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, salary.com 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!