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"Speak Up": Tamara Mellon on Knowing Your Worth

Tamara Mellon isn't afraid to speak her mind. When asked what it felt like to discover she was paid a fraction than men who worked for her, the Jimmy Choo co-founder responds with a candidness and honesty that belies the existing taboo about money. She's not afraid to talk about the reality of the gender pay gap, and even beyond Equal Pay Day, she wants other women to speak up, too.

Mellon's sense of urgency to talk about pay equality is warranted: When her company reviewed data from the 2018 Bureau of Labor Statistics, it discovered on average, American women make $0.80 on the dollar to men. No significant progress has been made since 2017 to close the gap.

Some might be disheartened by the lack of progress, but Mellon feels charged. "At this rate, my 16-year-old daughter will be 60 by the time the pay gap closes, and I'll be in my 90s. It's not good enough," she says. "We'd like to see the pay gap close by the time she graduates."

That might be ambitious, but Mellon's eponymous direct-to-consumer shoe brand has pledged to make it a goal. Today, on Equal Pay Day, the brand is offering women 20% off purchases to represent the salary discrepancy. "We're not going to be neutral, and we plan to use our voice to push for pay equality," the team announced on Twitter. "As a brand that's for women, by women, we have a responsibility to stand for more than beautiful shoes." Here's why we're standing by Mellon and her team—and why you should, too.

Mellon's experience at luxury shoe brand Jimmy Choo is shocking yet not at all surprising for many women in executive positions. When negotiating the sale of the company to a private equity firm, she discovered something in the paperwork of the deal: "I was being paid less than the men who worked for me," she revealed in a guest article for Forbes. "As the chief creative officer and co-founder, my salary was less than [that of] comparable C-level positions."

When she approached the board about her findings, she was chided. "I was judged, even penalized, for asking," she recalls. Not one to walk away from a challenge, Mellon continued to raise the topic every time contracts were renegotiated. "The fourth time I went through it at Jimmy Choo, I realized I wouldn't get fair market comparison," she tells us. "I thought if I can't get paid what I'm worth here, I'll start a business that does practice fair pay."

Her message to other women is loud and clear: "Do more research. Don't be embarrassed to talk about money. Speak up," she says. In fact, it's a conversation we all need to have with young women before they enter the workforce. "Research shows that when women leave college, they ask for less than their male peers. The starting point is crucial because as you go on with your career, your salary rises incrementally as a percentage on your base."

Mellon has one clarifying point about this conversation: It's got to involve men. "It's really important to bring men into the conversation. We need male allies and supporters who can lobby for you. We need to make them part of the solution, not just the problem to fight against," she says. Sheryl Sandberg echoed her sentiment after a Lean In study found that twice as many male managers feel uncomfortable working alone with a woman, after the #MeToo movement. "This is a step in the wrong direction," Sandberg said. "Now more than ever, we need men working with—and mentoring—women."

Mellon believes this relationship has to start young, when girls are leaving college. "Talk to your male friends," she tells us. "See what positions they're going for and what [salary] they're going to ask for. Then, go in and ask for the same."

So much of the conversation about pay equality focuses on simply asking for more money, but Mellon stresses that's overly simplistic. First, it's important to be strategic about the conversation. "Choose a time that's not stressful for your boss or when you've achieved something," she says. Then, hone your argument. "Research comparisons and find out what peers earn in the same position. Rather than think, I'm going to go for a bigger number, focus on why."

If you're denied, like she was so many times at Jimmy Choo, it's crucial to focus on your next step. "A lot of people get a no the first time around. It doesn't mean it's a no forever," she says. "Don't be disheartened. Don't give up."

And, if all else fails, do as Mellon did: Back yourself and build a business that reflects the change you want to see.

Photographer: Jenna Peffley

Video Director: Samuel Schultz

Camera Operator: Brenden Bonney

Hairstylist: Ashley Lynn Hall

Makeup Artist: Daniele Piersons

Production Assistant: Stephen O'Brien