In our series My 6-Figure Paycheck , women making more than $100,000 open up about how they got there and what exactly they do. We take a closer look at what it feels like to be a woman making six-figures — when only 5% of American women make that much, according to the U.S. Census — w ith the hope it will give women insight into how to better navigate their own career and salary trajectories.
Today, we chat with a director of communications in Claremont, CA. Previously, we spoke to senior scientist in Chicago, a cybersecurity sales manager in Denver, and a creative director in New York City.
Job: Director of Marketing & Communications, Aviation
Location: Claremont, CA
Degree: B.A. in public relations, master's in communications
First Salary: $45,000
Current Salary: $137,000
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
"I always thought I would be a news broadcaster or investigative reporter. I was briefly a writer for our college newspaper, covering politics, and quickly learned that I did not have thick enough skin or the persistence to get solid answers from officials. I enjoyed the communications realm and decided that my career goal would be to become a public information officer. I did get there and realized that I wanted more responsibility and say within an organization, so I looked for roles that included more than just communications."
What did you study in college?
"I studied public relations in undergrad and enjoyed the fast-paced, reactive environment. I knew I wanted to pursue my master's, but I wasn't sure if I wanted an MBA or something more specific to my field of interest. I waited to gain experience, so I didn't get lost in the 'am-I-doing-what-I-love?' limbo. After over ten years in the field, I decided to get my master's in communications, because I knew that's where I belonged. I highly recommend getting experience before going straight for your master's, unless you're employed in an organization with promising outcomes for a job with higher pay and responsibility after you obtain higher-level degrees."
Did you have to take out student loans?
"I took out loans for both undergrad and my master's. My husband and I sold our first home to pay off the first student loan. We're also in the process of selling our current home to pay off our loans from very expensive private schools in Southern California. The monthly payments have taken away the disposable income we prefer to leave for our children and fun."
Have you been working at this company since you graduated from college?
"No. I had an internship during undergrad at a regional public-transportation agency in their media and external communications department. I learned crisis response/communications, community outreach, and marketing. I definitely recommend an internship or entry-level role that you can be agile in and learn different aspects of the business. Truly understanding the business part of the organization helps you be well rounded in your role — and you're more likely to bridge gaps in the silos that inevitably occur in any organization. If you don't see that opportunity within the culture, talk to your manager and share your ambitions. They're more likely to let you get more involved in other things to help you learn if you communicate interest.
"Also consider joining special committees! You meet more people and gain more experience. The internship led me to my first real, salaried, health-insurance-included role. I stayed there for three years but outgrew the job and didn't see an opportunity for advancement. As a way to fill my time and learn, I joined local community-based organizational boards, networked, and always applied for jobs outside of my experience within the industry I loved. Without going into detail for the other four jobs, I can say that the recurring theme for advancing is to always move up — try not to go lateral in pay or job description, unless you're trying to get your foot in the door to a specific organization."
How would you explain your day-to-day role at your job?
"I get to work with a multigenerational team to market to millennials and more. I encourage my team and colleagues (and vice-versa) to have fun, think outside of the box, and be disruptive. I support my team's needs, plan for funds for grand ideas, advocate for and encourage creativity, and get to travel the world. Some days are harder than others, but my team is the best. I know that what I have the honor to be a part of is special and unique in our industry."
Did you negotiate your salary?
"Yes, aggressively. I would not budge, and you shouldn't either. First: It helps to really understand the current challenges within the organization you are negotiating with (which is a reason you should also interview the interviewer!). In this case, there was a huge administration change happening, and I knew I would be leading and addressing stressful staff situations, cleaning up contracts, holding people accountable and more, so I leveraged that knowledge to justify my worth, among other things. I did not want to look back and think, 'They do not pay me enough for this $h!#!' because being a leader is hard, to put it simply. People and organizations are complicated, and at the end of the day, the money had to be worth it to me because I knew it would take all of me, professionally and emotionally.
"Second: Have confidence in negotiations. If you display the 'Sorry, I don't want to seem greedy' mentality — they got you. Have confidence, not cockiness — there is a difference, and it's a fine line. Third: To understand your worth (from the perspective of a business, because you are priceless, let's be honest), start with researching the national benchmark for the job title, then dig a little deeper in the region you're being interviewed in to see the average pay for the position. We all know that most employers use this knowledge to establish the range. The less experience you have in the role, the lower they'll hit you in the pay range. Speak to your talents with humility and give them concrete reasons (demonstrated examples) on why you deserve to be at the middle or higher end. By law, employers are supposed to give the range, so you'll know where the low is versus the high for the job. If you have experience plus a master's, go for the higher end, but IMO it's wise to leave room for growth. Lastly: Don't forget that your benefits are also likely negotiable, like the number of PTO days, bonus, etc. Get the most out of the entire package — don't just focus on the hourly wage."
Is your current job your “passion”? If not, what is?
"Communications and marketing are a vehicle to be a part of a team with a passion for talking to people in a way others can easily digest. People are my passion, and my job affords me the opportunity to work with some pretty cool peeps doing even cooler things for other peeps. Culture is so important, and I am glad I can finally be a part of building one for my team that I would have wanted to be a part of 15 years ago."
If you could, would you change anything in your career trajectory?
"I would have walked away sooner from managers who didn't see my worth. If you find that you lose yourself in your role, or you have to change yourself to accommodate others, you're in the wrong place. I know it's not as easy to do for many, but if you are capable and have resources to walk away — DO IT."
What professional advice would you give your younger self?
"To speak with confidence and lose the 'sweet' tone when speaking to superiors. No need to be apologetic. If you know something and can back it up, speak up. Call out others in the room, in a diplomatic fashion, if they repeat what you just said. Nominate yourself for recognition, because no one else will. Take days off. Ask for help...and finally, it's okay not to know the answer."
Are you a woman under 35 with a six-figure salary ($100,000+) and want to tell your story? Submit it here.
Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?