Women & Wealth: Know Your Worth And Fight For It

Women & Wealth: Know Your Worth And Fight For It

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This is part 3 of our 8-part Women & Wealth series in celebration of Women’s History Month. 

We interviewed several women whose experiences span different generations, backgrounds, ethnicities, socio-economic classes, and careers, and asked them to tell their stories of financial literacy.

Our goal? To empower all women to become confident in their finances. We believe that homeownership is the foundation of wealth and that home lenders—who hold the key to this achievement—play a crucial role in helping women attain financial independence. 

The wage gap is real—women in America make only $0.81 for every $1.00 a man makes. And while this glaring inequity is well-known, the unfortunate reality is that many women don’t understand what they’re actually worth. Worse yet, some women do understand their intrinsic worth and still don’t fight for it. 

This is Linda Babcock’s theory. An economics professor at Carnegie Mellon, Linda focused on the pay gap in MBA graduates—trying to reconcile how women who are trained in business, still make  $20,000 less than men, three years after graduation.  

She believes a big part of the issue is negotiation. So she conducted a survey of her former students—once you received an offer, did you try to negotiate?

Among the women she surveyed, only 7% of women tried to negotiate, versus 57% of men. That’s a difference of over eight times and showcases a tangible example of how wage disparity between genders begins.

While this data is not inherently positive, it does present an opportunity. If women are given the tools they need to know who they are, what they’re worth, and how to fight for it, they can start to erase the wage gap. 

That’s what Marcia Davies believes. In the following interview, the Chief Operating Officer and Founder of mPower at the Mortgage Bankers Association opens up about her life experience with money—from her early awareness, to battling divorce, to discovering her true worth, and now, teaching other women how to become advocates for their own value.  

Marcia Davies: “Take the time to be responsible for what's happening to your money”

Marcia’s background Marcia Davies Headshot

Marcia Davies grew up on an atypical farm in Central New Jersey. Her father had inherited it from his father, who passed away when he was still in college. He returned home with a vision: farming and becoming a businessman by operating a bowling alley and a bar. 

His unique advantage? He had the only liquor license in a 60-mile radius. The success of his venture gave the family enough means to move into the main town when Marcia was sixteen.

From an early age, Marcia had a keen awareness of her financial situation. Though they didn’t speak openly about money as a family, Marcia was “aware that my family did better than some of my friends’ families, because my father didn't just rely on farming and created this other business.”

It became apparent in the little things. “Some of my friends from school wouldn't be able to go out and get pizza after school, because they had to go home. They weren't able to have as much flexibility. So I was aware that our family was not struggling.” 

She never had to grapple with money issues early on—but things changed in her early twenties. 

Early lessons in resilience 

Marcia lost her father when she was 23, and the financial safety net she grew up with quickly evaporated. “My mother left her job when she had three children in four years. She was only 49 when my father passed away and she needed the assets that were left to take care of herself”, Marcia recounts.

This served as a wake-up call for Marcia that she needed to start planning for the future. “At 23, you don't look that far in the future of, well, what if my car breaks down, because you're kind of living paycheck to paycheck. I do remember the feeling of ‘I better get my act together.’” 

Marcia’s challenges were compounded by a trying divorce. Around the time her father died, she was in the process of dissolving her marriage—but it proved more difficult than she would have imagined. As was common in the mid-1980s, Marcia’s finances were fully merged with her husband’s and she had no independent credit. 

When she tried to establish her own credit, she faced an unpleasant surprise - she couldn’t legally do it. “I wanted to remove my husband’s name [from bills] because now I’m responsible for the payment. I couldn’t do it. His name could stay on the account. He could remove my name because they looked at the man as the primary account holder. And it seems so outrageous that I’m going to be the one paying this bill, and the credit company wouldn’t recognize that. But that’s 1985 for you.”

In order to put down a deposit on her own apartment, she saved little bits of her weekly spending money and put it away in a secret savings account. “It took me nine months to save up the $750 that I needed in order to put a deposit down. And if I had my own bank account resources, I wouldn't have had to live those nine months in fear that he was going to find out.” 

This experience taught Marcia an important financial lesson she believes all women should know: “You need to be responsible for making your own money. You need to be responsible for paying your own bills. You need to be responsible for you.”

Teaching women how to be financially independent 

Marcia believes that financial literacy is empowering and wishes she had someone to teach her early on. “My first experiences with finances probably would have been a little bit more informed if I took responsibility for my own [money], instead of just saying, ‘Okay, we’re married. We’ll pull everything together’ and not thinking about how vulnerable that leaves me.”

Parents rarely sit with their daughters to discuss the implications of merging finances with their partners. It’s a delicate situation because as Marcia states, “the day you get married, you don’t think your marriage is going to end. You think, well, if I'm unhappy, he'll do whatever he needs to do to make me happy.” 

But the reality is that 39 percent of marriages in the United States end in divorce. Women need access to financial education tools, services, and resources. Had Marcia had access to them, she’d have been more prepared financially when her divorce happened. 

That’s why she encourages all women to educate themselves and be in charge of their financial decisions— on their own, with a financial advisor, or together with their partners. “We need to take the time to be responsible for what’s happening to our money.”

Negotiation and self-worth

Marcia realized true success in her career but only got comfortable with negotiating her salary about ten years ago. “I had spent a lot of my career having opportunities presented to me that were a step up, but negotiating my salary was never part of the equation.”

But then an accidental negotiation changed her life. 

A former manager, with whom she had a great relationship, offered her an expanded role—more responsibility, a higher title, and increased salary. While she was curious, she had a good work-life balance at the time and didn’t want to compromise that. She initially refused the offer.

Her former manager persisted, and they met to discuss options. The negotiation happened, as many do, with him writing the proposed salary on a piece of paper. When Marcia saw the large sum being offered, she considered in silence — still processing what was happening.

Then he took back the piece of paper and said, “You're right. This isn't probably enough to convince you. I'll come back to you.” It took Marcia a moment to realize what he meant. “Clearly me doing this job is so important to him. He's upping the ante, and I had no idea. So at that moment, I realized I didn't recognize my value to him.”

This forever expanded her horizons. She wished it had been a strategic move on her part, but it wasn't. It did, however, teach her a valuable lesson. Going forward, all salary negotiations needed to be strategic.

Marcia puts it well.

“I don't think women take enough time to appreciate the value we bring. We spend a lot of time feeling like we're lucky to have the jobs we have, or we've landed this great job and we want to do everything we can to not disappoint somebody or not get results. I just think women need to make sure that we understand and recognize the value we bring.” 

Marcia’s negotiation advice

A few years ago, Marcia launched mPower, an organization that provides women in real estate finance with educational resources and opportunities for professional and personal development. A frequent topic covered by Marcia and mPower is negotiation in the workplace.

Here are some of her best techniques for women to assess their worth and negotiate their salaries:

    • Research the average market salary for the role
      Marcia recommends companies like Glassdoor, just so women don’t get excited about an initial, below-market offer. It’s perfectly okay to ask HR “‘What’s the pay range for this job?’ or ‘What was the range of the last two people who did this job?’”
    • Define how much you are worth
      Women should also take their own wants and needs into account. What do you need in order to pay your bills and be happy? Moreover, women should gather evidence of the value they add. Marcia recommends making a list of your accomplishments, including projects you collaborated on, results delivered, and client testimonials.

    • Consider the long-term trajectory
      What is the growth-potential of job X? For instance, even if you negotiate a good starting salary, make sure you have long-term upside potential. “‘You get 3% every year, but how do you grow out of that?” Ask the right questions, to the right people, in the right way, and pay attention to the answers - especially the implicit ones.
    • Keep in mind that negotiations take time
      It might take more than one conversation to get to the desired salary. Marcia says that often “women feel bad if the first time the negotiation doesn’t go well.” If women want to be successful, they must have the confidence “to keep going back and keep chipping away at it.”

    • Remember: this is your journey
      One of Marcia’s most important pieces of advice is: “Don’t compare yourself to others. This is your journey, your career, your job. Keep your discussions focused on you, your contributions, the job that you’re doing, and the positions that you’re holding. The minute you start trying to compare yourself, you automatically take away from your own story and accomplishments.”
    • It’s okay to walk away
      If women are still not getting the compensation they deserve after multiple negotiation attempts, it might be time for a reevaluation. As Marcia states, “You need to be brave enough and strong enough to say ‘Is this the right place for me if they’re not willing to compensate me for what I’m worth?’

Negotiating your money and your life 

Marcia is a testament to the financial independence women can achieve. Through resilience and hard work, she was able to educate herself financially and overcome the hurdles she faced throughout her life.

Financial literacy education is the linchpin for eradicating the gender wealth gap. Once women learn how to manage their finances, they can truly be responsible for their own financial lives - on their own or with a partner. Once women fully understand how to negotiate their salary, their success can truly be merit-based, rather than based on gender.

Remember Marcia’s words: “Women need to make their own financial decisions.” But in order to do that, they need the knowledge and support to do so effectively. 

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