Episode 81: Money vs. Fulfillment

Show transcript:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time…two themes from two listeners. One is about money – if you’re happy with your job, how much does it matter if you don’t get paid as much as the man who did it previously?

“For the person who says money isn’t everything I would push back and say OK, if money isn’t everything, what would you do if you didn’t get your next paycheck?”

And say you’re married to a guy who earns a lot more than you do. You see the women around you giving up work to stay home with their kids. Should you join them?

“This is exactly how women have been socialized to think – that they’re being selfish if they don’t sacrifice their career ambitions for the family.”

Coming up – two sets of views on fair pay and whether to opt out.  

But first, this episode of the show is brought to you by Write, Speak, Code. Write Speak Code empowers women in technology. The Write Speak Code conference is taking place in June in Chicago and it’s where women in tech can learn to become speakers, thought leaders, and open source contributors. You can sign up for news about the conference at writespeakcode.com.

And if your company would like to sponsor the event the organizers would love to hear from you – all the information is at writespeakcode.com. 

My first guest is Jacquette Timmons. Jacquette is an investment expert and an author and a financial behaviorist – she coaches people on their behavior around money and their attitudes to money. She was in a show I did a couple of yeas ago called Show Me the Money.  

The first question we’re going to consider came after one of my listeners heard the final show of last year – it was called Redefining Success. And in it two women talked about leaving their old, lucrative work lives behind and starting anew. In both cases they were earning less than they did before.

So here’s what this listener said in her email.  

“If I look at my current position I am very successful based on what I have been able to accomplish and the perception of other people.  I enjoy my work most days and am pleased when I can lead the university in efforts to improve the lives of students.

That said, I am grossly underpaid compared to not my most recent predecessor (female), but her predecessor (male).  I would be interested in a discussion on how far you push gender equality if you are indeed satisfied with everything else in the work environment."  

So I asked Jacquette, is it OK to rest on our laurels IF we earn enough, and we’re happy with everything else?

“On one hand the short answer to that question is yes of course you can, you can rest on your laurels if that is sufficient to you. But obviously it isn’t or she wouldn’t be asking the question. So I think in this particular case what it comes down to is have you defined what good enough is for you individually on many different levels? What’s good enough in terms of compensation, in terms of scope of work…and if you do that assessment and you walk away with everything I have here is just fine, then you don’t have to make any changes.”

But again she says that’s probably not the case here.

This particular listener isn’t the only one to have written to me saying look, with women it’s about more than money. Another woman emailed saying women care about other things, like flexibility. We’re just not thinking in terms of every last dollar.

“What I love about exploring this topic is that – while we’re not going to come up with an answer, but I like all the different things we can tap into to get to an answer or several answers. At the end of the day what I find really interesting is it’s only people who have the privilege of saying it’s not all about money can actually say it’s not all about money. So in having this conversation, for the person who says money isn’t everything I would push back and say OK, if money isn’t everything, what would you do if you didn’t get your next paycheck, what would you do currently if the money you didn’t have currently is no longer there? I think you can only say that if you know you have a cushion. It’s like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs…once the bottom level is completely satisfied then you can go up to the next level and after that the whole idea is you get to the final pinnacle, you can focus on personal development, self-fulfillment and things of that nature. So if you’re there it’s easy to say that something that’s connected to a very basic way of living and being is perhaps immaterial, than if you’re not there. So I’d push back and say that I disagree with the whole idea that money doesn’t matter. Where I think the challenge is real and something we all have to work on is the degree to which we allow money to define who we are.”

And of course no one’s saying money doesn’t matter – but for some women it doesn’t have to matter as much because they have a spouse who earns far more. We’ll come back to that idea with the next question.

On the other hand, plenty of women either support themselves or an entire family single-handedly. Or they end up parting from their higher-earning spouse. As my next guest says, those scenarios should galvanize us…

“There was a recent Wall Street Journal article talking about how women over 60 have to stay now longer in the workforce because they realize, oh my God, I don’t have enough money for retirement. So women live a lot longer, but they make a lot less. And with the economic uncertainty we face now money matters more than ever.”

Jodi Detjen is a professor of management at Suffolk University in Boston. She also runs Orange Grove Consulting - it specializes in women’s leadership development. Some of you may remember her from an earlier show I did called Killing the Ideal Woman.

Jodi says there’s another reason women should care about maximizing our earnings…

“So money also maters because it’s a statement of our value in the workplace. So when we make less, then guess what? People assume we add less value.”

But a lot of women don’t think about that. In fact when she and her co-authors were doing research for their book The Orange Line they found the women they interviewed – all women with good careers - rationalized money actually didn’t matter that much or it ought not to. It was almost as if money was dirty and they should aspire to nobler things than chasing a higher salary.

She says another reason some women downplay the importance of money is because if money is important, that means we have to ask for more of it. We have to negotiate for ourselves. And a lot of us dread that.     

“And we know from research and from others’ research that women out-negotiate men when they negotiate for the company, but we’ve been socialized not to bring our own needs into the equation. So we’re not supposed to negotiate or ask for things for ourselves. But now there’s growing awareness of this, there’s been a lot of talk about this, so as a result it’s becoming much more acceptable for women to negotiate for their salary. It still requires some finessing but it’s a lot easier.”

She gets clients to practice negotiating for smaller, more everyday stuff just so they get comfortable with the process.

She’s not saying we should devote ourselves to grabbing that last penny above all else.

“It’s not an either or – either I focus on money or I just live with what I’ve got and feel happy about it. What I’m saying is money isn’t the whole story, but it’s still part of the story. So we still need to be paid what the role or the job is worth. But that’s the difference. Satisficing is when we’re being paid less than value of what we bring to table – that’s de-valuating ourselves. What we’ve been socialized to do is to say we can sacrifice, that’s OK…we can satisfice. What I’m saying is we need to be paid co-measureate value…so then once we get to that level then we can start thinking of the other ways we could redefine success.”

So she says if she were my listener she would tackle this – go to HR, make a case for why she should earn more, all depending on her work environment. But Jodi says she and her predecessor are and were both being discriminated against.

And even though Jodi has emphasized negotiating here, she says it’s not the ideal solution.

“The other thing I would suggest is as we move up in organizations and become better managers and we become leaders in our organizations, then we can make the pay thing a lot more transparent. Because the question I always have is why on earth do we have to negotiate salary anyway? Why can’t it be pretty clear why people make what they make? And the fact that we give people raises because they negotiate to me seems not very transparent at all. Just because someone’s a good negotiator, they get more money, that doesn’t seem to be a good valuation of their value. So I think there are some systemic challenges here but they’re not going be changed until women, who do take a wider view, get into positions of power and start making those changes.”

That idea of ending salary negotiations – that’s something the former acting CEO of Reddit, Ellen Pao, introduced while she was at the company last year.

The next question came from a listener in Silicon Valley. She works for a nonprofit. Her husband is a big player at a famous technology company. They have one child. And she admits her issue is a problem of privilege – but I’m sure she’s right that lots of other women are grappling with the same question.

She says her husband is a great, hands-on dad. But his career is on a tear. His job pays multiple times what hers does and she says they’ve had problems navigating the dynamic caused by vastly different incomes. She says he’s supportive of her career, but he’s so successful she’s beginning to feel her career doesn’t really matter by comparison. Meanwhile all his male colleagues have stay-at-home wives.

 I was telling Jacquette about this and I started to quote from the email…

AM-T: “She likes her career but she’s beginning to question whether she is selfish for even wanting a job when her husband is earning so much more money and would clearly be able to do more if he had a stay at home wife. She says she wants to support him and she’s thrilled he’s doing so well and opening up so many opportunities for their family…but she’s clearly feeling that they could achieve more as a family…she even says we could have another child if I was more available. She says should I throw in the towel and stay home to support his clearly more lucrative career?”

[Laughs] “Oh my God. When I chuckle I’m not being dismissive. I chuckle because what I hear is that they’re just not on the same page. They don’t have – from what you’ve described they’re not really operating as a team. They haven’t come together to figure out OK, as a team what is the big picture goal and strategy we’re working on and toward. As a team each team member plays a role – what’s your role going to be in contributing to that overall vision and overall big picture? So I think from what I hear her saying it’s not about we so much as it’s about I. I wonder if she were on the call to us if, and I said to her well, how would you think of this if you were looking at not doing the things you say you want to do for the next 5 years so you can perhaps expand your family and perhaps give him the space to do even more with his career which is bringing in a great deal of resources for you, and not look at this as ‘if I do that I’m giving something up’ and instead look at it as ‘in doing that, this is my role, this is my contribution into the bigger picture and the bigger plan.’

Which I must admit I was quite surprised to hear. But…

“Yeah, that’s my view.”

AM-T: Go into that a little bit more. To me she’s clearly feeling pressure. And you know these statistics, right, the women who tend to stay home tend to be at each end of the socioeconomic spectrum…so those at the bottom end and those at the very top end so some of the most educated women in the country actually end up staying home and looking after there kids and she’s seeing that all around her and wondering should I be one of those people?”

“Well see that gets to the bigger issue and I think the crux of it all for both that first question you shared and this, which is our tendency to compare ourselves to other people in other situations.  So we might feel really comfortable and competent with the decision or choice we’ve arrived at and then begin to question the validity of that as we look at other people’s choices…the problem is that we’re looking at the part of the choice we can see, but we’re not looking at all of the things other people may have taken into consideration to arrive at the choice they’ve determined is best for them.”

AM-T: “Let me just go down because I told her I was going to be talking about her problem and she wrote me a little follow-up email. Yes, she says here…

‘There is significant evidence that if I opt out, he will make more money and be more successful on his own than both of us working. My added flexibility would allow us to maximize our family income, his time off and possibly have another child. So despite all we’ve gained is it still the most rational choice for women in higher income brackets to stay at home?’”

“To me that is that is both a philosophical and very personal question at the same time. And personal aspect of that question is do you have a game plan in terms of when you return to work? So if you say alright, sweetheart, I’m going to agree to opt out and I will onboard at a later point in time…do you have a pre-determined time in mind as to when you are going to do that? and as you take care of the home are you setting aside an hour a week to keep on top of your skills, to keep on top of your networking so when it’s time to on ramp you are not starting from scratch to make that happen - it really is a matter of being able to tap into your network and saying OK, I’m ready to jump back into this thing and it’s not going to be a huge learning curve for you to be able to do that.”

Jodi Detjen agrees anyone taking a career break needs to stay connected to their industry or they’ll risk their skills becoming obsolete. But she feels very differently on everything else.  

“So first off I think, I’ll start with the either or perch women get stuck with in their career. When we look at our research we keep seeing this big assumption that women are the ones primarily responsible for home and family so career is a lower priority so I have to put my career on the back burner. The assumption of course is that the husband’s career is then primary. And we’re doing some research on men and careers and that is what men believe – their primary responsibility is career and home is secondary. But men aren’t saying they want this. We’ve got men and women assuming this is way it is and both working under this constraint. What would happen if we reframed this totally to both our careers matter and family is important to both of us? You notice I’m not even mentioning money here. I’m seeing both people want careers and family. And if we reframe it to this is the premise…and this is what my husband and I have done. The husband’s ambition doesn’t have to be swallowed and her ambitions don’t have to be submerged. It’s a negotiation. How do we make it happen? It’s about saying here’s what I need for my career, here’s what you need for yours, and here’s what we need for the family. How do we accomplish this? And you figure it out. So on any given day one career might take priority, but over a trajectory we’ve agreed both careers are important.

Let me get to the point about being selfish.  This is exactly how women have been socialized to think – that they’re being selfish if they don’t sacrifice their career ambitions for the family. And it’s such a beautiful label because we put it on ourselves and it keeps us small. Oh, you’re being selfish. Because then immediately we go, oh, I have to sacrifice myself.

If you see a woman talk about being selfish watch what happens to her body. She will scrunch in. She physically gets smaller. So now imagine what would happen if we said as women our career matters – so imagine all the ideas, energy, impact, all the ways work is already changing because women are showing up for their careers – we know having women working is good for business, it’s good for the world. Keeping our careers small keeps business as usual, it’s a mindset. So instead let’s say, both careers matter.”

She says we conflate money with worth – but she says just because he earns more his career is not automatically more important. And yes his job pays more – but say you give up yours, and then he’s laid off, or something else happens to upend your regular life with that big salary coming in…she says it’s risky for women to give up work completely.

And she says there’s another reason to think twice…

“When women give up their careers for their husbands they perpetuate this dynamic where only men and a few women make it to the top with a stay at home spouse – and that they’re the only people who can make it to the top of organizations. So it makes it really hard for people in those positions to understand the dual career dynamic. And because those people haven’t experienced it they don’t really understand it so they don’t build organizations that help dual-career families or single parent families. Deciding to prioritize a husband’s career then ends up being a problem of privilege because only families of privilege can do it.”

And that’s what my listener is seeing all around her. But what about her feeling that putting her husband’s career first would enable them to have another child?

“This is what we heard a lot in the women’s stories we interviewed and the women we’ve been working with since. It’s this deal of my career has to be smaller or we can’t achieve all these things we want as a family, yet when you look at the research on dual career families what you see is there’s a lot of happiness, because both partners are sharing in this decision – so if there’s sacrifice both partners do it together…and in the long run the family is better off because both parts of the family are contributing to it neither one feels resentment because they don’t have to sacrifice a big, big part of who they are. I don’t know if it’s true what she’s saying – we spoke to women who are very successful who have 4 kids. It’s about figuring it out. And what we we found about figuring it out is that women put rules up. Such like, well I can’t have my kids be with a babysitter because I need to be with my children. Rather than saying when you look at the data there is no data to show children in daycare are worse off, as long as daycare is good, which if she’s in this position where her husband is the primary earner and she could scale back, they have access to quality daycare. Her kids would be fine in daycare, it’s a question of how she’s doing it.

Also in stories we hear from women and heard in our research there’s this palpable sadness, and we hear it in this question as well – ‘I have to sacrifice my career. I don’t want to but I can’t see another way out.’ And this comes back to this either/orness. Either I’m the one taking care of the family OR I’m all in my career.  Rather than the nuance. And this comes right back to that first question of isn’t there more to life? So if we look at a holistic life there’s elements of career, there’s elements of family and life and there’s elements for us. And it’s all three of them together that makes a full, rich life. Sacrificing one part of it gives you a partial life and what kind of a message is that sending to our kids?”

She says so many of our expectations and our concerns – they spring from quite a new idea of what an ideal family looks like.

“So our conclusion on all this is that we have this vision of an ideal of a perfect family – and this is where the woman makes family a priority and the man makes career a priority…and that’s the ideal still even though that ideal was invented in the 1950s. It never really existed before then because women have always worked because they had to, it just wasn’t paid. They were the ones feeding the farmers, they were the ones doing all the work in the house. It wasn’t till the 1950s when the men needed to go back to work, they needed jobs, that they created this ideal woman, stay at home thing.

So what ends up happening is we’ve created this society then especially at the upper echelons where you have to be all in at work. Or it looks that way. And the only way you can be all in if you’re putting in 60, 70 hours a week So that requires someone to be home with the kids.

So if you’re looking at this as a 1950s mentality of someone has to be home with he kids, the easiest one to do this is the one making the least amount of money. I’m not getting into the argument of whether women want to stay home because that’s a totally different argument. I’m talking about the women who really enjoy their careers. There’s a lot of research suggesting women quit not to stay home but because they can’t figure out how to make it all work. The organizations aren’t supporting them. The good news is that men are really starting to push back in part because there are so many dual-career families, and the men have as much pressure. To give you a personal example, my husband is C level at a startup, he has just as much pressure dealing with family as I do…his work is closer to our house than my work so he takes a lot of the doctors’ appointment and those things, and he’s had to figure it out. But what’s happened is he’s become a role model…and he’s had young men tell him he’s a role model for them because they then realize they can figure it out too.

Why have women chosen this? Because we believe this fundamental assumption that women are supposed to take care of the kids, and it’s just an assumption. When we reframe it back to my career matters, your career matters, our family matters, let’s figure it out, then it’s a completely different conversation.”

Jodi Detjen. Thanks to her and Jacquette Timmons for being my guests on today’s show.

As usual I’m interested to know what YOU think about both these questions.  

You can comment under this episode on the website or on the show’s Facebook page.

And if you’re in tech don’t forget to check out the upcoming conference at writespeakcode.com.

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I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. See you next time.