Let’s get good and awkward, shall we? How much do you make?

Feeling squirmy or defensive yet? There’s a pretty good chance you are, especially if you’re a woman.

How much do your co-workers make? How about your boss?

Any idea? Probably not. How about the industry/market rates for what you do? What’s the competitive range and change over time?

If you work at a very large company, you might have some idea if all jobs come with specific titles and salary bands. But I bet it would be nearly impossible finding out anything more granular than that.

Catching up on podcasts recently, I listened to this, which I highly recommend to the ladies, particularly.

Women talking about money, qualifications, seniority and negotiation goes against so much that we’re indoctrinated in (or against). From basic “manners,” to being nice and accommodating, to frequently underlying notions that we should always be grateful for what we’re granted. Regardless of what it is. Or isn’t.

Of course, women also get penalized for being too emotional, so actually the idea of sharing salary information is a step away from that. After all, it enables us to collect data. Cold, hard facts.

Every decent article, book, or podcast on negotiation will tell you to come armed with data. Unfortunately, getting over your own qualms about broaching the subject is just your first hurdle. The people you’re asking – colleagues, managers, others in your industry, or your own HR department – have to be willing to share the information, too. Not always the case.

It can be particularly difficult in tech, especially at startups, since specific job titles and descriptions can be nebulous and ever-evolving. So you’re the marketing manager-receptionist-graphic designer-facilities manager?

I’d happily bet you’re not making four salaries. Or likely getting any additional compensation or perks for taking all of that on. Just… being a team player, right?

Of course, there is the secondary compensation, like equity or stock options. Raise your hand if you’ve ever been the proud owner of underwater or straight-up worthless stock options. I thought so.

And there’s the now stereotypical notion that cool startup perks counterbalance low salary, lack of benefits, and whatnot. Yeah, “cool” doesn’t pay the rent, get you to the dentist, or enable you to retire before you’re 90.

It can also be hard to figure out appropriate remuneration if you’re in a “second city.” North America has lots of vibrant tech hubs that are not in California. But they’re usually smaller and newer so there are likely fewer people doing your job, and it’s more difficult to connect.

Basing salary expectations on a super-expensive city with vastly different companies isn’t going to be optimal. Unless you want to figure out cost of living to salary ratios there, then scale for where you live, I suppose.

I think the advice in this piece about creating a budget for yourself is brilliant. Obviously, as a grownup you should have one anyway, but I hadn’t really thought of it as a salary negotiation tool.

It’s a much more personal and concrete place to start than the somewhat nebulous advice of “know what you’re worth.” (Part 2 of that piece is here so you have both.)

You have little choice but to be invested in negotiating the best compensation for yourself if it’s based on knowing what you, personally, need to live decently.

Even if a job is the coolest thing ever, doing something you’ll love for a “world-changing” company, if you’re going to need a second or third job as a barista or Uber driver or what have you, it may not be worth it.

Unless there is some very good reason why it’s absolutely not possible to pay you a reasonable salary. Why taking this job for a very specific amount of time can help you in the future. Or you just don’t like sleeping. Ever.

Having a baseline for yourself then makes it easier to move outward in your data collection to determine salary information in your industry. And hey, if you find out that no one can live on what they make in that job, it’s a pretty good indication of serious systemic issues.

I am talking about the corporate world here, and especially tech. Per Hugh MacLeod’s sex and cash theory, I am well aware that if you want a life in the arts, you’re gonna sling a lot of lattes.

So, to summarize, we’re supposed to have data to back up our financial negotiations. But it’s really hard data to come by, since discussing money may well be against HR dictates and bad manners.

Women are not supposed to get emotional. Or be too direct or assertive.

Women tend to be great negotiators… as long as it’s for other people.

We’re supposed to be prepared to walk if the offer or increase isn’t good enough. Which is so easy to do with two kids and a mortgage.

And when we do begin to make headway into growth industries and good-paying jobs (i.e. fields that have traditionally been male-dominated), the pay drops.

Yeah. Let’s start talking, shall we?

M-Theory is an opinion column by Melanie Baker. Opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Communitech. Melle can be reached @melle or me@melle.ca.

About The Author

Melanie Baker

M-Theory is a guest column by Melanie Baker, who is a big fan of building communities and working with geeks. She spends her days fixing the internets (in a way), writing, chasing her puppy, and creating fanciful beasts out of socks.