CHAPTER 5The Art of the Ask

A woman's best protection is a little money of her own.

—Clare Boothe Luce

In early 2020, I was doing a search for a CFO position at a Fortune 50 industrial company headquartered in the Midwest. I had the perfect candidate, and the client was thrilled. But before the deal could be finalized, we needed salary comparisons. How much were people in similar positions, at the same executive level, in that particular industry, and in that particular region, being paid? I had my team pull together compensation benchmarks. When I looked at the spreadsheet, I was flabbergasted. Women CFOs were making 30% less than men.

This can't be right, I said to myself. We reran the data with a larger sample, looking at all Midwestern manufacturing companies with revenues of at least $10 billion. Still about a 30% differential. Then I broke down the numbers, slicing and dicing them at least a dozen different ways. Was the difference attributable to some having a CPA or audit background versus more Wall Street experience? Were the women less experienced? Younger? Were the companies underperforming, or did they have a lower PE ratio? Statistically, I could find no correlated data that made sense. In that particular industry, which encompassed 50 or more companies, the pay gap was ubiquitously present across the board.

I was so shocked and appalled that I considered going to the media with an exposé. Instead, I decided to use this data as a point of instruction to my clients, ...

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