MyDomaine's new career series, Raise the Bar, invites women to open up about a topic that's still considered taboo: salary. In an honest, anonymous discussion, women with years of industry experience pen a timeline showing how their salary has changed and the biggest lessons they've learned with each pay increase or setback. Here are the tactics that actually work, the common pitfalls to avoid, and the steps to be paid what you're worth.
First up, we chat with a 27-year-old advertising director who tripled her salary in just four years.
When Darwin* scored her first job as a junior strategist at a major advertising firm, she admits negotiating wasn't top-of-mind. "As I told my mom a couple months in, I'd have paid them to let me do this," she says. While she was instructed that money wasn't up for discussion—the role had a fixed starting salary—research suggests most women don't negotiate when they receive their first job offer. Carnegie Mellon University found that just 7% of female graduates try to negotiate salary, compared to a whopping 57% of men.
Now a director at a top-tier firm, she believes it's more important than ever to open up about pay. "The fact that I've been discouraged from communicating my salary to co-workers is one of the reasons it's important to do so," she tells MyDomaine. Here's how one woman tripled her salary in four years—and the most valuable lessons she's learned along the way.
Darwin's first industry experience was as an intern at a branding and marketing company. "It was after my third year of college, and I was just desperate for work experience," she admits. "I literally googled and emailed places that were advertising or advertising-adjacent." When the company invited her to interview for a three-month internship, she jumped at the chance. It was unpaid, although HR gave her $150 a week to cover travel expenses. "To be honest, I was thrilled to get anything since the only job I'd had before that was at a clothing chain, where my mom made me get a job to teach me the value of a dollar," she says.
2012: JUNIOR STRATEGIST
"I'd so fallen in love with advertising over my three-month internship and was shocked to be offered a full-time position," she says of her first job for a top firm. "Compensation was the last thing on my mind." The terms were clearly set out: "There is no negotiation—it's fixed for every entry-level employee, and they're pretty strict about no bonuses," she says. "There's usually a pretty substantial bump in salary after you find a permanent role within the company, though."
2013: MEDIA STRATEGIST
After a year in the role, she was offered a $5,000 pay increase, which was standard at the company. While that raise wasn’t up for negotiation, she says it taught her the importance of choosing a career based on passion, rather than pay. "I do think there's value in finding something you love so much you'd be willing to do it for free. You'll be so passionate and dedicated that the money will come."
2015: SENIOR PLANNER
She was offered another promotion, this time to Media Strategist. Again, there was a fixed salary attached to this title and Darwin was told that the $5,000 increase wasn't up for discussion. "Honestly, I was living with my fiancé at the time, so between the two of us bringing home a pretty decent wage, it wasn't too much of a concern," she says. At this stage in her career, she believed experience was more valuable and she knew there'd be a long-term payoff.
2016: SENIOR STRATEGIST
In 2016, she found herself in an ideal position to negotiate thanks to a counter-offer. "The company presented me with an offer letter of $120,000 and a director role," she says. The offer was higher than she'd expected, thanks to the work of a mentor who advocated on her behalf. "When [they] reached out to him, $120,000 was the amount he put forward—likely far higher than I would have advocated for on my behalf," she says. The most powerful lesson she learned from this exchange? "If you know the range of a salary, don't assume you should ask for the mid-range.
While the salary offer was tempting, she didn't accept. "The role I really wanted was at [another firm], but they weren't prepared to offer me a director title," she recalls. So, she used the original offer as leverage: "I told them, ‘This is the job I really want, but as much as I love this role and this agency, it's tricky to agree to both a lower title and a lower salary." She asked them to match the salary offer, knowing that they wouldn't budge on the title. "They came back within a couple days with $120,000."
The take-home? "I think it's psychologically easier to point to what someone else is offering you than to push for it yourself," she says. "I'm not saying this is a good thing, but it can be a helpful temporary device until there are more transparency and a higher comfort level with negotiations."
"Currently, I've been given a promotion in name only and have been told to wait before talking about [money]," she says of her new role. "This is really the first time I'll be faced with a salary negotiation where it will be frowned upon to have come with a counteroffer from somewhere else," she says. So now what?
Her top advice to others is particularly poignant, given her current situation. "Negotiate for yourself like you would if you were having to fight for the salary of a colleague you really respect," she says. "It's like that Harvey Specter quote [from Suits]: 'Ever loved someone so much you would do anything for them? Yeah, well, make that someone yourself, and do whatever the hell you want.'"
*Name has been changed.