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Negotiating Your Worth As A Woman in Tech

Blog, Diversity & Inclusion, Small Business

Negotiation is paramount in all forms of business — but I was not always good at it. Negotiating worth as a woman in tech brings a whole new level of complications. Many times, I have experienced failure and awkwardness at the negotiating table, yet it has not stopped me from becoming an award-winning business owner.

These experiences gave me ample opportunity to fine-tune my negotiation skills and helped me learn how to effectively negotiate with ease.

I want to share the hardest thing I have ever had to negotiate in business as well as how I overcame the odds. Negotiation is not easy, yet, it’s a skill that anyone can learn.

Conflict is good in a negotiation process… it’s the clash of two ideas, which then, all being well, produces a third idea. Luke Roberts

The hardest thing I had to negotiate was my rates. Negotiation of rates was an epic failure for me. I did not even know that I could negotiate or ask for my worth — I did not even know my worth. This is common with so many others in various industries. Knowing the worth of your skills is crucial.

Woman In Fields Dominated By Men

As a disabled woman in tech, (I Was Proud Disabled Business Owner) I joined the world of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) where you rarely found a woman 24 years ago and it has not changed much as of 2022.

According to the US Census “While women make up nearly half of the U.S. workforce, they are only 27% of STEM workers, up from 8% in 1970. Men made up 52% of all U.S. workers but 73% of all STEM workers. There is growth but it is shocking that the field has only gained 8% more women in 52 years.

Indeed, women in tech and other fields have not been valued as much in fields that are primarily dominated by men. This has caused women to think twice about entering such fields and pushed them into choosing other fields of work where they don’t have to deal with the typical unexpected roadblocks and/or challenges. This keeps the woman in STEM from gaining ground — yet, it is completely understandable.

Who wants to go to work knowing they will probably be harassed and given a hard time? Life is hard, no one wants to make it harder on themselves — man or woman.

The good news is, unlike in the 70s, 80s, 90s, and even the early 2000s there are a lot more opportunities for a woman to enter the field of STEM without as many of the same worries. Things are getting better but there is a lot of work still to be done.

The Hardest Thing To Negotiate 

Maybe not for you, but for many negotiating and pricing their worth feels like an impossible feat. For those that find negotiating their worth almost painful, there are common and stressful questions that ruminate in one’s head rent-free.

I am that person. Below are some questions you likely ask yourself if you, like me struggle with worth.

Am I crazy?

Who is going to pay that?

What right do I have to ask for that much?

What is my worth?

Would anyone pay me for that?

Why would anyone care?

How much should I ask for?

Do I have the skills to ask to be paid that much?

When You Don’t Know Your Worth

Asking for my worth was my biggest negotiation challenge and it was embarrassing and painful to work through.

Listen, it is not easy to quantify your worth if you don’t know how to do it. I have been there.

There are many ways to calculate your worth in business based on things like: skills, years, accomplishments, clients, types of services, geographical locations, competitors, etc.

There is no one formula, but you need to come up with a good formula quickly! There is no time like “right now”.

Don’t wait in blissful ignorance as I did for years. When I started out and for more years than I would like to admit, I did not have a formula and you know what? I did not even do the research!

I just assumed the general minimum wage applied to what I could ask for my skills.

Yes, you read that right from 1998 until a few years ago (not telling you exactly when *cringes*) my rate stayed in line with my state’s minimum wage, and when I got a little risky, I raised it a few measly dollars and then immediately felt guilty for it!

Don’t Exaggerate Your Worth – Stay Humble

Just a quick note that your worth is important, but you must stay humble. I have noticed when consulting with other designers and marketers just starting in the field that sometimes these kinds of pep talks have an impressionable impact.

They went from feeling worthless and asking for $20 an hour to asking for $150 overnight due to the newfound empowerment. I get it.

Your worth is your worth and you must to ask what you feel you deserve. However, if you can’t even design a basic one-page landing page, you might have to check yourself at the door.

When considering your worth exploring information like your skills, years, accomplishments, types or services, geographical location, competition, etc. can help you to make a better-informed decision about where you are on the scale.

Asking for too little creates worthlessness and resentment. Asking for too much makes you look like an egomaniac. There are so many douches in every field, you will get farther not being one — promise. Trust me.

Also asking way over price for your work can also have a large impact on your brand’s reputation. Read this article here to learn more: 10 Reasons Why Brand Reputation Management is a Must.

Find that happy balance between being humble and confident in your work and skills — we will talk more about that later.

The Truth Hurts, But It Can Change Your Life

One day years ago, I was in a new client meeting. I was going through a separation with my partner at the time and I went from a two-income household to a single-person household with a mortgage and an unhealthy amount of medical bills and extra expenses as a disabled person.

Then came the time to discuss money. At this point, I had been in therapy for about a month, discussing my career, how I was going to pay my bills, and how to increase my rates. I decided to take a risk. I asked for a little more than I usually would.

I felt like a champion — I really did. It felt scary but empowering as I asserted myself at that moment. I stepped into my power and asked for more.

To only be crushed moments later with information that floored me.

She looked at me with a big smile and said, “No problem that is great! The friend who originally did my website was X an hour and that was at a discount.” That ended up $50 an hour more than my rate normal rate. Yikes!

The wind was taken out of my sails and I had a very big awakening at that moment. Her current web developer simply built websites; I did not just offer one service I was a small full-service digital marketing agency that offers website design and development, digital marketing, SEO (Search Engine Optimization), branding, e-learning course platform building, e-commerce sites, email marketing, etc and I am asking for $50 less than their discounted rate — what am I doing?!

Google Gave Me The Golden Key – BUT It Took Me Longer Than It Should To Use That Key

This was the first time I started to Google rates in my industry. I am serious and I am embarrassed to say so, but this is why I am writing this — this is not uncommon.

You don’t know what you don’t know.

The amount I had undersold myself and overworked for years was epic and I felt stupid.

I also realized that I was stuck at that rate with no option for rate negotiation due to my recent circumstances and fear of saying anything — this is when I should have negotiated. Hindsight is 20–20.

Mind you, even after all the research and learning about the average industry rates — I still spent another 2 years not negotiating for even the bare minimum of someone right out of college in my field.

My rate was not even 1/3 of what the average website designer/developer charges. My income was not even 1/3 of the low end of what a Senior Digital Marketing Manager makes and I do both website design/development and digital marketing. I had close to 2 decades of experience.

Imagine my shock. I tried not to take it hard, but it stung quite a bit.

 

You Don’t Need A PHD To Have Sought After Skills And Value

During those two years, another thing that held me back from not asking for my worth was not having a formal education in my field. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind I was brought up to think, if you are not educated “formally” (like going to Harvard Business School) you will never truly be a highly skilled professional.

Education is an opportunity that not everyone if fortunate to have, unless you come from a wealthy family, your parents had the ability to save a little bit over years or you had the financial means to pay for it yourself.

For me, even after applying for financial aid, having a disability made it hard to just work a 40 hour work week let alone have any energy for to dedicate to attaining a degree.

Don’t get me wrong, I tried. I enrolled in college time and time again and had to quit a few months later due to personal health struggles. It was defeating.

More than anything I just wanted to do what I loved and get paid for it. But myself or anyone else really get paid what we are worth without a formal education?

90% of new American billionaires are self-made. – forbes

Create Your Own Education

You bet! An education is an amazing thing, but experience is also just as valuable. Also, you can create your own education! You don’t need to be enrolled in a high level university to teach yourself the same things and thrive.

A university education is a wonderful thing if you want want and can afford it, however, there are so many other ways to attain the skills, tools and experience you need to be highly successful in your field.

The interesting thing that so many people don’t understand is that there are millionaires (not family money or family invested), wildly successful business owners and entrepreneurs who we look up to (or don’t even know) that never went to college or had a handout in their life.

You can forge you own way. It might not be easy, but you can do it. I have and as much as I love to learn — I have found alternative ways to up my game. Here are some suggestions for you.

Ways To Educate Yourself For Free

The amount of FREE content on the internet for you to learn from is exponential. There is no limit to the subjects or content you can find. There is also content that you can pay for, but if you are on a budget — don’t worry there is so much free content you could be busy for a few years without even having to invest a dime.

  • Watch You Tube Videos for tutorials and lessons on anything you want to learn
  • Join workshops or webinars by leaders in your field (many are free).
  • Take courses on Udemy or Skillshare
  • Take advantage of free content. Many successful people offer free content like free downloads (yes they want your email) but you get free content to learn from in return.
  • Read tons of blogs from rockstars in your industry, Medium, Reddit, etc.

The Fear That Impacted My Self-Care And Caused Me To Work Too Hard

Another thing that stopped me was fear. Today it’s not the same and I hope the same for you if you have had this as a challenge as well. Today I make amazing money and work less which helps to have more time for self-care. I wished I did it sooner and I will tell you why.
Self-care is important for everyone, but for me, as a disabled business owner, I take self-care very seriously. Self-care not only impacts my well-being but also impacts my clients and the work I do.

Charging my worth gives me more time to engage in self-care and healthy behaviors, interact with clients in more meaningful ways, provide quality work, and not run myself ragged trying to do so.

I know this is cliche to say, but it is true. The idea in life is to work smarter and not harder. Asking for your worth means you can work less for the same amount of money. It also means clients can get a better version of you. Everyone wins.

Aunia Kahn, 1982: Running a small interior design firm with her grandmothers 300 page wallpaper sample books.

Assertiveness As A Business Woman

Another thing that stopped me from asking for my worth was the fear that my assertiveness would be seen as aggressive, bitchy, or disrespectful.

This is something that has been ingrained in my generation. In society, women are often looked at negatively when they assert themselves and place strong values on their worth.

I am generation X (really I am a Xennial if you want to get all specific) and assertive women were not looked at in any good light. On the contrary, assertive men we assumed to be powerful and it was seen as a very positive trait for men.

Also, it is not always gendered specific (as many things are not always), it can be based more on personality and traits we carry.

When someone who is assumed to be less assertive begins to assert themselves, they often catch others caught off guard. It’s that story that many have lived or have heard, where a person is a pushover and gets sick of it and decides to be assertive (not mean or aggressive - just assertive), and everyone is like “wow, who is this asshole”.

Yet, when a person who we see as naturally assertive then asserts themselves, we don’t think much about it. They are just being them.

So learning to step into the power of honest and graceful assertiveness to build your confidence will take you a long way on the negotiating table.

It’s similar to the feeling we get if we start working again after not doing it for years or never doing it and we feel weak and shaky at first. It’s normal, you will get stronger.

I just started working out and not only is the above true, but I am also trying to give, myself a pep talk!

Build Your Confidence In Yourself That No One Can Take From You

So now that you have worked on your ability to be assertive (yes, I am moving quickly and if you have not worked on it yet — you still have time) it is time to put your shoulders back and step into confidence.

One of the best techniques for negotiating rates is being confident in your request. You can be assertive and lack confidence. You can have confidence and lack assertiveness.

The idea here is to pair them together like peanut butter and jelly or whatever 2 things you love (french fries and ice cream — no one is judging) and they become a hybrid superpower.

When you start practicing these skills you will mess up. You will one-day ooze confidence and will fail in asserting yourself at the right time.

Another day you will be ready to assert yourself in a situation and your confidence will fail you. The idea here is not perfection, no one is perfect — give yourself grace.

Like anything the more you do it, the easier it gets.

Quick Tip: Practice with a friend or loved one. Have them ask you what your rate is and tell them. Ask them if you sound genuine or if you show any signs of being unsure. Ask for honest feedback to get better. If you don’t you could be me in the short story I am going to share below.

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You Will Get Caught If You Don’t Step Into Your Superpowers

Understand, that if do not feel comfortable saying your hourly rate or projected cost, then the client you are talking to will catch on. It is easy for people to catch uneasy body language around money.

Let me tell you how I know this. One time when I took a leap and negotiated for a high rate without any practice I ended up red in the face.

My client looked me straight in the face and said “You looked uneasy saying your rate. Do you get a kickback from people for asking for that much?

Whoah! I was caught! I knew at that moment as my rate left my lips that it came with a bit of hesitation and perhaps a *very tiny stutter*. Ouch!

It was so obvious to them how uncomfortable I was. I thought I hid it well. I took the opportunity to be transparent and honest because that is how I like to roll. You caught me.

I told them “Yes, I am changing my pricing model and I do get kickback but I know my worth and skills, so this is my rate”. The client said, “Fair enough, I will pay your rate”.

Your Are Worth It

It’s better to ask for your worth and if a client is not willing to pay it, then they are not the client for you and they can find it cheaper on Fiverr. Your worth, whether it is negotiating your rate, how you want people to treat you, or how you ebb and flow in business is under your control. Practice and become an expert in your field and harness your superpowers.

You have great value! Surround yourself with those that see it and lift you up!

Aunia Kahn, Rise Visible CEO

Aunia Kahn is the CEO of Rise Visible. With 24 years in the industry, she is a highly sought-after digital marketer, strategist, designer and public speaker. Rise Visible was named a Top-Ranking Woman-Owned Digital Agency by Clutch and is a certified Disability-Owned Business Enterprises (DOBE®). Kahn is also an internationally renowned artist and photographer and has been in over 300 exhibitions in 10 countries; at places such as SDAI, iMOCA, and the SLAM. She founded Create for Healing, is the host of the Rise Above Be Visible Podcast and a contributing writer for Better Marketing and Just Creative. She been featured on Yahoo, Prevention Magazine, Authority Magazine and Entrepreneur on Fire. She also identified as a disabled business owner in STEM surviving and thriving with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (Type 3), MCAS, Dysautonomia, POTS, PTSD, etc.

2 Comments

  1. Linsay Nicole

    This is an amazing article. So many golden nuggets to take away from this. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience!

    Reply
    • auniakahn

      Thank you!!! We appreciate the feedback!

      Reply

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