The money movement: how women of color can ask for more in job interviews

Oct 31, 2022

7 mins

The money movement: how women of color can ask for more in job interviews
Kim Cunningham

Editor at Welcome to the Jungle

Born and raised in Baltimore, by the age of 16 LaTrice Huff was a teen mother of two daughters. Understanding the financial hardships young parenthood would bare, Huff set out on a mission to make money. But for women of color, cultural conditioning tells them to follow the rules, work hard, be strong, don’t brag, and you’ll be rewarded … with more work.

Huff landed a job in HR and smoothly worked her way up to the role of HR Business Partner, but while she had succeeded to make the money she longed after to provide for her family, her dream of creating her own business still lingered in her mind. When her partner—an officer in the US Army—got stationed in the Mojave Desert of California, Huff decided to use it as an opportunity to make her goal a reality: to share what she had learned throughout her career with others.

Now based in San Antonio, Texas, Huff is a career coach specializing in personal branding for women of color. She shares how she worked to squash the taboo of money and the racial pay gap, how she successfully negotiated a $20,000 pay increase, and tells us about the tools Black women can use to advocate for themselves.

Discovering losses and the game of negotiation

Fresh out of college with her marketing degree in hand, Huff started her first job. However, she did so in the HR field, rather than following the path her studies had set her on. When the company she worked for went through a merger, Huff began to realize she was missing out on something: money. “Everybody else took on additional work, including me, and they gave everybody around me a raise, except me, Huff remembers. By chance, she came across the details of her colleagues’ raises and noticed they were being calculated based on deliverables. “That’s when I learned how to calculate my contributions,” she says. And that’s exactly what she did: she used the company’s words to ask for what she deserved. At the time, every single colleague that had received a pay increase was white.

At the time of the merger, Huff and one other employee were the only women of color on the team. And while Huff decided to enter the game of negotiation, her colleague was waiting for the money to come to her. “She told me ‘I thought if I sat here and they saw how hard I worked, they would give me more money,’ and I was like that sounds crazy!” Huff knew she had to ask for what she wanted. “My background and my degree are in marketing. So I just had to market myself,” she says. “You can play their game or you can just play your own game.” Once Huff had that figured out, she wanted to teach other women of color how they could play their own game, too.

Fighting the dollar taboo

According to a study conducted earlier this year, 56% of surveyed Americans believe talking about finances with others is considered “taboo,” with a third of respondents saying they’d rather watch a horror movie or get stuck in a two-hour traffic jam than talk about their personal finances. This social non-acceptance is causing more issues than just a few awkward silences in conversations.

One of the main reasons Huff feels like women of color aren’t getting the salaries they deserve is because they’re not talking to each other about money. “Something I’m really big on is women of color speaking to each other about our salaries and how much we make, which is such a taboo thing. In 2022, it is still considered taboo.” By talking about money with colleagues, friends, and family, we take away the stigma attached to it. Huff recommends not shying away from the subject but embracing it as a means to advance in your career. If you don’t know what people are making, how are you going to ask for the money you deserve in a job interview or performance review?

Huff explains a specific example of a time a white colleague got a raise: “She got this significant increase as she told anybody who would listen and everybody was mad at her, including me.” While initially, Huff was frustrated that a white coworker was again getting more money than her, she quickly snapped out of that mentality and decided to ask for the same. “That gave me the courage and other people the courage to ask for more,” she says.

Mental blocks and manifesting money

When Huff meets with a new client, one of the first things she does is ask them what they want. As simple as it may sound, a lot of women she meets have an extremely difficult time answering this question. “A lot of women of color can’t even say out loud what they want. They’ll be like, I just want more money,” Huff explains. So how can you get from the vague idea of wanting to earn more money to be able to confidently ask for it in an interview?

Huff uses one exercise she calls “25 Reasons Why” to get her clients to feel comfortable with what they want to ask for. “As Black women, we’re told not to brag, not to highlight our achievements, not to overshadow the next person,” she explains. But highlighting your achievements and providing evidence as to why you deserve the money you’re asking for is key. “Let your brain go there,” she advises. “It’s almost like retraining your brain and saying it out loud. It’s affirmations, but it’s also muscle memory and learning to be more comfortable.” Huff finds that a lot of her clients have huge mental blocks when it comes to doing this. She advises candidates preparing for interviews to list out the 25 reasons why you deserve the salary you’re asking for. Once you convince yourself you’re deserving, convincing a recruiter will be a piece of cake.

The systematic issue and the racial pay gap

But where does all this lack of confidence and patterned self-depreciation come from? Looking at the gender pay gap, in 2022 women earn $0.82 for every dollar men make when looking at median salaries for all men and women. If we break that down and look at the racial pay gap, Black women make $0.64 on the dollar of the white American man.

However, Huff says that women of color shouldn’t emulate white men to try and earn more money—that’s not the point she’s trying to get across to her clients, and in fact, doing so could be harmful: “If [Black women] go in with the same confidence as a white man and ask for more, they could be perceived as like cocky and won’t get the money,” she says.

Huff’s work aims to teach women how to do something different, whereas when she used to work with women who aren’t of color, she was “just teaching them how to do better what’s already out there, what they can find,” referring to what she calls “Google tips.” She explains that “with women of color, it’s about nuances. They can’t take something they find on Google and apply it to their career directly, because this system wasn’t designed for us to win.” When looking at cliché tips to earn more money online, Huff illustrates that they won’t work for Black women in the same way they will for white men. “If you look at [the tips] on the surface or at face value, they’re not designed for the nuances and the experience of a person of color in the workplace. They’re designed to say ‘all things being equal, all things being fair, all you have to do is these five steps.’ But they’re not going to account for racism, they’re not going to account for bias in the workplace, they don’t account for when a woman of color does stand up for herself how she’s perceived versus if a white male were to do it.”

A huge factor influencing the ability of women of color to ask for more money in a job interview is the fact that to prove their worth, they have to show they’ve already done something. However, Huff explains that for a white man, he’ll get the money he’s looking for based on his potential alone: “They don’t even have to do anything, it’s just potential.”

DEI programs and diversity quotas

A 2022 report from JUST Capital found that 92% of Americans, from end to end of the political spectrum, believe it’s important for companies to promote racial equity in the workplace. However, a Culture Amp report from this year found that only 41% of respondents said they have a formal DEI policy at work. While setting hiring targets to increase the number of diverse profiles in a workforce may be used as a solution for some, Huff says this is tricky territory. She explains that there’s a difference between companies having DEI programs because they truly want to be diverse, versus having the mentality that “I want to recruit this many diverse people,” saying that the latter is merely a short-term quick fix.

“Black women are leaving corporate America at record numbers. So you can get them in, but are they staying, are they being developed?” Huff says. She warns interviewees to do their research when applying for jobs and to be wary of any companies that may be hiring diverse profiles for the wrong reasons. She says the importance falls on why companies are looking for diverse profiles, not how many they’re looking for: “What is the intention there? If you just want a number, then it’s not going to work. If you really want [diversity], there are some amazing, talented Black women out there, diverse women out there, who come into a company and make such a great impact. But if you don’t care, they’re not, they’re not going to give you their gifts if you’re not going to value them.”

One of the biggest things Huff wants to impart to her clients is that their gifts are valuable. No woman of color should feel she’s being hired to meet a diversity quota—she should feel valued for who she is and the talents she has, and learn how to advocate for herself. And it’s not always the loudest voice in the room that gets heard: “It doesn’t always mean standing up and being the loudest. If your gift is that you’re more reserved, that can be powerful—you observe more. Do you analyze things more? Can you solve problems before they show up? Those are powerful things to tap into,” she says.

Building a safe environment for success

While women of color can learn from Huff’s advice and personal branding tips, the environment in which they’re in also plays a huge part in how they can succeed. Surrounding yourself with the right people who will advocate for and support you, and finding the right coach or mentor that understands you will build the foundations for a safe and comfortable environment.

Huff emphasizes the sentiment that building your personal brand will set you up for future success, no matter the weather: “We’re creating a movement over here because when you know how to make money with your gifts, it transcends any environment. So when bad things happen, when there’s a recession, when you’re laid off, you bounce back even quicker because you know how to tap into your gifts to make money versus feeling like you’re starting from scratch. You’ve got this.”

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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