Women continue to make an average of 80 cents for every man’s dollar, but research shows everyone wins with gender-based pay parity. The McKinsey Global Institute found that moving towards a more egalitarian workforce could add up to $4.3 trillion in annual GDP by 2025. But at the rate we're going, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research finds women will only see pay checks equal to those of their male counterparts in 232 years. (And if that sounds bad, remember that women of color, on average, face much larger pay gaps than white women. While Asian women have the smallest gap between their wages and those of white men, the AAUW reports that Hispanic women average 54 percent and black women 63 percent of what white men make.)
Thankfully, trailblazers like Libby Leffler, VP of membership at SoFi, are working at the local level to enact real change. With stops on her resume including Google and Facebook, the business executive has negotiated her salary at every position she's held with the expectation that her employees will to do the same (and as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s former business lead, she's fluent in the language of Leaning In). In honor of Equal Pay Day, April 9, Libby talks to Teen Vogue about everything from negotiating your worth to never taking your group texts for granted.
Teen Vogue: What drew you to tech and business when you were in college?
Libby Leffler: First off, I was incredibly lucky to have amazing, supportive parents that are role models for me even to this day. Business was part of our dinner conversation every single night. My mom is a CFO and my dad has been a commercial real estate broker for the last 40 years. The example my mother set for me was especially influential as I envisioned the type of career I could one day build for myself. My parents reminded me every day that anything was possible and encouraged me to pursue the subject areas that were most exciting to me.
Years later, while studying at UC Berkeley, I decided to concentrate on business administration. Given Berkeley’s proximity to Silicon Valley, it was hard not to be excited by the amazing, world-changing things happening all around the area.
TV: How did you work your way up to corporations like Google and Facebook?
LL: While at Berkeley, I knew I was interested in entering into the business world, but wasn’t completely sure where I would land. Many of my classmates were starting careers in the “ABCs” – accounting, banking, and consulting – but few of those opportunities excited me.
After college graduation, I took a chance and submitted my resume on Google’s career website and following a lengthy interview process, I was thrilled to land a new job. I couldn’t wait to get to work soaking up everything I could about the company and how the business worked. So, that’s what I did: [I] got to work. I dove head first into all of my projects and relished every opportunity to learn from the ambitious leaders building this impressive business and unique company culture. Google, while already public, felt really fresh and full of opportunities for where we could go as a company, but also for me individually. I was really happy in my job and the company was massively successful, but I could hear a voice in my head telling me this was the time in my life to take more risk.
While still at Google, I bumped into a college classmate of mine who had recently taken a job at Facebook. Facebook had launched during my sophomore year at Berkeley just a few years earlier, and I remember it spreading like wildfire across campus. When the opportunity came to take a new role at Facebook, a pretty small private company at the time, I jumped. My hope was that in going from a large public company to a smaller, lesser-known startup, I could learn a ton and make a bigger impact, and that turned out to be a great call.
I left Facebook after nearly seven years to get my MBA from Harvard Business School. After graduating from Harvard, I joined SoFi, where I’m responsible for our membership – everything we do with and for the people we serve, which includes community gatherings, education, and career guidance. It’s a position that harnesses everything I learned along the way at Google and Facebook.
TV: Did you ever feel unfairly compensated because of your gender?
LL: I have never personally felt unfairly compensated, but I know my experience is atypical. I have been extremely fortunate throughout my career to have worked for incredible women who are leading the charge around pay parity and gender equality in the workplace.
TV: What were some valuable career lessons you learned working alongside Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg?
LL: The single most valuable career lesson that she taught me was to lean in – and take my seat at the table.
TV: Have you ever had to ask for a raise? If so, how did you frame it, and what sort of language did you use?
LL: Absolutely. In fact, I have asked for raises and promotions throughout every step of my career, and now I’m responsible for the team at SoFi that helps our members do the same. The positioning I have used is similar to the guidance we share with our SoFi members, many of whom face the same question in their own jobs.
First, make it about them, not you. Let them go first. Set up a win-win scenario for both sides. Time it wisely. Think outside the paycheck.
We have a great checklist at raiseweek.com to help anyone prepare for this kind of conversation.
TV: How important is it to support and seek support from your female colleagues?
LL: Very important. Some of my most meaningful personal relationships have come from shared work experiences with colleagues, both men and women. There is something particularly encouraging about the kind of positive support women can offer to other women, though. The little things make all the difference – when offering support, or seeking it from others (remember to do both). Never underestimate the power of a group text with your girlfriends.
TV: What should you look for in the workplace for equal pay? Are there any telling signs an employer might employ unfair pay practices?
LL: Research shows that organizations focused on creating a culture of equality unlock women's potential. Inside of those organizations, women are four times more likely to be promoted and could earn 51 percent more.
Look for a real commitment to diversity inside the workplace, starting at the board level, the management team, and across every level of the organization. Does the company have hard targets focused on creating a more diverse workforce? Are executives committed to creating a culture of equality? Has there been recent progress in this area — and if not, what is the company doing to solve that? Ask the tough questions.
TV: What are some mistakes women make when negotiating their salary?
LL: In my view, the biggest mistake you can make when it comes to a job offer is not negotiating in the first place. Harvard Business Review found that women are 11 percent less likely to enter into negotiations than men, yet 88 percent of men and women who try to negotiate a higher salary when starting a new job have success. Always ask. You can never get more for yourself unless you do.
If I am offering a job to my top candidate, I always expect her or him to negotiate, especially if she or he will eventually negotiate deals on behalf of the company.
It's worth noting that several studies have shown differences in the way women and men are perceived during and after a negotiation. Go into these conversations having done your research and be prepared to listen. Make a thoughtful list of your personal priorities. Also make a list of the things that your boss cares about most. Negotiating is never one-way. Finally, view every opportunity to negotiate as a learning experience, even everyday activities.
TV: What’s your #1 piece of advice for college students about to start their first job?
LL: If you want it, work for it.
Check this out: