How Candace Negotiated to Close a Big Pay Gap

Candace has been working in education for 8 years, serving as a special education professional for a charter school network in the Minneapolis area.

But when she realized she was being significantly underpaid, Candace used her assertive communication and negotiation skills to rectify the situation #likeaboss.

I sat down with Candace to get all the details.

How she learned she was underpaid

Emilie: Hey Candace! So tell us about your work and how you learned you were being underpaid?

Candace: Well, a few months back my responsibilities increased to include taking the lead on our state reporting, a requirement for our charter schools that included sharing our employee compensation with the state. At the time I was tasked with coordinating and coaching about 50 members of our team, including special education teachers who I was spending hours developing as leaders and teachers. It was then, looking at all that data, that I realized I was being paid the same or less than those folks I’d been leading – despite the fact that I’m pursuing my PhD in education at Johns Hopkins, have many more years of experience, and am tasked with training them on how to grow as professionals themselves. I was shocked.

E: Yikes! What did you do next?

C: Well, it just so happened that I was coming up on my 6 month performance review, and I told my boss that I found this information and wanted to see what she thought about it. To her credit, she seemed surprised and shocked as well, and felt it was an honest oversight.

I was then offered a promotion and I took that as an opportunity to negotiate my salary. I thought back to all I learned at Bossed Up Bootcamp about assertively communicating like a leader and launched into the conversation with confidence.

How she negotiated a raise and promotion

E: Excellent! What did they offer?

C: They started by offering me a $5,000 raise, which was reasonable as an annual bump, but that didn’t account for the huge disparity that I’d started with. I presented my counter-offer, framed with reasons why I deserved more and made sure to compare it not only to our internal benchmarks but also with research I’d done on other charter schools in the greater Minneapolis area. I really relied on data (both internal and external) that was available through public reporting through the state.

Beyond that, I pointed to major financial wins I’d been able to land for our school – highlighting all the ways I helped our school save money this past year. I’d been able to get back about $150k in extra revenue through partnerships with the state, and I made sure that my value was clearly demonstrated through dollars and cents.

E: Great job! How’d she take it?

C: By all accounts, it went well. My boss was sympathetic, but I knew she would need to seek approval from our executive director, so immediately following our conversation I sent her an email that spelled all my points out, so she would feel comfortable communicating it on my behalf. I also assumed she might just forward it right along to her boss.

E: Good thinking. How did all that feel?

C: It was nerve-wracking, but I remained firm, recalling the key learnings from Bossed Up Bootcamp about vocal tone and powerful body language. My boss was pretty shocked initially that I wanted to continue the negotiation process with my counter-offer. She told me that very few people in the organization had ever negotiated upon receiving their first offer, let alone after being hired with the school.

E: Well congratulations, Candace! Way to cause a sea change. So was your counter-offer accepted?

C: Yes! I’m pleased to say that most of what I asked for was agreed to, including 5 extra PTO days to pursue my research projects.

Negotiation lessons learned

E: What did you learn in this process? What would you have to share with others facing the same kind of situation?

C: Get a good handle on what your salary should be, especially by using internal and external benchmarking whenever possible. Go in with clear examples of how you contribute to the organization – I especially focused on the financial worth I brought to the table, but it can be both that and non-monetary value.

And then ASK! Do it! Ask for more. I know it’s scary, but what is way more scary is just how many people never know because they never attempt to negotiate. That’s what contributes to cycles of injustice and chronic devaluing of our work – especially as women.

E: Yes! So true. I also hear that you’ve made some big moves as recently as this past week – what’s up?

C: Honestly, Emilie, I didn’t plan on this being part of this interview, but I am just so excited I have to share. After we sorted everything out with the charter school, I was ready and willing to continue on with them, but my dream job came calling! I’m so thrilled to say I actually just negotiated a totally new job opportunity I’ll be starting after the school year wraps up.

I even negotiated their full-time offer down to a 25-hour workweek (to afford more time to finish up my PhD) and changed the responsibilities from the original posting to focus more on the skills I have to offer. I used the interview to showcase those skills and discuss how I could add value to their organization – and now I’m so excited for this next chapter!

E: Dang, Candace! You’re a negotiation queen! Congrats on all this exciting progress – and kudos on your continued rise, boss!


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