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Understand what’s going on. The gender wage gap isn’t just about women not asking for more money. We are asking for more money. In many cases, we’re demanding it. But when we’re already at significantly lower pay despite equal (or greater) experience, it can make it harder to make up the difference. (Especially when employers insist on asking about previous compensation.) We have to acknowledge that a problem is real and impacting women around the world — especially women of color — in order to understand what’s going on and how to fix it. Especially if unconscious bias is playing a role.

As part of my series about “The five things we need to do to close the gender wage gap,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jandra Sutton, who is an author, entrepreneur, and host of The Wildest Podcast. She’s also the co-founder of The Paid Well Society, a community dedicated to the advancement of women through recognizing their value and honoring their potential in their journeys to being well-paid.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” that brought you to this career path?

Throughout my career, I’ve felt like I was being driven forward by a series of random events. I have a Master’s degree in History, and I’d planned to pursue political journalism…until I discovered live-tweeting. I was fascinated by the application and the ability to communicate with people around the world in real-time, and my obsession with social media grew. I began volunteering to help different organizations with their social media marketing simply because I could — small businesses, non-profit organizations, a local library, and more.

Eventually, I ended up working in customer service for the Nashville office of a growing iPhone app, and it was during a meeting at the San Francisco office where our CEO asked who was managing the Twitter account. No one responded, and I shoved my hand in the air and asked for control. I was given passwords and control of all of our social media accounts within minutes, and I helped the company become an early adopter of using Twitter for customer service during events with large sales volume.

From there, things pivoted again. I wanted to start my own digital marketing agency, but desperate for clients I took a part-time paid internship for a midsize book publisher in Nashville hoping it would turn into my first on-going client. Instead, a few weeks into the role, the publisher pulled me into his office and asked if I wanted to be the new director of marketing. The previous director had received a job offer, and they needed someone to fill the role ASAP — and join the leadership team on the cover of Publisher’s Weekly.

I threw myself into the role, learning everything I could about the publishing industry and traditional marketing before I realized I needed guidance. I’m a big believer in learning through doing, but there are limits when you’re thrust into promoting 3,000+ books with little experience in the publishing industry. I started looking for other opportunities that would allow me to learn more about the industry, and I landed a position as the digital marketing director at a literary PR firm where I coached authors and publishers on how to build an amazing brand online.

From there, I really felt like my career was able to flourish. I knew I wanted to write books and help people, so I published my first novel, launched The Wildest Podcast, and released my first course on social media marketing for writers. I’m still working in publishing, now as a senior literary publicist with Guide My Brand, but I’m enjoying the ability to share my love for marketing and publicity while exploring my passion for personal development and helping people achieve their goals.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?

I’m not sure I can top going from intern to Director of Marketing in a month. It was bizarre, challenging, and totally worth the leap.

Can you share a story about the funniest or most interesting mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

At the PR firm I used to be at, we would sometimes text our clients updates for things that needed a quick turnaround. One day, I texted a friend, “Hey, you going to boxing this afternoon?” Somehow, my phone glitched and it sent the text to a celebrity client. I was mortified (and beyond grateful it was something innocuous), and I nearly had a panic attack. Thankfully, the client was super cool about it, and I was left with a funny story.

It taught me that things happen, sometimes beyond our control (thanks, technology), and that no amount of careful planning and preparation can stop them. Learn to roll with the punches, laugh things off, and don’t take yourself too seriously. No one cares about the little stuff as much as you think they care.

Ok let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. Even in 2019, women still earn about 80 cents for every dollar a man makes. Can you explain three of the main factors that are causing the wage gap?

There are a lot of things contributing to the wage gap, especially for women of color, but three of the factors that are within our control as individuals are communication, clarity, and confidence.

One, there’s a massive communication problem in the workplace. Talking about money is still seen as taboo, especially for women, which means important conversations — about rates, salaries, and benefits — aren’t happening.

Second, the lack of clarity around work, compensation, and money issues, in general, is causing serious confusion and roadblocks to growth. Because, sure, let’s say you happen to know the average salary for your position where you’re located. You think you know what to expect, but what you don’t know are the differences in company culture, job requirements, and the daily demands of the job. This means you might see two graphic designers with similar experience working in two very different jobs. One that requires the standard 40 hours per week, a flexible schedule, work-from-home days, and a generous benefits package, while the other is pushing 60–70 hour weeks, zero room for growth, teetering on the edge of burnout, and seriously underpaid for the work she’s putting in…but all she sees is a job title and a number, so she assumes that’s all she can get.

Finally, there’s a major crisis of confidence when it comes to women in the workforce. It’s something I’ve struggled with myself, so I know how debilitating it can be. However, studies have shown that women consistently discount themselves from opportunities at work. Women tend not to apply for jobs unless they’re 100% qualified (versus 60% qualified for men), which means many of us are pulling ourselves out of the game without even trying to play.

Here’s the thing though — recent research shows that it isn’t a case where women aren’t asking for more money as much as men (they are), so clearly there’s more going on here. However, I do believe that confidence in ourselves and in our ability to do a good job — and a willingness to walk away from anyone who doesn’t recognize our worth — is critical.

Can you share with our readers what your work is doing to help close the gender wage gap?

Earlier this year, I started meeting up with a friend of mine, Tiffany Napper, once a week for coffee and brainstorming. We work in similar arenas — she’s a creative director and Instagram influencer — and we both have big ambitions for helping women step into their power both personally and professionally. A few weeks later, we sat at a coffee shop in Nashville discussing money and our hesitance to ask for more (even when selling our own products and services) and she pulled up a digital product from a competitor.

We’d both released free resources to help grow our email lists, and here was a woman using the exact same model in a similar industry…and it was working. Massively. Her audience was huge, her self-reported income was insane, and her freebie was lackluster.

It was barely three pages long, a basic design that appeared to be made in Canva, with resources on social media marketing…and she was successfully using it as a funnel to attract audiences into buying her top dollar courses and e-books.

Meanwhile, my freebie was thirty-two pages — filled with almost every secret I’d learned about social media marketing over the last decade — and it wasn’t even working. We realized that we were doing WAY more work than necessary (and giving away too much free content), and it sparked a conversation about how much women tend to do…more. More than they need to do, more than they’re being paid to do, and the lack of clarity and communication around money was crippling.

We’d heard of whisper networks where women shared salary information with close friends, and we thought, “What would happen if we created a massive whisper network? What if we created a community where women could anonymously share their salary information, see other women’s submissions, and ask questions about money, work, negotiations, and more with other women?”

Within a few days, The Paid Well Society was born, and we quickly grew to over 300 members within a month. Every woman we spoke to mentioned something similar — they’d all been wanting to talk about money, to figure out how to earn more — and it became clear that we landed on something that women didn’t just want. We need it.

In 2020, we plan on expanding the group as much as possible, not only by inviting new members to join, but also through free and low-cost education on various money issues, both in-person and virtual events, and doing whatever we can to support women in their journey to being paid well.

Can you recommend 5 things that need to be done on a broader societal level to close the gender wage gap? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Understand what’s going on. The gender wage gap isn’t just about women not asking for more money. We are asking for more money. In many cases, we’re demanding it. But when we’re already at significantly lower pay despite equal (or greater) experience, it can make it harder to make up the difference. (Especially when employers insist on asking about previous compensation.) We have to acknowledge that a problem is real and impacting women around the world — especially women of color — in order to understand what’s going on and how to fix it. Especially if unconscious bias is playing a role.
  2. Speak up. We need to be having more conversations about money. Full stop. Men should be sharing their salary information with women, women should be talking to other women, and we need to include information like job requirements, benefits, and more. We should also be speaking up in the workplace, not just when we negotiate for our own salaries, but when we’re talking with friends and colleagues as well.
  3. Take active steps. Here’s the thing — it’s not good enough to be a passive participant in the efforts to close the gender wage gap. We need to be actively pursuing equality between men and women at every step of the way. That means we should be supporting companies that take steps to eliminate the gender wage gap, implementing policies that mandate equal pay, and creating a society where everyone wins — regardless of gender.
  4. Bring people with us. Maybe you’re thinking the gender wage gap doesn’t impact you, or you’re satisfied(ish) with what you’re earning. Maybe you’ve successfully crossed the divide by yourself, and you’re finally being fairly compensated. That’s amazing! However, just because you’ve made it to the other side doesn’t mean the problem doesn’t exist anymore. We need to bring other people with us. I love hearing about women like Jessica Chastain who not only insisted her co-star Octavia Spencer (an Oscar winner!) get paid the same as her, she also negotiated five times more than the original offer.
  5. Get mentored (or be a mentor). The first time I asked for more money, I remember being plagued with self-doubt. I wasn’t sure if I deserved more money (spoiler alert: I did), because I had no clue what was normal. Fast forward a few years, and now I have cheerleaders in my corner who are pushing me to ask for way more than I would’ve been comfortable within the past. Even better? I get to share that knowledge with other women who I mentor, women who are exceptional at what they do, but simply lack the confidence in their own ability and the knowledge that their work is worth more.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Less work and more play. I’m a big believer in personal development, and — as someone who spends way too much time obsessing over the latest productivity hacks — I think we have a culture that is overworked and overstressed. We’re teetering on burnout as a society, and I want to facilitate a mindset shift where we can have what we want without needing to sacrifice everything to get it. Shorter work weeks, better work-life balance, accessible healthcare, and ending the stigma around mental health care are all vital to creating an environment where everyone can thrive. We don’t need to work harder to get more done. It’s a cliché, but I truly believe it’s time for us to work smarter.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

— Thomas Edison

This is something I’ve learned (the hard way) in my own life. I’ve always been multi-passionate. As a creative entrepreneur, it’s easy for me to get pulled in different directions simply because I love trying new things. Writing a book, launching a podcast, creating a course — half the time I do something simply because I want to see if I can.

After finishing grad school, I started pursuing a career in music. I grew up singing and performing in musical theater, and I loved every part of being on stage. Soon after, a friend of a friend heard my music and decided I had talent. He had amazing connections, and he started sharing my music with producers and other industry folks who said I had potential. At the same time, however, I was struggling to get a job after graduation. I’d applied for 347 jobs in a year before I got one (I kept a list), so when my contact told me that I needed to record a demo, I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it happen.

I ended up talking myself out of it, landed my first full-time job, and let the dream of pursuing music slip away. I’d been so close, and I have no doubt I could’ve made it, but I took myself out of the game. I prevented myself from succeeding. Now, I use the example of success being like knocking on a door. You don’t know when the door is going to open. It might be in 5 seconds or in 5 years, but if you walk away from it then you’ll never get to go through it.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I’ll probably go with Jaclyn Johnson, the CEO of Create & Cultivate. I love what she’s doing, especially with the mixture of amazing content and in-person events. It’s something I hope to grow into over the next few years, especially as The Paid Well Society grows.

This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.

Thank you for having me! I really appreciate it.


Author and Podcaster Jandra Sutton: “Here Are 5 Things We Need To Do To Close The Gender Wage Gap” was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.