How to negotiate your way up the Corporate ladder

“Sponsorship, mentoring and trust”

“Sponsorship, mentoring and trust”.  These 3 words are the best career advice I ever received and I will pass on to anyone working for a large corporation.  For people already in the know and already doing it, it’s a no brainer. For people working extra hard and convinced that their work will speak for itself this is going to be a shock.

I have been in shock and denial for a while.  Working hard was how I was raised.  During college, people kept telling me to get good grades. at work, my bosses kept on telling me to work hard and in the office, people constantly tell you how busy they are.  On the other hand, there are people who focused on networking during college, found people who could help them perform tasks at work.

Robert Kiyosaki nailed the difference between these 2 personas in his book “the cash flow quadrant”. Here is a short video summary. He differentiates between people on the left side of the quadrant and people on the right side “Business owners” and “Investors”.  People on the left work hard. People on the right work smart, they employ the hardest working people from the left side.  And while working hard is very honorable, it has its limitations. There is so much one person can achieve.  Whereas there are no limits to people on the right side of the quadrant, to achieve more they just need to find more people or resources.  That same mentality is what help you to get ahead in a large corporation.  Let me explain the meaning behind these 3 words:

  • Sponsorship: Get a sponsor in your department.  It is most likely someone more senior. It could be 1 or more levels above you.  In some rare occasions, it could even be a peer or someone more junior.  It is all about clout.  The more clout your sponsor possesses, the more your ideas/projects will be amplified and your mistakes will be minimized.  In business, there isn’t a right or wrong idea. There are ideas that get supported and sold and others that get shut down.
  • Mentoring: Find a mentor, ideally outside of your department.  Why outside? because you need someone without skin in the game.  A person that will provide unbiased advice.  But still, an employee who understands the company culture and who could vouch for you from the sideline when the time is right.  You need to have some affinity with your mentor.  You also need to appreciate his/her achievements.  They need to inspire you.
  • Trust: Build trust with your teams.  Teams in the broader sense.  If you have people reporting to you they need to know they can count on you. Maybe you act as a sponsor for some of them.  If you have peers, they need to know that you are a trustworthy colleague. You will make them look good when the opportunity presents itself.

To climb the corporate ladder you need to be good with people. Have the ability to read and influence higher ups, peers, and direct reports.  You aren’t taught that in school. You are not even taught that your professional success relies on it. Just like Van Jones said, “it is not what they do to you, it is what they do not even tell you about

Why are black actors being screwed?

Why what is a lot little for white actors, seem too much to ask for for Blacks?

Why black actors earn less than white actors? By now, you should know the answer to this question.  This is because black actors ask for less than white actors.  That simple. And not really interesting.  What’s key to understand are the reasons behind black actors asking for less. Let me throw a few ideas on the board and see what sticks with you:

  • Black actors draw less of an audience – WRONG!!! Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard, stars of the highest-rated drama on television, Fox’s Empire, are earning considerably less than their white peers. Like pennies on the dollar.
  • Black actors have less name recognition – WRONG!!! Viola Davis, Best Actress Emmy in 2015, make $250K per episode while Ellen Pompeo, if you know who that is, is making $400K an episode.

Here is what Jennifer Lawrence, the world best paid actress, had to say when she discovered she is earning less than $25M of the best-paid actor:”I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early,” I know she is not black, but her example is representative of what I believe black actors face.  The question is why she asked for less, or why she gave up too early.  It is well documented that women negotiating for higher pay worry about seeming  “difficult” or “spoiled.” Lawrence says her desire to “be liked” prevented her from arguing her profit cut, “until I saw the payroll on the Internet and realized every man I was working with definitely didn’t worry about being “difficult” or “spoiled.”

Let’s come back to the core question. Why do Blacks ask for less? In my opinion, it is all about how big the objective.  When I was 18, success as a professional was about earning $3,000 per month, own a VW Golf gti, and one day being a manager.  That was my dream. However, my dream, was not even acceptable as a first job for many in my college in the wealthiest neighborhood of Paris.  Where did this disconnect come from? I was raised by a single mom, who worked night time as a nurse. No need to say that although we were doing ok, my mom did not have much of disposable income at the end of the month.  In that context, $3,000 per month is a LOT of money. Now, look at the flip side.  In the wealthiest neighborhood of Paris, my classmates would be the sons and daughters of commodity traders, lawyers, influential businessmen. Their parents could earn

Where did this disconnect come from? I was raised by a single mom, who worked night time as a nurse. No need to say that although we were doing ok, my mom did not have much of disposable income.  In that context, $3,000 per month is a LOT of money. Now, look at the flip side.  In the wealthiest neighborhood of Paris, my classmates would be the sons and daughters of commodity traders, lawyers, influential businessmen. Their parents could earn up $8,000 WITHOUT working!!! Yes, you read that right. High earners in France can receive an unemployment indemnity as high as $8,000.  In that context, $3,000 is not that high. Everything is relative.

I do not know the story of all these actors. But statistically, Blacks have accumulated less wealth than whites families. So it is likely that what is a lot for people of color, is less for whites.

How to overcome? Prepare and get information from people in the know.  Jennifer Lawrence should have known that the best-paid actor took 7% of movie profit before she negotiated 5% of the movie profit.  Terrence Howard should have known that max pay for tv series is $1M per episode, that even actors in average tv series can earn $400K per episode before he negotiated $100K per episode. Nowadays, it is not an excuse to pretend not knowing.  Information is out there. You must figure it out.  If you are not sure, negotiate a short-term contract until you can figure it out.  Include a clause that allows you to renegotiate if say you win an award, or your ratings are sky high. And for all of you who think that they have nothing to complain about when you make $100K per episode, you are missing the point.  It is about getting what you deserve. And why get less of your less successful peers?

How to overcome racial bias in salary negotiations

People of color should work in parallel of organizational changes. Here are some of the actions that helped me to overcome racial bias.


With this post I address the raison d’être of this blog. It is both a critical and personal topic.  It should have been the first post I wrote, but it wasn’t. Why? I had no clue how to tackle the topic in a powerful and authentic way, without basing my point of views on stereotypes. That was true until I read the article – Getting the Short End of the Stick: Racial Bias in Salary Negotiations – from the MIT Sloan Management Review.  Let me recap the findings of their research.  It is an objective basis for the conversation:

  1. Black-White salary gap exists
  2. Black employees are more likely to be taught at an early age that life is unfair
  3. Black parents communicate to their children the importance of racial identity and prepare them for bias that it may provoke
  4. Black job seekers are more likely to negotiate with dissimilar others, and this is likely to work to their disadvantage

Now that we have the facts, we can make this more personal. I will use my personal experience. Here are some of the values I was taught growing up:

  • Value job security over higher income.  Which I interpreted as do not take too many risks. Keep a low profile
  • Lower your expectations and you will never be disappointed.  I heard someone saying “don’t think you can become an executive” at age 18, when they saw me reading a magazine for aspiring executives
  • Work twice as much as privileged people to get the same outcome.  Which is really to say that I am worth half as much.  I even had friends considering legally changing their names to sound more “white” to have a better chance to get job interviews.

First, I want to say that I deeply respect the values that my mom, family and friends instilled in me.  They helped me become who I am today, and I am proud of it.  Second, these values were shared because people wished me well.  There was no ill-intent, just a willingness to help someone dear to them.  And probably passing some wisdom they received.

And yet the question is; how do we get past this and succeed, when research concludes that your race will negatively impact your ability to negotiate the salary you deserve? The MIT Sloan Management Review suggests a combination of formal training sessions and the implementation of systems and structures to provide checks and balances. While I agree with the recommended solution, people of color should work in parallel to accelerate the resolution.  Here are some of the actions that helped me to overcome my situation:

  1. Break the routine.  I left Paris, France to get my first job in the UK.  In London, I was perceived totally differently.  This had a massive impact on me and my self-confidence.  I understood that the same person can have a different faith when he or she changes their environment.
  2. Find mentors.  I needed the support of my family and peers to strive growing up.  I needed people who understood the environment and saw a thing or two to guide me effectively.  The same is true as you progress in your life and career. You need the support of people in the know.  It may be the same or different people.
  3. Read autobiographies of successful people.  I did not know what I did not know.  What is amazing? What is possible in 10 years? I used to think that driving a brand new VW Golf, being a manager and earning $4,000 a month would be a stretch life achievement.  After reading autobiographies from great leaders such as Dale Carnegie, Malcom X, Nelson Mandela and Steve Jobs; I dreamt much, much bigger!

The situation for most people of color is probably worse than you had imagined.  However, this is not a reason to give up.  Some people of color are able to turn this to their advantage. At Columbia Business School, members of the black student network typically get several offers for internships, they have guests speakers such as Pepsi CEO during their conferences, and are courted by companies such as Google early in the MBA.  With more people of color joining elite networks and institutions, entire communities will be better off.  The more people of color are in position of authority, the lesser recruiting bias, the easier it will be to find mentors and the more people will be inspired to replicate the achievements of other people looking like them.


How to bridge the salary gap for women of color

Women of color earn a lot less than men and are more likely to be perceived as aggressive if they ask for what they deserve

Women of color earn substantially less than white men over the course of a 40-year career.  Based on today’s wage gapLatinas career losses mount to $1 million, and for Black women losses are $840,040.

And the situation is even worse for women of color living in certain states. Compared to the earnings of white, non-Hispanic men, the lifetime wage gap would amount to more than $1 million for Asian women in one state, for Black women in nine states, for Native women in eight states, and for Latinas in 22 states.

To make matters worse, women of color face challenges when/if they try to bridge that gap through salary negotiations.  Jacqueline Twillie says: “Cultural expressions of women of color in regards tone inflection can sometimes be perceived as aggressiveness,”.

Allow me to recap:

  • Women earn less than men
  • Women of color earn a lot less than men
  • Women of color are more likely to be perceived as aggressive if they ask for what they deserve

My opinion on how to bridge the salary gap, and in some cases reverse it

  1. Build your confidence. Do your homework.  You must know the salary range that your qualifications command.  Do not rely on a google search.  Talk to people in the industry to validate your estimated range.
  2. Focus on what you can influence. That’s my nice way to say: “haters are going to hate“.  There isn’t much you can do about it.  So go unapologetically into the salary discussion, give it your best and forget about any potential bias.
  3. Aim high and use “an iron fist in a velvet glove”.  This is a great [edited] script from Ramona Ortega:  “I’m really excited to work at X, and I know that I will bring a lot of value. I have reviewed the offer letter, however, I am shooting for X based on my five years of experience in X. Based on my conversations with peers in similar roles and market research, the salary range for this position is X. I have full confidence I will exceed expectations and look forward to discussing this further.”
  4. Practice with white men.  The challenge about culture, is that some of it is so deep in our personality that we are unaware of it.  You do not know what you do not know.  Someone with a different cultural background, preferably similar to the hiring manager.
  5. Use the situation to your advantage.  Equal pay is omnipresent in the news.  Most hiring managers have heard about it.  Some hiring managers do not want to be on the wrong side of this.  Ask for more, these hiring managers will probably accept to pay a premium.

Let’s be proactive to solve this issue.  Share your success stories or learnings from your failures in comments.  That alone will contribute to bridging the salary gap

When to ask for a raise?

1. HR is not your friend; 2. Know the rules to break the rules; 3. Every day is payday

Another post about negotiation salary? Indeed. Why? because I have more and more people asking me the question again and again. While I can not give you the silver bullet to get a 50% salary increase – although believe it or not, I have seen this happen – I can prevent you from making the most common mistakes.  In this first post of the series, I want to address a critical aspect: Timing.   When to ask for a raise? 100% guaranteed that the time is not at the end of the year during your review. But “Claude, this the time HR has set to talk about this type of topics”.  So where to start?

  1. HR is not your friend.   All HR departments represent the interest of the company. No exception. Of course, if there is an opportunity to benefit the employee and the company at the same time, HR may choose that option. But if it is between you and the company, the company wins.  With this in mind, do you believe that HR set up specific times for you to cost more money to the company?
  2. Know the rules to break the rules.  Do you know when budgets are set in your company? Do you know when managers review you and your peers and decide on salary increases? Hint, it is much earlier than you think, and when you ask for an increase, it is typically after it has been discussed, and you missed your window.
  3. Every day is payday.  A negotiation starts usually before you think it starts, and it never really ends.  Every day you show up to work, is your chance to ask for a raise. Just remember that there are many ways to ask. Sometimes you can be explicit, sometimes you can show your worth, sometimes you can bring your manager to say it, sometimes you can have others advocate for you.  The more touchpoints you have, the more you are likely to get that raise.

Based on this do you think it is too late to ask for your raise? Maybe too late to get it tomorrow, but probably the right time to get it in 6 months or a year.


Why do women earn less than men?

Using the US women soccer team example to bust myths

Women earn about 20% less than men in the US. Why?  A simple Google search offers the typical reasons:

  • Women usually don’t demand as much money
  • Women often choose careers with a lower earning potential
  • Women are statistically more likely to take on child-rearing duties, which impacts their career
  • Gender stereotypes in many workplaces value men’s patterns of employment

So, what’s the conclusion? Well, some of these arguments may make sense.  If you ask for less, you are going to get less.  If you are working part-time to take care of children, chances are that your career track is going to be slower.  It is also true that some jobs that tend to be favored by women do pay less – for example in service occupations.  I’m not sure if I can really find a reason for the stereotypes.

So what’s the flaw in this thinking? Hint; there are many.  So many that I’m not even sure where to start.  Instead of picking them apart one by one, let’s look at the most telling example I can think of:  The salary gap between the women and men in US soccer teams. Quick overview: The men’s soccer team has been doing better than expected, but the women’s team is one of the best in the world, with an amazing recent track record.  You wouldn’t guess this if you compare how much they earn.


Some may say… “This is all well and good, but the reason the women’s soccer team earns less is because they attract less media attention”.  Nope.  They draw much larger crowds than their male counterparts.

Back to square one. Why do women earn less than men? Probably because people paying them can get away with it.

How do we change this? In my opinion, we can’t wait for change to come from regulations or people suddenly paying others what they deserve, because we could be waiting a long time.  Let’s take control. Let’s learn from the women soccer team initiative and other leaders taking control to get what they deserve.

What’s the #1 question in salary negotiation?

“Which parts of the package can you be flexible on?”

“Which parts of the package can you be flexible on?”

That simple question should be your go-to question when you receive the first offer. Why? 3 reasons:

a. Show your interest

You just got an offer. Congratulations! The company carefully considered all candidates and you came on top. The minimum you can do is to entertain the offer, regardless of how ridiculous it might be – you never know if your paths will cross in 2, 5 or 10 years and you can always politely decline a few days later.   And if the offer is already great, you never know how much more you can get.

b. Signal that you will counter

No surprise for the recruiter. You will be asking for more. The surprise would be if you were not asking for more, especially for business related positions, where the role requires influencing skills.  This is also an elegant way to ask for more.  You imply that you will counter, but you do not give too much information and you also buy time to prepare.

c. Focus on solutions, not wasting time

Everything is negotiable. That is if time is on your side and you created alternatives.  But if you like the position, want to strike a deal, focus on the areas you can win.  Sure you can force your way to get 3 weeks paid time off instead of the standard 2 weeks everybody enjoys. You can get more equity, more benefits, etc… But the reality is that companies have standards, they can deviate from them but this is a cumbersome task. They will do it only for that exceptional candidate.  We all think we are that exceptional candidate, but is that really the case? or are you willing to take the risk? Instead, you could seek a win-win and expedite the discussions

The employer is unlikely to have nothing to offer. You do not even have to negotiate only the parts they say they are flexible on.  But hearing the answer to “Which parts of the package can you be flexible on?” will give you an edge in the negotiations.