In our series My 6-Figure Paycheck, women making more than $100,000 open up about how they got there and what exactly they do. We take a closer look at what it feels like to be a woman making six-figures — when only 5% of American women make that much, according to the U.S. Census — with the hope it will give women insight into how to better navigate their own career and salary trajectories.
Job: International Tax Manager, Public Accounting
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Degree: BS Accounting, MS Accounting
First Salary: $60,000
Current Salary: $124,000
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
"As a kid I wanted to be a veterinarian. I was (and still am) pretty obsessed with animals and just felt a calmness around them. When I was a teenager we moved around a lot, and it cost me a lot of confidence in myself and my ability to dream and follow what interested me. I ended up studying accounting in college, because I knew it would be a stable job and that I would be able to find work easily in any city. I was also afraid of trying to find something that I was passionate about and either failing at it or not being successful enough at it to make a living. I grew up poor, and I've always been terrified of ending up there again."
What did you study in college?
"I got a bachelor's degree in accounting, and then stayed at the same university for an extra year to earn a master's degree in accounting as well. The main choice in studying accounting is deciding between auditing and tax, and tax felt more solid and rule-based, so I was drawn to that. But my university didn't offer a master's degree in tax accounting, and I was too afraid to seriously consider moving somewhere else, so I stayed for an accounting degree instead. The main purpose of the master's degree was to get me enough credits (I needed 150, and came out of undergrad with 135) to qualify for the CPA (certified public accountant) exam — the master's program was a ten-course program that gave me 30 credits. It also helped me to prepare for the exam, which I took between graduation and starting my first job."
Did you have to take out student loans?
"I didn't have to take out any student loans because I inherited some money from my grandmother that I used to pay for tuition. My parents also had an educational savings fund set up for me, which had about $10,000 in it, but they forgot that they had it and didn't remember until I was applying for the master's program, so I used it to pay for that program."
Have you been working at this company since you graduated from college?
"I have been working at my company since graduating from the master's program, about 6.5 years ago. I also had an internship with the same company while I was in school, during the summer break."
How would you explain your day-to-day role at your job?
"In an average day, I'll work on small teams to answer tax technical questions and perform calculations to help companies understand how their international operations and activities are impacting their U.S. tax bill. There's a lot of research and project management, and it's usually about ten hours per day. Sometimes there's writing involved, but mostly it's figuring out how to teach my team to do research and calculations efficiently without sacrificing on quality, and explaining technical concepts simply to my team and our clients."
Did you negotiate your salary?
"I did not negotiate my first salary. I was completely shocked that anyone would pay me $60,000 for my first job, when I felt like I had nothing to really contribute. As I've moved up at my firm, negotiating my salary has never been an option unless I was prepared to leave the firm, and I've never wanted to leave, so I haven't negotiated. When I first started working, I had no idea that negotiation was something I should consider, but when I learned that the structure of my firm doesn't allow for negotiations (compensation is set by the partners of my firm months before I'm able to know about it), I felt really angry and a bit slighted. I'm generally a positive person, but when I think about how little choice I feel like I have in my salary, I seethe and feel taken advantage of. No one else seems to have more control, though — men and women, all races equally. Unless you are hired with a specific, highly technical set of skills, you have no leverage because the field of accounting is so crowded."
Is your current job your “passion”? If not, what is?
"I definitely would not consider it my passion, but I've moved laterally in my company a few times, and that's given me the ability to see that I'm lucky to have a job where I feel challenged and satisfied by what I do. I wouldn't say it often gives me pleasure, but being able to live a comfortable and stable life does give me pleasure. I bought a condo four years ago, so that has also given me a lot of pleasure. I'm honestly not even sure what my 'passions' are, or if I have any."
If you could, would you change anything in your career trajectory?
"I don't think so, but I wouldn't consider myself a terribly imaginative person. One of the reasons why I've stayed with my company is because I know there is an opportunity to succeed and be promoted, but there's a lot of competition and that causes me a lot of stress. There's no shortcut, it's just a lot of hard work, and sometimes it feels more attainable than other times. Some days I feel more motivated than others."
What professional advice would you give your younger self?
"I would tell myself to believe in myself, to give myself credit for my hard work, to not be afraid of trying new things that don't always come easily to me — whether that's exploring other career paths or just pushing myself to get out more and meet new people, to expand my network. I have spent so much time being afraid of failure, and it's really caused me to discount my abilities and not make serious long-term (or even short-term) goals that I would have to actually stretch for. One of the things I've tried to get past in my late 20s, though, is these regrets and feelings I have about my own negative self-talk, so I would also advise myself to be kinder to myself and not worry so much about how I'm being judged by others."