Ok, L’Oreal Paris: you know where to find me. Send your ‘cease and desist’ letters here. But first, let me give you this plug: this phrase was apparently written in 1973 “when a social revolution and a new spirit of feminism was in full swing“, or so says the L’Oreal version of the story here.
L’Oreal’s seemingly clever branding calls this phrase a “thoughtful celebration of women“. At the end of the day, it is used to sell hair products and cosmetics: apparently women worldwide should think themselves “worthy” of spending a small fortune on changing their natural appearance. Interesting concept.
The phrase came into my head last week for reasons quite removed from cosmetics. I had cause to ponder why many of us fail to place a proper value on ourselves as professionals. How many of us who are self-employed actually do a hell of a lot of free work for our clients? (my hand is up). How many of us who are employed work overtime, with no apparent reward, only to miss your family, not to mention your 6pm spin class?
Why do we do it and why can’t we stop?
Characterising women in general terms as “carers”, “nurturers”, “givers” can be damaging, but in my experience these descriptions can sometimes be spot on. This is certainly the case for a lot of women I know. I do believe our innate tendency to be there for those in our lives, from our families and friends to our colleagues and clients, can be damaging to us in a professional sense, particularly when it comes to demanding and receiving remuneration commensurate with our actual worth as a professional. We are the ‘sympathetic ear’, the ‘problem solver’, the all round ‘good guy’ who doesn’t ask, ‘what’s it’s in for me’, but ‘what can I do for you’. And then forgets to send the bill.
A little of this is ok. In fact, I strongly believe that focusing on your traditionally ‘feminine’ attributes such as empathy, resilience and dedication is a powerful and effective way to differentiate your service offering from your competitors, especially if you’re in a male-dominated field (I have written about this here).
However, when our selflessness extends to an unwillingness to request and receive proper reward for our hard work, we have a problem. If we don’t place a value on ourselves, how can we expect our employers or our clients to do do so?
Your client is never going to say “hey, you forgot to send a bill for that extra two hours you did for me the other day” (well, at least that’s never happened to me). When you do send that bill, they’re either (a) not going to pay it – which in my view, is a lucky loss for you. Time for that client to move on, or (b) going to realise that your time is valuable, you are in demand, and if they want your service it comes at a cost. If you’ve met or exceeded their expectations, they are going to pay without question and likely come back for more. Because you’re worth it.
The same applies to those of you who are employed. Even the very best of employers can be guilty of overlooking their most dedicated, loyal and valuable members of the team. All too often these team members are women, who may be uncomfortable instigating a discussion about a pay rise or bonus. Little do they know, their male counterparts are regulars in the boss’s office, reminding her of their last victory, promising more and requesting their reward. Because they’re worth it.
Whether you’re jumping out of plane or requesting a pay rise, it’s always difficult to step out of your comfort zone. But the beauty of the exercise is that the more you do it, the less uncomfortable it becomes. Start charging for work you previously (and unhappily) did for free. When the bills get paid, your confidence will soar, not to mention your bank balance. Consider it your contribution to narrowing the gender pay gap. For those who are employed, make a list of all the benefits you’ve brought to your workplace over a period of time – small efficiencies, cost savings, increases in revenue, improvements in culture. Present it to your boss, together with a proposal for the recognition you believe you deserve – which may or may not be monetary. The worst that could happen is that your boss doesn’t agree, and even that sounds to me like a silver lining: you’ve just confirmed that it’s time for you to move on, to somewhere your contribution will be properly appreciated.
Place a value yourself. Because you really are “worth it”.