I don’t mince words. Never have. And trust me, it doesn’t always work in my favor. But while I can be quick and abrupt, I also waste no time with small talk. I’m willing to lay it all out early on, and if you do too, we’ll likely hit it off.
The key to that kind of authentic connection is vulnerability (as Brene Brown will tell you in her famous TED talk). Getting to know someone, whoever it is — a colleague, new friend, first date — is a veritable peep show: I’ll show a little of mine, if you’ll show a little of yours. And yet, even the most forthcoming, open and self-confident people I know are more likely to confess to sexual dalliances long before they say what they pull in a year. If they ever do.
I’m no different. I don’t mind telling you how I lost my virginity (in the Hillsides dorm at Boston College my senior year with a man I’d known my whole life). I’ll admit whether I ever had a one-night stand (yes). And I have been on the receiving end of even far more personal (and unwelcome) queries into my life choices from people I barely know, as to why I’m not married or whether I want kids.
But when it comes to money, everyone clams right up. Very few people are willing to discuss what they charge or earn because putting a number on anything reduces us to a number. It says, This is what I’m worth. A male colleague remarked recently, that on a scale of 1 to 10, my butt is an 8, especially for “a woman of my age” (no, I’m not kidding). That is his opinion. It’s up for debate. But few will cop to quantifying their net worth, annual salary or hourly rate — because that’s a fact.
In a recent piece on this very topic, Emma Johnson says that we risk a lot more by not talking about money (um, do you know a better way to keep women from demanding fair pay?), and that we maintain that taboo by “padding” our money talk out of embarrassment and shame.
I couldn’t agree with her more — and yet I still feel that tiny tug of fear when I’m about to broach the topic with someone new. I’m afraid of a few things, not the least of which is what that may make me: money hungry, nosy, cheap? Women in particular are raised believing that it’s unseemly and unladylike to concern ourselves with money. Maybe that worked during a time when women’s purity depended on never dirtying their hands with either the money itself or the act of earning it. But this is not the world in which we live now.
Just as there is a time to discuss one’s sexual proclivities, money has and deserves its place in our culture and discourse as well — without fear that to partake in those discussions will taint us. We think we’re liberated because we can go for the jobs we want, swear like sailors, have sex “like men.” But until we are able to discuss dollars and cents, we’re not as liberated as we think.
Me? I’m on the verge. I’m easily persuaded. I’m the girl with my hands on my shirt buttons, ready to strip down to bare-bottom lines, metaphorically speaking — as long as someone else will join me. If not, we both remain chaste and financially clothed.
I risked taking it off first, so to speak, with a colleague recently. Deb* and I had been collaborating on a project for a few months, and I wanted to take our relationship from professional colleague to peer, maybe friend. God knows female solopreneurs could use more support and camaraderie, and I had hopes she would be one of them. A few weeks after the job ended, I reached out and asked for her opinion on a quote I was giving a client. I added that if she wasn’t comfortable discussing, I’d understand. She said she was very happy to talk money.
Except it turns out she was happy to talk about my money, not hers. I spelled out my proposal and my concerns — did she think that sounded right? She emailed back, saying that what she charged depended on the client, and they were all different, and that I should charge what I thought I was worth.
That’s it. I felt like I was standing there in a towel while she was still wearing a business suit. I learned nothing from that exchange except that she wasn’t willing to give me even an idea of her rates — either because she didn’t trust me or didn’t think it was worth sharing.
We made plans to have lunch around that time, but those plans fell through. Then they fell through another time. I haven’t talked to her since.
Now, I haven’t written this woman off. I liked her and still do. There may be many other opportunities to work together. But I know now this topic is off limits unless she initiates and is willing to share.
As for my proposal, I did what I always do: wrote to my trusty, snarky, hilarious freelancer friend Jess. She and I make no secret of rates. We talk during the lean times and celebrate our boons. We have an unspoken mutual agreement: I have her back, she has mine. Friends don’t let friends undercharge. I don’t hesitate to run numbers by her for fear she’ll second guess my value; she always let me know I’m worth every cent.
*Not her real name.
Terri Trespicio is VP of Talent & Business Development for 2 Market Media and a lifestyle expert. She is the author of Full Disclosure, the bi-weekly column for DailyWorth. Visit her at territrespicio.com or on Twitter @TerriT.