That was like an 'Oh my god' raise.
"When I switched to my last company, I basically got a 100% raise. I was making $150,000 — and that was a $100,000 base salary, $30,000 bonus annually, and I was getting some revenue share, a percentage, as part of my pay. When I moved to the new company, my base salary moved to $150,000. And then they gave me a $50,000 signing bonus to make up for the fact that I wasn’t getting the bonus from my previous company because I was leaving before the year was up, and my bonus target was 75 to 100%. I hit the 100% my first year out.
"That was like an 'Oh my god' raise. It was a function of two things. One, I was really underpaid at my previous job. And two, I filled a very specific need for my new employer, so they were willing to pay to get me. That was a game-changer. Their offer was completely eye-opening, like, 'Oh my gosh, I make more money than my parents ever did, than most of my friends' parents ever made. This is a whole different ball game.' I never even considered it. It still floors me a little bit now. Like, how long am I going to get away with this?"
How did you realize you were being underpaid?
"The year I decided I was going to leave my first company, I had an amazing year, a record kind of year, especially given how junior I was at the company at the time. Not only did I have a great year, I also worked 100 hours a week for six months. It was insane. So I thought I was entitled to not only a promotion, but a pay raise as well. I’ll say I probably did myself a disservice that I didn’t tell my boss my expectations. But in the end, he gave me a 20% increase on my bonus from the prior year, which in dollars was $5,000. I was like, Are you fucking kidding me? I made you a lot of money, and I worked tirelessly, and I outperformed everyone here, and the best you could do was $5,000? And try to sell it to me that I should be happy with that? I got really disgruntled and decided to leave the company.
"It wasn’t just me, though — it was the entire team that was being underpaid. So when I was interviewing for the new job, they didn't know what I was making, and their first offer to me came with that pay package. That was their assessment of what I was worth. So that became my new baseline. I didn’t negotiate it, and I regret that. I was so dumbstruck that I just took it."
And she said, 'Yeah, but you’re rich so…' I was caught off-guard by the comment.
"Well, it’s like, some of the comments in the Money Diaries. People hear about that kind of money, and some people get really offended by it. You also get people who think, Oh, you have a lot of money therefore you should give me x. You get that from family a lot.
"My husband and I both do a lot for our families, especially with our nieces and nephews. Neither of us come from wealthy families, so it’s not without some expectation. We spend a fair amount paying for summer camps or school stuff or things that can ease the burden on my siblings. They do fine, but it’s easier for us to do it. So I do help out a lot, but sometimes that help starts to be expected, and it gets a bit ridiculous. It was like we were a bank for a couple of years, and I was getting taken advantage of, and I felt guilty so I allowed it, but I had to put my foot down. There’s help, and there’s expectation, and I’m here for you guys in an emergency, but I’m not here for you guys as backup for everything you want to do."
Why did you feel guilty?
"Because it’s your family, and you love them. You technically can afford to do it, but you see how, if you keep going down the path you’re going, you could compromise your own financial position by meeting their expectations."
Can you talk about a time when these expectations ruined a relationship?
"One of the more hurtful ones is when someone asks me for a loan, and they can't pay it back. Instead of coming to me to talk about it, they cut off all communication with me. So, not only am I out the money, but I have also lost the relationship because that person feels bad for owing me money. The only way to get them back in my life is to forgive the loan. I have done it several times to avoid losing a person I care about, but I have never been able to reconcile that. I am generally very reasonable about money and can never understand why they won't just come to me."
How have your relationships with your family changed as you've made more money?
"I was very close with my parents and for a long time I would talk to them about what I was making, and how I was doing, and there was one year I got a $100,000 bonus. My mom just couldn’t believe it. It almost seemed, this sounds so crazy, but it seemed like she got a little intimidated by me. She started making comments like, Oh well, you’re rich, so I guess you can just do whatever you want. I don’t know. It sounds bad, but I get it.
"I also have a little sister, and I said something, joking, to her like, 'Oh I hate you, because you could eat cheeseburgers every day and never gain a pound.' And she said, 'Yeah, but you’re rich so…' I was caught off-guard by the comment. I didn't know how to respond to that."
A few years ago, we decided to stop talking about how much money we made.
"A few years ago, we decided to stop talking about how much money we made — nothing good comes from talking about it. My husband and I talk about it, but that’s it. We don’t talk to our friends about it, either. The only time I’ll talk about it is when I do mentoring for women coming out of college, or when I'm talking to friends who are in big negotiations. I won't talk about how much I make right now because it becomes a distraction for them, but I'll talk about some of the raises over time, or how I’ve gotten some of my compensation."
What's the most annoying response to your high salary?
"People will say, 'Oh you’ve had it so easy, and you make all this money.' That’s the most infuriating to me. I have been so disciplined since middle school about grades and school and work, and I’ve never taken liberty with anything. The work has paid off, but it has been work. And the part that people forget is that not only am I a woman in this heavily male-dominated corporate environment, I’m also a minority. And I was also young. It's already really hard to thrive in this environment, but to do it and be the only one, and be the only one throughout your entire career, is an additional level of stress or emotional exertion that people don’t give a lot of credit for."
I quickly realized it wasn't the work I was doing, and it wasn't whether we got along, because I tried for five years. It was just who I am.
"At my last company, there was someone who I had to work with to approve all the deals I was doing. And from the beginning, he was just horrible to me. He would automatically assume that if anything went wrong, it was my fault, and that I had lied about it. So I would avoid talking to him, and eventually managed a team, and I worked my way up for five years.
"One year, my counterpart and I were both up for a promotion — it was a really big deal. Part of that promotion was an internal promotion as well, which gives you more authority to sign off on bigger deals. And this guy who hated me was the guy responsible for giving this promotion. So my boss put both of us up for it, and the guy approved the other man's promotion and denied mine. He wouldn't give me a reason why. He just said, 'I don't think you're ready yet.' But how could I not be ready if I do the same thing this other person does, and we both got promoted, and my boss believes I deserve it? So I went to my boss and said, this isn't right. There's no logical reason why I don't deserve this. The numbers support it, my work supports it. And my boss agreed with me, but he couldn't get a straight answer from the approval guy, either. This went on for almost a year. What I said to my boss was, 'If you don't want to give me a promotion, fine. But at least give me an explanation. And give me steps for how to get to that promotion. What can I do that I haven’t been doing?' And he couldn't give me that.
"I quickly realized it wasn't the work I was doing, and it wasn't whether we got along, because I tried for five years. It was just who I am.
"For me, the denial of the promotion was the culmination of all the hostility this guy had toward me the past five years. The fact that it was allowed to stand was the most frustrating part. I was very fortunate that I had a mentor at the company who wasn’t in my chain of command. I explained what was going on, [saying] I’ve been as diplomatic about it as possible, but frankly this isn’t right, and it has the air of bias. I don’t pull that card often. My mentor went on my behalf to the head of the group and talked to them about the situation, and pretty quickly afterward I got the promotion."
That's so interesting — because it obviously wasn't a money thing. You already got a pay raise and promotion.
"Right. This just gave me more authority to do my job. I think it’s important to realize that there’s overt sexism and overt racism, but most of it is much more subtle. And it does have a real impact on people’s careers. Not giving me this internal promotion says, 'Yeah, we gave her this role that everyone sees in public, but we don’t think she’s responsible enough to have this role internally.' And it would’ve undercut my authority — and I think it did for a really long time when I didn't get it."
I went shopping over the course of a month and I spent probably $8,000 on clothes.
"Every bonus season, it changes. [Laughs] Every year, you know? Think about it. You make more money, you spend more money. We’re young, and again, I think it’s always harder when you don’t have an example from your parents on how to manage this kind of money. We’ve made some mistakes. This year was our biggest pay year, ever, and so much of it shows up in a bonus. So it hits your account all of a sudden and you’re just like, Whoa. I went shopping over the course of a month and I spent probably $8,000 on clothes. I justified it because I needed stuff for my new job, which is a much more formal work environment, but not $8,000 worth. I just went a little buck wild. I’ve since reined it in, but I have some really great shoes to show for it. My husband was like, 'You’ve lost your mind.' I was like, 'Yes, I have, but it’s back now.'
"We’re not perfect when it comes to money. We lease most of our cars. I happen to like nice cars, and I like new cars. We do some things frivolously, and I think we’ve made some mistakes along the way, but I think we are getting more mature and getting better at it and getting more focused and disciplined about it. We didn’t get a roadmap to this, but there were these years of buying our house and remodeling our house, and it was a complete hemorrhaging of money. And then trying to save and having a baby and all these things. So we’ve hired people to help manage our money a little bit better. We set up certain buckets where we don’t touch the money, we’ve invested in some stuff to put our money to work, and we’re doing some things to stem the outflow of money. If we don’t get our hands on it, we won’t spend it. So that’s how we keep ourselves from having a really, really fun time."
Do you see your salary continuing to grow?
"Yes, it’s all going to be promotion-based at this point. I’m an ED, or an executive director, now. The next title is managing director, and that’s a pretty big jump... If all goes well it’s probably three to four years away for me. And beyond that you can start running larger and larger parts of the business, or larger businesses, so I do think there is more mobility. My husband might be close to maxing out on his end, but I suspect I could get to his level."
Even though I have a high title, I'm at a new company and I haven’t quite established myself yet. So I don’t know how harmful [having a kid] will be.
"It always had been, but I have a daughter, and I have another one on the way. Having kids has really made me reevaluate wanting to be present for them, and if you pursue that kind of goal, you have to be dedicated to one or the other. So I don’t know. I’m really curious to see what having number two does for my mindset when it comes to work. Obviously I still love working, but how much will it affect my ambition? I’m in a fairly senior role now, and part of me thinks that I will stay in this role and move a little bit more slowly, so I can maintain some flexibility to be around as my kids grow up, and then when they get older I can rededicate and calibrate towards that. But I’m not sure. I’m just taking it one day at a time... I’m probably going to sacrifice a little bit."
Right. A lot of women have this discussion, partially for their own reasons, but also because sometimes companies might not invest as fully in their employees who are mothers...
"Sure, yeah. You’re absolutely right. For example, a while back when I was engaged, a male colleague asked if I needed to quit my job to focus on planning my wedding.
"When I started my career, all I heard was once you have kids you get behind in the workplace, yada yada yada, which is true. So I took the tactic where I planned to become a senior vice president before I had kids, because if you’re a senior vice president, you’ve earned all your stripes, you make a lot of money, and you have a lot of flexibility with your schedule. So I thought, if I can get there, having kids will be easier because then people can catch up to me, instead of me being left behind.
"My husband and I met in college and married when I was 25. We didn't have kids until our thirties. I was working like a dog in my 20s, but I wanted to get to a certain place where having kids wouldn’t hurt my career. It worked for me, and I know not everyone has that luxury. I made SVP, and I was six months pregnant, so the timing was very, very close. But it’s played out very well.
"Now, I’m rebuilding at a new company, and I’m pregnant. I didn't really intend to get pregnant, but it happened. I’m super-thrilled about it, but I do think it’s a bit more precarious. Even though I have a high title, I'm at a new company and I haven’t quite established myself yet. So I don’t know how harmful [having a kid] will be... I’m working really, really hard until the baby comes, I’ll take maternity leave, and then I’ll come back and get back to work."
Your Money Diary has received overwhelming responses from commenters. Was there one that particularly got you thinking?
"One of the comments on my Money Diaries piece was, 'I wonder if she is happy?' The answer to that is mostly yes. I have a great relationship with my husband, a healthy daughter that I adore, and great family and friends. All that said, I am anxious to be having another kid because I worry if I can still be a good mom, and I worry how it will affect my career. I also worry if there is more to my career than making a lot money for other people and for myself? I hope to find a way to leave a bigger impact on the world and to give back in some way. I am grateful for everything I have and every opportunity I have been afforded, but I feel like I need to do more."
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Have a story you'd like to share? Email us here.