This is one quality that doesn’t come easily to me. If you know me, you would know that I am extremely non-confrontational, as detailed in my stories about my ex-roommates, xBF’s family(where it took me a long time to finally express my desires), and some issues with ex managers and professors. If I have to be in a position where I must speak and ask for what I deserve, you will for sure find my neck going red and all bothered. I also have a tendency to procrastinate when it comes to making decisions, from picking a place to eat, to a job change. Not the best sight for a strong, confident woman! But somehow, I manage to cover the front up with my raised eyebrows(it’s a thing) and clear enunciation. No wonder I did well in college vivas and have a 100% interview success rate. I could fake it!

My close friend is going through similar challenges at work, and she is gearing up to make herself heard loud and clear. While we strategize for that, we also have to make sure we cut through some extra mental barriers with us being young, non-American, mechanical engineers who should get the respect they deserve and to be seen as hard working people irrespective of age, gender or nationality.

When I started as a Research Assistant in the 2nd semester of my Master’s, I knew that the projects were sponsored by one of the Top 10 companies and my peers were being paid. But my professor didn’t talk to me about it and so I let it go, and continued with my on campus jobs. The time spent in meeting those 20 work-hours a week was eating into my research time. But there was no way I could let the jobs go, since I was supporting my living and school expenses and I did not want to ask for any more funds from my parents. Then we reached a point after 1.5 years where this girl Yoyo and me, were the only unpaid RAs and my buddy Brian kept pushing us to ask for the assistant-ship. I had a block in my mind convinced that if he felt I deserved it, he would have offered. Finally, after Brian physically dragged me and pushed me to our Professor’s office, I asked for pay to cut one of the jobs off. And his response? Yeah, just go and fill out the paperwork and he gave me the location of the HR department! That was it! I kicked myself for wasting 1.5 years! If only I had asked sooner…

At my previous company, I had DC, my mentor, watching my back. He made sure I got good raises, even if it meant simply reaching the recommended wage per the US labor department. But as soon as the responsibility moved to the Engineering Manager post DC’s part time and then full time retirement, we all got stuck with a 3.5% annual raise, with some fun politics involved with the all-boys club. So when I got my offer letter from my new company, and I got offered the exact salary as my current job, I knew I had to negotiate to justify my switch and moving to San Diego. So out came my recent raise, calculator, charts, immigration expenses and I asked for something in the middle of the graph. As soon as I hit ‘send’, I broke into a ball of sweat and with a dozen ‘oh shit!’ thrown in with my dad laughing in the background. I got a reply the very next day, with an acceptance and a revised offer letter, and I could not believe it! Thank Goodness I could do it over email and not on the phone. Negotiating my pay has to be the coolest thing I have done, specially considering the type of person I am.

There have been countless meetings where I have been interrupted, spoken over, man-splained, and the only thing that keeps me going is the way I manage to say, ‘I would not do it that way and that is my professional opinion’. I am humble, polite, and I am not afraid of accepting mistakes and learning. I consider these to be my strengths and I have to keep reminding myself that anyone treating these as my weaknesses, will have to be dealt with the previously mentioned raised brows.

To anyone, who is feeling that they aren’t being heard and respected for their power, know that you aren’t alone in feeling that way. All you have to do is make sure that you roar louder and stronger. Roll back your shoulders, raise your chin, and go do your thing!


16 thoughts on “Assertion

  1. I hear you. I am an extremely non- confrontational person but so far I have not had any issues with asking for a raise. I think partly it has to do life experiences. In our early twenties, my husband and I were in Amway and the only good thing to come out of it was reading all the positive mental attitude books. Encouraged by my then boyfriend and now husband, before landing here as a grad student, I must have emailed every single professor in the Univerities that I applied to. Within a month of starting grad school, I got a full reserach assistantship and my tuition completely taken care of. Looking back, I dont know how I had so much courage to do this. When I scared to go meet someone and ask for RAs, I was encouraged by all these books, ” What if they said Yes?”.

    As women, we always under negotiate. I think Universities and being post-doc is even worse, making less than secretaries. I didnt even know that by law, employers cannot reveal the current salary you make during background checks and would blurt out my salary to recruiters. Reading books definitely helps with handling recruiters/ interviews/ negotiations.

    I wish in school instead of all this focus on STEM, they would teach kids basic life skills, finance, power of saving and conpound interest. I wish more and more women would talk about finance and money instead of shoes/clothes etc. I love to read cup of jo blog by the way, if you have never read it. They have some many interesting articles on finance, asking for hikes, saving etc. Their comment section is a treasure trove.


    • Uma, I loved how you took time to write such a beautifully detailed comment. Thank you! It definitely is food for thought and I am going to check out your recommended blog. Reddit’s personal finance section is pretty good too.
      We have long been so self-critical and analytical that we are our own worst enemies when it comes to asking. I do agree about training on real life skill sets. All other departments n my undergrad had a course called soft skills(except Mech, go figure!) but I wish they include finances, economics as well. I have recently started investing money into ETFs etc after years of advice and push from my ex colleague at my previous job who guides me. He is a very smart Asian gentleman who looks out for me. I call him Uncle Kau. 🙂 I have always been savings inclined, but now understanding the power of compound interest. I mean, I do still talk about shoes, clothes, Sephora, but I have priorities. 😀


      • I would have written an even longer comment, but wanted to pu my phone down before I went to bed last night:)

        Full disclosure- My husband is the one who takes care of finances at our home. It comes naturally to him but I try to be involved as well and be aware of basic things. For eg: if you had a 401k with a previous employer and moving to a new job, then roll it over to Vanguard IRA. Vanguard charges the least to manage ur funds and hey if Warren Buffet is recommending Vanguard for financial dummies then take up the man’s advice.

        For financial dummies like me, invest 401k in the funds based on retirment age. This is probably the simplest and easiest thing to do for people whose heads spin with all the options/funds available.

        I cant tell you how many times I have spoken with co-workers and encouraged them to contribute to 401k, atleast to the level upto which employer matches ( why would you want to skip that 4 or 5% ur employer is giving you for free) and would see a blank look.

        Anyways I think you are on the right track and Thank you for writing this article. We need more and more women to speak up and ask for things they deserve. I am taking 3 months leave of absence because I am sick and tired of working and sometimes it is not money that we need but other things and need time to think through things and should feel confident enough in our abilities to follow our heart.


        • I agree completely about the 401k! I still have it under my old company but have invested in a few portfolios. I will roll it over as soon as I start my 401k here after 1 year mark. I am saving up until then and will go in aggressively to make up for the lost year.
          So glad to have this conversation! Enjoy your break!


  2. I rate myself average on all parameters in my yearly performance review forms (even though I’m far from) simply because I canNOT blow my own trumpet and I see these forms as just that. Needless to say, I was trodden over for a promotion for three long years right at the beginning of my career. So man, PB, shame on them if they don’t recognize good employees when they see them. You do you. BUT don’t let those raises go, simply because you believe that good work should speak for itself. You work up to it, roll back those shoulders, and get going. Stick it in their faces if you have to, find the courage/nerve to. Politely. Gently. No need for violence. But DO. Because you know they’re laughing at our inability to ask for what we want nay DESERVE all the way to the bank.


    • You MUST blow your trumpet because apparently no body else does that for you, however hard you work. Specially when those stay at work late, drinking chai type bachelor boys are involved. Sheesh. They definitely dont give unless you are ready to yank it out of them, and that’s what I have experienced. There will always be reasons galore. It’s all about profit and why would they care? My dad had told me once, that words of appreciation, and congratulations are fine, but unless they pay you right, it just doesnt matter and they are ‘khokhle’ words.


  3. I am non-confrontational in personal life, but I am still not sure about professional life. I think seeing how things work have made me comfortable in speaking out for myself, but the big problem being I am very volatile with fake/corporate exchanges and lies. I cannot control my anger in professional world (almost take it personally), so I think even if I am speaking for myself, it comes off as angry ramble of an immature person instead of a sensible professional speaking for themselves. Anyone motivate me for meditation? 😀


    • Girl, your professional life is like my personal life. #hulkangry I am the last person to advise you on that! I am extremely easygoing at work and people refuse to believe that I may have a temper. That’s perhaps the reason my closest friends who are like family have come through work, at my last job. But that ‘sweetness’ is an issue in meetings when I need to make my point.


  4. Hi PB.. well said! It is so important for women to be assertive. It takes time to build confidence to do so but well worth it. Even in our personal lives we tend to give in mostly cos of hurting the others feelings. But nothing wrong in being assertive once in a while.


  5. Yes…yes…yes! More power to you girl for going ahead and negotiating your pay like a BOSS!
    I have been in your shoes and have learnt the hard way (quite like you) that sometimes it’s just the matter of going ahead and asking for something to make a HUGE difference.
    Keep conquering your mental barriers and scaling the success you’ve been working hard for.


  6. Sigh. I did the same thing. Working for the past one year without a pay and when I finally asked my prof.,he simply said he doesn’t have funds. Now that he has funds and I am officially an RA,I need to muster up that courage to ask him that pending pay! The worst that would happen is he would say no,right?


    • Yep! The worst thing would be him saying no, but the best would be you actually getting some rewards! And the overall satisfaction of having asked. For reals, I am asking around and men don’t hesitate at all!


  7. I have been in this situation for a very long time and know how it feels…if only we asked! At times, I can be non-confrontational and not necessarily a good time. One thing I learned over time is that if we don’t respect ourselves and ask for worth no one will. That way, been in jobs where I didn’t get what deserved. You have such good friends who constantly push. Certainly, I hesitate a lot and working to change things out.


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