What I Wish I Said to the Recruiter Who Shamed Me into a Lower Salary

We can't afford your subtle sexism anymore.

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Sexism happens every day in ways both large and small. Today, in honor of International Women's Day, we're standing up and calling it out. Here, and in the linked stories below, four women share powerful essays about the moments they wish they could go back and rewrite—join in on Twitter and share your own. #WhatIWishISaid.

I got the job! I got the job?! I. Got. The. Job.

It was one of the best phone calls of my life. After three rounds of interviews (and three hours of staring at my phone propped up in a dish of paper clips so I could see its display at all times), the memorized phone number of the recruiter lit up. The woman's voice on the other end was remarkably calm as she described the insurance offerings, the health reimbursement, how vacation days were accrued.

"Wait. Wait," I said. "So I got it? I actually got it?"

She laughed. "Yes. You got it. You got the job." Then she told me the salary, something we hadn't previously discussed. It was about 5 percent lower than I'd anticipated. No big deal. I asked for some time to think, though I wasn't actually reconsidering accepting, of course—just doing my due diligence and considering, as everyone is told to do, my worth.

I scheduled a call with her for the next morning, and rehearsed my speech with two different friends. I was Bella Abzug meets Joan of Arc—I was getting my piddling 5 percent. (It amounted to maybe $22 per week, but still!)

This woman used my own gender, particularly the anticipated desire to be liked, against me.

At least, I hoped I was. I called the recruiter and I stated my number. This was her response: "Oh. Well. I'll have to go back to the hiring manager to ask them. Are you sure you want me to? You'll be starting off the role leaving a bad taste in their mouth. Don't you want them to like you?"

I didn't think. In all my preparation, I never considered she would answer with anything other than an expected, professional "I'll need to get back to you." I had never anticipated a response so demeaning.

I blathered: "No! I mean. No, don't tell them. I'll take it. Of course, I'll take it." I felt the job slipping away; I felt like I'd been arrogant. I didn't want to lose it, so I grabbed on and prayed that she wouldn't, as I was now concerned, rat me out.

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The conversation didn't initially have a huge impact on my life. I was lucky enough that I could get by without an extra $20 a week. It wasn't until much later that I realized how much her words actually impacted me.

It took me years to realize why the exchange felt so gross. Sometimes sexism is obvious: a guy hurling a crude catcall from a moving car. Sometimes it's a teeny tiny moment, a slip of language, that makes you feel lesser. In this case, the latter might have been worse: This woman used my gender, particularly the anticipated desire to be liked, against me. Would a prospective male employee have been taunted with unpopularity if he asked for his due? Doubtful. I hadn't even asked for more money than that role typically earned. I asked for exactly what the role typically earned.

A man wouldn't be begging for that spare change, that 5 percent. He probably would have demanded 25 percent more from the get-go. I say this not from some misandrist hunch: A Carnegie Mellon study of college grads found that 7 percent of female students planned to negotiate their initial job offer, while 57 percent of male students did.

That was the moment when my pay gap began, and what makes it continue. Her comments had an indelible impact on my finances.

That was the moment when my pay gap began, and what makes it continue. Her comments had an indelible impact on my finances. Less money to compound in my retirement savings over time, a smaller salary to build from in subsequent jobs. And I don't think it was subconscious bias. I think she manipulated my gender and youth to maintain her bottom line.

I wish I hadn't blathered. I wish I said, "I don't have to convince these people to like me. I just have to convince them I'm qualified for this job. Which I already did."

But ultimately I'm not angry with the recruiter—she had a budget that she had to keep. And I'm not angry with myself for giving up so easily—I was inexperienced and naive. In fact, salary negotiations no longer scare me, because now I know how to keep an ear out for that particularly gendered talk. And now I'll know exactly what to say when I hear it.

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Kaitlin Menza