Leslie Mac is a community organizer, activist and writer. After the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in 2014, she created the Ferguson Response Network to provide additional support for people working to create lasting social change. She is also the creator of the hashtag #PayBlackWomen, which trended last week after lawmakers and activists joined the conversation to discuss the need for black women to be paid equally.
What was your first job out of school?
My first job out of college was as a restaurant manager. I was working for a restaurant chain doing corporate training for them. I remember I was making like $32,000 a year.
Were you paid fairly for the work you were doing at that time? If not, how did you find out you were underpaid?
At the time, I thought it was a really good salary and I was excited about it. But looking back, I was underpaid and doing so many other job functions in my corporate training role. And so you know, when I think back on that time, I often think about the work we do as black women to make our communities better, to make our families better, to make our congregations better, to make whatever organization we are connected to, including the workplace, better. There is so much work that we do that is never compensated.
I would highlight that you have to get really specific about what you're asked to do, and make concerted decisions when you decide to go above and beyond. That shouldn't be the norm, and I think a lot of times we make that the norm and ultimately it devalues the hours we spend doing work because it's on stuff we're not being paid for.
What negotiating advice do you wish you had known in your 20s?
I think there is a tricky piece to negotiating as a black woman, right? Because our confidence is often misconstrued as arrogance and our enthusiasm is frequently positioned as anger. So we have to go into these conversations around negotiation with an understanding about how we're going to be read and what we can do to combat it.
What advice do you have for black women today who are thinking about asking for a raise?
One thing I really suggest is practicing your negotiation. I do this with my friends and we will just have some role play and a couple of different scenarios. So spend time practicing that like you would the interview process. I actually think it's part of the interview process, but oftentimes we think of it as something separate.
I would also say seek allies in the workplace. A lot of times we go into work situations where we don't have these conversations with each other, and therefore, we are not able to build collective power. We have a corporate culture in this country where what you are making is supposed to be a secret and this feeds into the biases around salary. I always say whatever you're doing, talk to people about how much you're getting paid, even if it's just for a conference where you are getting paid to speak. This way, you and other people know how much you should be getting paid for a job if you all have similar backgrounds or are doing similar work.
We have to remember that getting a raise likely won't happen by happenstance. Unlike our white male counterparts who have room to fail up, we don't have that luxury. And so we really have to be strategic in our approach.
Like this story? Subscribe to CNBC Make It on YouTube!
Reminder: Today isn't Equal Pay Day for black, Latina or Native American women