Business & Development

GameChanger: Lois Sarfo-Mensah

We talk with the leader of Ladies Get Paid Baltimore.
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- Photography by Mike Morgan

Ladies Get Paid Baltimore hosts monthly meet-ups for women to talk about all things money. What does a typical meeting look like?
Every coffee meeting looks and sounds like the hodgepodge that is Baltimore. We talk about money memories, salary negotiation, submissive cultures, imposter syndrome—topics that can only be broken down in forums where you have people to talk to. We try to understand where the problem comes from and discuss those topics, and then we look for actionable items to walk away with. So, for example, now that I’ve unearthed this problem with how much I’m getting paid, what do I do about it?

What’s an example of an issue, specific to women, that the group has discussed?
Women are coming into salary negotiation meetings with what is perceived as emotion. Things like: What’s stressing them out or whether they have enough money to take care of themselves or their kids. But when men come to the negotiation table, they just say they want more money.

They don’t need to explain why they need or want more money. Sometimes that conversation can be jarring for folks because they might never have thought about the fact that, when they go to the table asking for money, they’re putting the emotion forward rather than just saying, “I need more money, here are the facts and figures.” For women, we feel like we have to justify everything, down to needing our toes to be polished. It’s about breaking down some of the things that women have historically been conditioned to not talk about. It’s almost like free therapy.

There’s been a lot of talk in the news recently about breaking the “salary sharing” taboo. What’s your take on employees being transparent about their salaries?
[Previous LGP co-leader Chelsea Keene]: I think it’s important to break down the taboo that salaries should be a secret because, for example, if Lois and I work at the same company and do the same job but one of us gets paid more, then the person getting paid less deserves to know why. If you’re not actively talking about salaries, how are you going to know if you’re underpaid? The idea of working somewhere where I can’t talk about my salary seems crazy to me. By not talking about money, it becomes this horrible dirty secret, which usually means that I’m being underpaid.

What kinds of lessons do you hope that members take away from Ladies Get Paid?
It’s the revelation of knowing that it’s okay to ask, “Why?” People just accept information and don’t ask further questions because they feel like they are intruding or it’s none of their business. We have seen, time and time again, what silence does to people.

All of these recent events surrounding women’s treatment in the workplace have revealed that silence does not help you, nor does it help your neighbor. If you’re having this half-moon cycle of communication, then you’re not serving yourself or your community. We want people to start thinking about, “Am I serving myself? Am I actually content? Am I being fulfilled?