November 24, 2021

Below is an excerpt from The Collective, Poynter’s newsletter by journalists of color for journalists of color and our allies. Subscribe here to get it in your inbox the last Wednesday of every month.

It can feel like magic to get offered your dream job, or even just a job that allows you to be creative and create journalism. Sometimes it feels like I’ve scammed the system to be able to trade words for money.

I’ve had a number of different jobs. I’ve worked retail, food service, taught seventh grade and kindergarten, and helped run a high school student leadership program. I’ve also worked for a range of journalism organizations and journalism-adjacent endeavors, from universities to freelance production and video editing for nonprofits.

Still, talking about money makes me nervous, even though I’ve negotiated salaries — and yelled at friends to negotiate their salaries. I can extoll the importance of saying no and walking away, yet all of this is more challenging when it comes to doing it for yourself, by yourself. With this in mind, here are tips to ensure you are paid what you’re worth. It’s also important to recognize that pay is not necessarily synonymous with value, expertise and kindness.

Understand your finances.

I don’t mean to encourage any complicated international global finance. I just mean: How much money do you normally spend, and how much do you usually make? If the answer depends or you spend what you make, dip a toe into understanding some financial-related structures by checking out people such as Jacquette Timmons, and organizations such as The Hell Yeah Group, which “helps people feel less weird about money,” founded by Paco de Leon.

You are worth so much more than your productivity.

This phrase, often attributed to “anti-capitalist love notes,” is useful because even before arriving at the negotiating table you have to know what you value and what skills you bring. You need to be willing to walk away, or find a new job, if the pay, conditions or culture do not allow you to thrive or are simply not to your liking.

But, as someone who may not be used to documenting your wins and bragging about the great article you produced, the viral thread you wrote, or the typo you found in the article a notable politician later tweeted (true story, no big deal) you may need to continually document your worth to be able to show your cards later. You can stay quiet if that’s how you roll, but you should be able to clearly demonstrate what you bring to the table if someone fails to see all the skills you are bringing. Good work, I have found, is not always its own reward. Sometimes you need to make sure your boss/editor/manager sees all that you do, so they advocate for you and you can advocate on your own behalf.

Practice asking for things — and ask questions.

Wealth inequality exists, and pay inequity exists. The system is not fair. You may want (or need) to take the job now to pay your immediate bills, then jump into a new job later. If you choose to take less money at the beginning of your career, also know that this could affect your long-term earning potential.

It’s sometimes hard for me to ask for things. I don’t want to come off as too needy or rude or ungrateful or too demanding. But in many cases, this is what HR is for — to answer your questions. If your future colleagues believe in wealth equality they’ll answer you when you ask if the offer you’ve been given is fair based on your experience and compared to what other people in the organization make.

Tuesday, Nov. 30 is the last day to apply to the 2022 Women’s Leadership Academy. Participants of color from news and media organizations outside of the United States are invited to apply for a scholarship.

When you are in that sweet negotiating spot of being offered a job, ask to see the offer (and benefits package) in writing. Ask how much vacation time you will have, ask how many days you will need to be in the office, ask if there’s a budget for professional development and what the leave policy is (even if you have no intention of taking it). If you need more time to review the offer, let them know how much time you need. Ask how your performance will be evaluated. Ask your potential colleagues how much they make and how they’re evaluated. If you don’t know anyone, check Glassdoor or the classic Real Media Salaries spreadsheet.

Always negotiate.*

I recently read an essay my mom wrote about finding her dream job at a progressive school at age 50. She almost didn’t apply because she wasn’t sure she’d be considered. She shared how agonizing it was just to tell people she wanted the job. She was so thankful to be offered the job, I’m certain she didn’t attempt to negotiate. If you can’t do it on your own behalf, you have to negotiate on behalf of my mom. Negotiate on behalf of your friends who want you to be paid what you’re worth.

*An addendum to the always-negotiate philosophy is that your efforts may be rejected. This may be fine, especially if there’s room for growth in the organization, if you are able to vibe with people, if you can take an extended vacation … There are many factors. Consider what you need to feel supported.

Still getting paid less? Choose your weapon and your battle.

The lean-in philosophy doesn’t work for everyone, and we already know that pay inequity is hard to fight on broader levels. If you find out you are being paid less compared with people with the same job who have similar work experience you may want to consider legal action, public shaming (@WritersofColor invokes “*sad trombone*” when pay isn’t transparent) or something in between depending on state and federal law.

Subscribe to The Collective for access to a subscriber-only feature: advice from our Council of Truth-Tellers

The Collective is supported by the TEGNA Foundation.

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Lakshmi Sarah is a digital producer for KQED news and currently teaches at San Francisco State University. Previously she worked with AJ+, Fusion Media Group,…
Lakshmi Sarah

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