Respect Wrangling: How to Claim Your Worth at Work

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Photo Credit IG @thisisaliceskinner, London Artist Alice Skinner

As anyone in the working world knows, you need to fight for what you want and demand the respect that you deserve. This is especially true if you are a woman, and it is exponentially true if you are a Latina in today’s professional landscape. You’ve seen the numbers and you’ve heard the cries for equality — the wage gap is real, and minority women earn significantly less than white men of the same qualifications and title.

Recent statistics prove that Latinas in the US are paid less than white men, regardless of their level of education, where they live, what their job is or how much work experience they have. All other factors that might justifiably impact a person’s professional wages aside, Latin women in the US are still paid less than white men simply because of their gender and ethnicity. According to the report The Gender Wage Gap: 2017; Earnings Differences by Gender, Race, and Ethnicity as reported by Leanin.org, “on average, Latinas in the U.S. are paid 47% less than white men and 31% less than white women.” For every dollar that a white man earns, a Latina only earns $.53. If you’re not great with numbers, then let’s break it down by time — the average Latina had to work until November 1st before being paid the same wages as a white man in the same position. That’s 10 months and one day that a Latina woman would need to work just to catch up in salary to what a white mean earns. And while other minorities also suffer inequality in pay, Latinas earn a lower salary, on average, than any other demographic.

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Shockingly the gap actually widens for Latinas with a college education, and the gap exists regardless of the professional field you look at, from nursing to sales to legal jobs and teaching.

Many Latinx believe that the reason for this wage inequality has to do an unfair bias against immigrants, and sadly, 1 in 3 Americans isn’t even aware of the pay gap between Latinas and white men.

If you ask Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and founder of LeanIn.Org, this gap is inexcusable and there will be significant ramifications to the Latinx population and to our country at large. “It is a profound injustice that Latinas contribute so much to our economy and in return are paid less than just about everyone else,” Sandberg said in a press release just before Latina Equal Pay Day in 2018. “The consequences of making 47 percent less than white men and 31 percent less than white women are significant for millions of Latinas and their families. We need to take real action to address the discrimination that Latinas and other women of color face and make sure every woman is paid fairly and treated equally.”

It starts with the recognition that everyone, but especially Latinas, need to stand up for what they deserve at work, and need to take measures to claim their worth at work. But how? Where do you begin? How do you have that conversation in an effective way? And how do you delicately balance the need to claim your worth at work, while also approaching the situation with respect?

Start By Knowing Your Own Worth

Experts have weighed in and the consensus is this: it is essential that you know your own worth, and that your actions are all motivated by that knowledge. If you don’t respect yourself enough to know that your work has value, then no one else will ever offer up the respect you deserve.

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According to Henry Ammar, CEO & Founder of MakeItHappen.Life, in an article for Forbes, you need to take ownership of your own self-worth, you need to celebrate your unique offerings and you need to be more self-aware of both your strengths and your weaknesses. “I’ve seen people’s lives change in an instant once they recognize the truth of who they really are and the value they truly have to offer,” Ammar said. You just need to be proud and confident in who you are and what makes you special. “The more you try to be like everyone else, the more you actually diminish your own self-worth and the more common or replaceable you become.”

According to writer and public speaker Lelia Gowland, who helps women negotiate and navigate their careers, you can’t just say your going rate as a working woman, you need to actually believe that you are deserving of it. “Just having the data isn’t enough. You have to believe you’re worth it,” she said in another article for Forbes.

Bottom line: the first step to wrangling respect at work, especially as a minority woman, is to actually believe that you are worthy of that respect.

Do Your Research

You need to know what you are talking about before you can accurately assess what you deserve in the workplace, and you need to be armed with information before you can effectively demand respect and equality. Know the facts. Know the statistics.

Today Latinas in the United States are still paid, on average, just 53 cents for every dollar paid to a white, non-Latinx man. Latinas only make up about 2% of all science and engineering jobs in the United States. Latinas only account for 1% of the computing professional field in this country. Despite the fact that Latinos are the largest ethnic minority in the US – comprising over 18 percent of the population with 58.9 million Hispanic people in the United States — and the Latinx population is growing rapidly, Latinas are still significantly underrepresented in most professional fields are earn a lower salary on average than any other demographic.

And in addition to underrepresentation and a significant pay gap, there are other issues facing Latinas in the workplace. According to Rachel Thomas, president of LeanIn.Org, “Latinas face biases for being women and for being people of color — and many face additional discrimination for being immigrants. These compounding biases contribute to the Latina pay gap and help explain the inequality Latinas experience in the workplace.” Latinas on average receive less support from managers and get less access to senior leaders, making it increasingly challenging to get promoted and claim more respect at work. The facts are troubling, but awareness matters.

Put In the Work and Earn the Respect You Deserve

It seems like a no-brainer, but in order to wrangle respect and claim your worth, you need to be worthy of that respect and compensation. Put in the effort, show up on time, go the extra mile, meet deadlines (or deliver your work early), be responsible, be respectful of others, take initiative and make sure your work is high quality. If you take all of those measures to ensure you are actually deserving of the respect, recognition and compensation you desire, then you will be able to confidently ask for what you want, and claim your worth. And if anyone tries to deny you what you rightfully deserve, you’ll know that it has nothing to do with your worth, but perhaps with an unfair bias at work.

And once you do put in the work, don’t downplay your success. If you accomplish something impressive and something you are proud of, then accept praise, share your successes and don’t be shy about what it took to make that happen. Take credit where credit is due. If you can’t accept praise for a job well done, then how can you expect to receive any sort of professional boost from others?

Don’t Be Afraid to Speak Up, and Do it with Confidence

You will never get what you don’t ask for. If you don’t speak up on behalf of yourself, and ask for what you deserve, then no one will just hand you a promotion, a new opportunity or a pay increase on a silver platter. You need to speak up. It’s a hard thing to do, especially when, for so many years, Latinx in the workforce were told to keep their heads down, do their work, and keep quiet.

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Photo Credit IG @phenomenal.ly

If you ask Jacqueline Priego, a Latina writer, director and actress, she wishes she had known the importance of speaking up for herself from the beginning of her career. “Little did I know that to build a career you needed to master the art of office politics, networking, negotiation and risk taking. You had to have a voice, a personal brand, something to say and the confidence to say it,” she said in a piece for Refinery 29. Today, rather than focus on what she did wrong or what she wishes she had known, she is instead spreading that wisdom and that crucial message with other aspiring Latinas finding their place in the working world. “I choose to grab young Latinxs by the hand, sit them down and tell them what I wish I had known all along: Find your voice and let yourself be known because there is nothing more beautiful than an empowered woman.”

And another important thing to remember when you are speaking up, you need to do it with confidence. Body language speaks volumes, so stand tall and look people in the eye. Shake hands, smile, lean forward and watch your posture, so that you come across as approachable, authentic, but also confident and independent. Speak clearly and keep your head up to let others know that you expect to be treated with respect and have your ideas and requests taken seriously.

Be Ready to Walk Away

Above all, even if you work hard, are deserving of more and you ask for more, you still need to be prepared that you might not be heard or that your needs might not be met. If that happens, sometimes you need to be ready to walk away. If you are not fulfilled in your position, and you can say with confidence that you are not being given the respect, pay and recognition you deserve, then you need to be prepared to move on to a new challenge and a better opportunity.

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Just ask Ellen Pompeo. She is currently one of the highest-paid actresses on TV and the star of TV’s long-running hospital drama Grey’s Anatomy, but she had to work to get what she deserved. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Pompeo explained, “I’ve finally gotten to the place where I’m OK asking for what I deserve.” She did her homework and found out how much money she had helped the show’s parent company generate over the years, and she finally felt empowered to ask for more. Her best advice is to start with the positive, back up what you’re asking for with as many numbers and as much information as you can, and be willing to walk away if you don’t get what you want.