Speaking of work, because that is all I have to talk about apparently, I asked for equity today.
When I started working here in February of 2015 there were no employees, just a CEO with an idea and some sales and two of his friends who had built and tested the product. They couldn’t pay me much so they offered the promise of eventual equity instead and for a year and a half I worked for less than half of what I’d been making at my previous job. It was fine with me, I still made rent and I was learning a ton and got to be a part of so much. I felt important and valued most of the time and trusted him enough that he’d keep his word.
In the last two and a quarter years I haven’t asked for or mentioned this promised equity once.
As we built the company, took on employees and finished up paperwork I heard mention of finally setting up that equity plan every few months, but it always seemed to get pushed back. We’ll do it after this event, we’ll do it after that, you know how things go. But I saw early drafts and was happy enough with the plan, I wasn’t getting a ton but I was getting a proportion that made sense to the people around me. I wasn’t consulted and I didn’t ever bring it up, but I was happy to settle in to what I hoped would be a fair amount.
This week the plan to grant shares has become an actual priority and almost final drafts have been sent and approved by the board. I was annoyed that I hadn’t been at least consulted or informed about the amounts before they’d sent it off for approval, but since I’d seen earlier versions and thought they were fair enough I wasn’t worried. I trusted that they’d take care of me. A few days ago I’d even felt proud that I had indeed secured equity when a new friend warned that so many startups don’t end up following through on those promises.
So it felt like a punch in the gut this morning when I was emailed a ‘final’ version that showed my portion as 1/5th lower than the lowest others and half as much as I’d expected.
I used to be the same percentage as our QA guy, a talented $20 per hour guy who’d worked with us part time until a few months ago. Not only was his percentage double what it had been, mine was now cut in two. An advisor whose rate used to be identical to mine was also doubled. Our new advisor who’d worked with us for a few months a few hours a week (and all of whose successes were achieved in collaboration with me) had even more.
As you know I used to get pretty worked up about working here, I really struggled with making my voice heard and setting up procedures that I thought would help us all in the long run. The CEO and I used to clash a lot, but in the last few months I’ve settled into a stable peace by backing off important meetings and letting him make decisions without my input. They’ve done a lot of dumb stuff, but I’ve been happier and our company isn’t headed for financial ruin anytime soon. I’m jared because I thought things were going better, now it feels like I’ve taken steps back.
I have never been assertive when it comes to pay or being overworked. I like to be busy and I don’t like to check in and tell people how I have or will spend my day. I don’t have high expenses and I trust that hard workers will eventually be rewarded, but now I’m realizing that maybe instead these qualities are just a recipe for being overlooked. Our head of business development’s wage is 5 times anyone else’s, it is absurd and we can barely afford it, but he demanded and he got it. Maybe the only way to get more really is to ask.
I knew if I stewed over this email all day I’d end up crying and angry and lose my cool when I did bring it up, so I took a few sips of water and went to talk with the CEO about it directly. I knew I had to let him know it felt wrong and ask for more or I’d always regret it. And if there is one thing I’ve learned from the whole Trump fiasco it is that as women we have to step up.
I was direct and calmly made my case. I showed him the last version I’d seen from a few months ago and asked what had changed. He isn’t the most kind person to speak to and his filter is non existent so I was prepared to him to hurt my feelings, but was also determined not to cry or to give in. I know my value. I needed to ask. He played dumb, saying that he didn’t remember the older version. But he also said that the email I’d gotten was actually incorrect and the QA guy should be lower than he was. He said I needed to understand that this was based on the salary/experience I had and the revenue I had generated for the company. I told him I didn’t think the QA guy should get less, and I definitely understand that I shouldn’t get the same amount as our talented Account Manager, who by the way, as the only other female in the company is getting considerably less than any of the other “more experienced folks.” He said that I was pretty much at market rate. I said that market rate is for one of the five jobs I do. That I’ve taken on these positions because someone needed to, that one of my position’s market rate is not that same as my actual market rate. He tried to make me understand that I should never have seen this in the first place, that no one should ever know what other people make or the amount of equity they get.
It took everything in me not to rant about how outdated that idea is, but I did calmly say that there are a lot of articles and sentiment, especially lately, that say the opposite. How are we supposed to get what we deserve if it is hidden? Why should our current pay be relative to what we made before? If I’m doing the same thing as a person with more experience would have done, should I really get less? Doesn’t this only benefit people who make more than they can justify?
Ten to fifteen minutes later I walked calmly out with his promise to look into it as he makes the final corrections, which is really all I wanted. I didn’t cry. Or yell. Or quit. SUCCESS. But he also left me with a final reminder to keep all of these details highly confidential from everyone, something he says to me often because he knows we’ve differed over keeping secrets before. It is his company so I play by his rules, but all I can think about now is how differently I would have handled everything if this was my own company. I think people are more motivated if they know each other’s salaries, I think the more open we are about equity grants and what they’re for the better. I think transparency keeps everyone in check, and promotes a stronger workplace. All his secrecy just makes things worse, and unnecessarily personal. I want the input of people around me, not all the time, not if it wastes time, but a company is stronger if people feel ownership in it. Each day I work here I feel less and less ownership here.
Whatever shares I end up with aren’t important. Especially since I could easily quit tomorrow and I wouldn’t get anything. But each day I work here I feel less and less ownership, more and more like I shouldn’t go the extra mile. I still will most days, and I really am fairly content with my current wage and my position. But if we don’t ask for more we won’t get it. And I know I can be more.