By Jenny Chen
Recently, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella enraged the public by saying that women should not ask for raises, but let faith dictate their compensation. Though controversial, his statement serves as a wake-up call to the community that women clearly do not enjoy the same rights as men and more needs to be done to promote gender equality in the workplace. A previous Carnegie Mellon study on graduates with a master’s degree shows that despite a growing number of women graduating from college, women still make on average 7.6% less than men, in part due to their fear of speaking up. As I have learned from the MHI mentoring program, effective communication, especially assertiveness, is key to developing a voice and building a successful and fulfilling career. As a young, professional Asian woman working in a competitive, predominantly male industry, learning to communicate assertively has been a difficult, but necessary, challenge. A person with my profile is generally expected to obey authority, be polite, accommodating, and non-aggressive. While assertiveness is often confused with aggressiveness, the two differ greatly. Communicating assertively is neither forceful nor confrontational, but rather, direct, honest and respectful with the goal of a win-win outcome. Specifically, being assertive means actively managing my job rather than passively accepting all tasks which eventually result in excessive stress, burn out, and overall dissatisfaction with my work life.
To better manage my workload and my peers, I began to express my preferences, opinions and needs. I started speaking up during meetings, better setting expectations, and actively negotiating workload among my colleagues that had availability. Speaking up has opened up a communication channel between me and my team, and as a result, not only am I more relieved but my entire team is more successful.
While I still work the occasional late night and weekend, I am more prepared for them and feel better knowing that I actively participated in the dialogue. Part of the process was understanding myself and acknowledging my needs and limitations, as well as developing confidence and self-esteem to stand up for what matters. This also meant relinquishing the guilt of being selfish and not accommodating everybody's requests. To my surprise, my colleagues did not reject or criticize my needs, but rather, took them seriously and found the feedback to be valuable. I am humbled by their understanding, and realize that voicing my opinions and concerns is not about going against authority, but about promoting effectiveness on the job, a healthy work-life balance, and mutually beneficial relationships with my colleagues. A day after making his statement, Nadella recanted his words, and said that women should ask for raises. Whether sincere or not, statements like these help spark dialogue in the community and are beneficial for women as we continue to find our voice in the workplace. Furthermore, programs like the ones Murray Hill Institute offers will continue to equip women with the skills needed to better close the inequality gap. As long as we continue to forge ahead assertively and with greater confidence, we will continue to strengthen our relationships with our male counterparts and work towards gender equality for the well-being of all.
Jenny Chen is a diversified industries corporate banker.