior title. I did not say anything to my friend because frankly, it was not about him. He deserved the salary he was making. I was angry with the organization and the clear sexism in our pay difference.

The following week, I was in San Diego at a work conference with a couple of my female co-workers. We were having dinner discussing work. They were sharing some of their grievances with me. I listened, I was the “new person” on the team. After they both shared, they turned to me and said, come on Michelle share what grievance you have, everyone has something they are not happy about in this company.

This was a true statement. The SF office had recently been through alot of change, which was one of the reasons, I had the opportunity to transfer.

These colleagues were women, so I told them the truth, that I was upset about my pay in comparison to my male colleague. They got it, as so many women do. They agreed it was not fair and sexist. They encouraged me to speak to my boss and ask for more money. I felt fired up, so I did.

When I returned to the office, I booked time with my boss. I went into his office. I felt nervous but justified. I asked for a raise. I stated my case and the value I brought to the organization and specifically to this office. I had recently saved a big account from leaving due to previous poor management.

My boss said no and asked where this was coming from. I took a risk and said I knew a male co-worker was making more than me and yet, I had a senior title and more time at the organization. I called it what it was, sexism. My boss squirmed in his seat. He said he would talk to HR and get back to me.

But that is not what he did. My boss guessed the coworker I was speaking about and called him into the office. He told him what I said and unfortunately, this hurt the friendship for a time.

For several months I was the “bad person” in the office. My boss did all he could to shame me and prove to me that it was not sexist. He called me back into his office and lectured me about knowing my co-worker’s salary and said I have the salary I deserve.

This hurt terribly at the time. I started to believe him and feel shame for even saying anything. I felt like I had done something WRONG. But here is the TRUTH: I did nothing wrong. I spoke up to the sexism. But some men can’t or are unwilling to hear it and will go to great lengths to prove that sexism does not exist, and the great lengths often has to do with “putting you in your place”.

I know the courage it took for me to stand up and speak out. I know that my perspective was rational and clear; I deserved the same pay or more given my title and time with the company. I also know that the actions my boss took to shame me and hurt my friendship were completely wrong.

Today, I stand confidently in speaking up and speaking out. I stand confidently in chiseling a little bit into that glass ceiling for us women.

I want to hear your story. Please, share a time you spoke up when the sexism was clear as day. It does not matter the result, it matters that you accessed the courage and spoke up and out. Let’s celebrate us all. All of us, NO MATTER THE OUTCOME!