Little girls brought up with the term ‘compromise’ more often than not grow up to be women who get the short end of the stick in professional negotiations. Add to that societal stereotypes like “But you’re a girl, what do you need all that money for? You will never have to pay the bills” and this further cements the habit of women underselling themselves.
You may also be familiar with the now-popular finding that “men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.” This insight was first published in an internal Hewlett Packard report and has since been quoted in several books and articles on women empowerment in the workforce. The stats don’t lie. Most women in the corporate world lack the confidence to ask for their due share.
According to Sonya Barlow, CEO & Founder of Like-Minded Females (LMF) Network, “brown women feel ‘not enough' due to the beliefs and generational behaviours integrated into brown Asian society that is deemed as normal, but actually, they are just putting women behind for as long as we can remember.”
Sonya Barlow is an award-winning entrepreneur. She is the founder of LMF Network, a diversity coach, a TEDx speaker, a LinkedIn Changemaker 2021, a LinkedIn Top Voice 2022, radio host at the BBC Asian Network’s The Everyday Hustle and author of Unprepared to Entrepreneur.
Her brainchild, the LMF Network, is an educational technology platform and community aimed at building the careers and confidence of 25,000 women by 2025. Her classes on careers, web3, sustainability, parenthood and wellness especially cater to Pakistani and other brown women who feel ‘not enough’ in their personal and professional space.
“We need to encourage conversations at home before we enter into the workspaces,” she says, while reiterating the fact that encouraging girls to follow their passion and inviting them into different scenarios, will enable them to become confident in their own right, rather than adapting to suit others. In her opinion, the common issues brown women face and complain about in the corporate world lead them to undersell themselves and burnout.
“Brown women tend to undersell themselves when they lack a sense of worth. They are not confident even when they are talented.”
This underselling also impacts their pay scale, “where in the UK brown women are paid at least 18% less than their white counterparts – and the gap in non-West countries is much wider.”
The LMF Network also carries out research reports that mirror industry trends so that women can use these stats to their advantage. According to this research, lack of confidence is the number one reason why women do not thrive in the workplace.
The solution starts with women looking inwards and fighting against limiting societal concepts that perpetuate their feelings of being ‘not enough’. According to Barlow, women need to stop associating work with male-dominated environments and focus on matching their skills with suitable long-term careers, whilst considering the balance of family and wellbeing – and this can be addressed by career programmes and mentoring like LMF’s initiatives, as well as representation in wider society through media and social platforms.
In Barlow’s opinion being a good negotiator in the corporate world is less about personality and more about having a plan. “Anyone can negotiate. You just have to prepare accordingly, find your confidence and practise your strategy,” she says. The bottom line is to know your skills, understand your strengths, find evidence of the pay, either industry average or ask your friends their ranges and follow the right people and companies online.
While underselling may have become a part of our DNA, brown women must be given credit for consistently proving their mettle despite societal pressures. Look around and you will find a role model in every industry such as Tania Aidrus and Jehan Ara (IT), Halima Iqbal (fintech) and Seema Kamil (banking) to name a few. One can learn a lot through their course of action. To feel instantly empowered, Barlow suggests surrounding yourself with women who have confidence and have become the best version of themselves and are moving forward in the process.
Taniya Hasan is a content marketer.