“Wait, you didn’t negotiate pay before you got the job?” I scrunched up my nose at hearing one of my former boss’s questions through my phone speaker. A few days prior, just after returning to Kansas from Georgetown University, I received a phone call about a state house candidate who needed a manager. I was so excited that I accepted the position and hung up the phone without discussing compensation.
My former boss, David, continued: “Normally, a campaign manager would earn about $10,000 in a cycle, maybe even more. But you’re 20 years old, so I would ask for $500 a month, tops.” I had totally forgotten that, when David thought of my experience, he thought of it in terms of the 20 years I have been on this planet rather than the five years of experience I have in politics. He is not alone in his thinking, and I have never been very good at advocating for myself in this manner.
Things had to be different this time. I had just been hired as a campaign manager in my hometown of Leavenworth, Kansas. I had an impressive resume and was ready to put my heart and soul into this job. I knew I deserved to be paid. The only problem was that campaigns of this size and in the minority party rarely have money to spare. That fact would not deter me from taking the position, despite my father’s disdain at my not bringing home a sizable paycheck. After all, wouldn’t the experience make the future all the more worth it? If politics is a numbers game, the number that should matter is how many years of experience I will have, not my age or how much money I make.
This is what I told myself when I was 15 to justify the lack of a paycheck for my hard work. However, this opportunity was the future that my high school self was picturing. I needed to stop waiting for the world to give me what I was owed, and take it myself.
The initial round of pay negotiations went fine, despite my potentially foolish choice to accept the job before I settled compensation. Jo, the first candidate whose campaign I was hired to manage, is a Black woman who knows more than I do what it is like to be overlooked and underappreciated. That conversation about compensation wasn’t difficult, because I knew Jo understood where I was coming from and what I was worth.
The harder negotiation came when the Kansas House Democratic staffers asked if I was interested in managing another state house campaign in the district next door. This man happened to be the mayor of Leavenworth, and I knew he could afford to pay me. This time, I would need to ask him myself. I had the support of the Kansas House Democrats, and one of them, Heather, offered to join the introductory call with me. She had been at the Kansas Democratic Party with me when I was fifteen and had watched me grow up. She knew what I could do, and she knew my hesitance about asking for proper pay.
This fear that I have certainly comes from being a woman. But, moreso right now, it stems from the fact that I am so young. Age should not be a barrier to procuring a job if one has the right qualifications. Unfortunately, in this day and age, a 30-year-old political staffer with three years of experience would seem more valuable than I do with five. I know my own worth; now it is time to be my own advocate and champion.
So, Heather and I joined the Zoom call with Mike, the second potential candidate under my belt. He said he really wanted me on board as manager and asked what my thoughts were regarding compensation. I paused for a moment, waiting for Heather to chime in, but she was silent. I could feel the support of the dozens of women I had met along this journey lifting me up. I made my case and asked for the salary I thought I deserved, and he said yes without hesitation. Though the moment felt anticlimactic, I could tell it was a turning point for me, the chance for me to close the book on internships and move into careers in the professional world.
It can be hard for a young woman to break into any professional field. When female politicians are few and far between, it can be tempting to accept crumbs of gratitude instead of dollars. However, if I run for office someday and end up advocating for voters, I need to be able to advocate for myself. I know I have the experience I need to be a great campaign manager, and I deserve to get compensated for my time. Surrounding myself with other women who have successfully grown professionally allows me to lift myself up and trust in my expertise. Someday, I will pass that torch to another young woman. For now, it’s my time to shine.
“Alright,” I said when the business talk was done. “Let’s get to work.”
Rebecca Hollister is a senior in the College. Political Handprints appears online every other Sunday.