Lauren Hasson discovered computer science in high school, but it took patience, insight, and a flexible attitude to find the fulfilling career she deserved. When she landed the perfect position for her skills and interests, she flourished, compiling an impressive list of accolades.
But what happens when you realize that you’re a superstar coder who’s not getting paid what you deserve? If you’re Hasson, you master the art of salary negotiation and then create Develop[Her] to help other women in tech do the same. Hasson set the goal of bridging the gender income gap “one woman, one negotiation at a time.”
An Unexpected Start
Hasson stumbled upon computer science in high school, and at first, she wasn’t happy about it. When she was an incoming freshman, family friends told her parents that she should take computer science. Her parents didn’t
know anything about computers or coding, but they trusted their friends, and that’s how Hasson ended up in a computer science elective as a freshman.
“I hated [my parents] at the time,” Hasson says. “They didn’t know anything about computer science, so they couldn’t help me. I was one of only two girls. There were senior guys who programmed for fun. Then there was me, a bright-eyed freshman girl, as girly as you could get, and I was so lost.”
But then, as the course moved along, it not only started to click, but she began to excel at it. She also started to enjoy it, and she went on to take an advanced placement computer science course.
“Now, when I go talk to girls in high school, middle school, and elementary school, I tell them that it’s one of the best decisions my parents ever made for me because it changed the course of my life. Because I had taken computer science in high school, it was a natural segue to computer science in college. Because I had that strong fundamental foundation, I was breezing through all of the introductory coursework, which helped me get ahead,” says Hasson, who graduated from Duke University with a triple major in electrical engineering, computer science, and economics.
It wasn’t all coding from there, though. “I’m also an attrition number,” she confides. She interned at two large tech companies, but she didn’t like the experience. “They put me in a small room, closed the door, and told me to write code and not talk to humans. This didn’t resonate with me,” she says. “I couldn’t see a future for myself there.” So, instead of launching a career as a programmer, she combined her three majors into what she sees as an interesting pivot: she went into investment banking, working on the finance side for technology companies in Silicon Valley.
Seven years later, though, she began thinking about getting back into tech. “There was that builder in me,” she says, and, besides, “making rich people richer” wasn’t fulfilling. Enter the “pesky little sister.” When the family gathered for a holiday, Hasson’s sister asked her to help debug code she was writing for an iOS development course. When they were done, her sister said what was so obvious to her: Hasson needed to write code for a living. Hasson agreed. She got her foot in the door at a mobile development shop, and, unlike her internships, she found the environment dynamic and collaborative. Her career took off.
“I started building my network from day one and, less than two years later, I was one of only 100 innovators on a flight from San Francisco to London for the UnGrounded Hackathon in the Sky event for British Airways,” she says. As part of this event, the participants’ ideas on how to bridge the global science, technology, engineering, and mathematics gap were presented to the United Nations. Around the same time, she
also won a number of high-profile hackathons and had an app featured in Apple’s prestigious iOS 7 launch keynote.
Still, despite all of the high-profile projects at work and the “public persona of achievement,” she was quietly facing an unfortunate career reality. “There was
a guy I worked with. He was a few years junior, and I was training him, managing his work, and fixing his code. He pulled me aside one day to complain about how
difficult it was to live on a certain salary in a really nice part of Dallas,” she says. “It was like someone had punched me in the stomach.”
Not only was he making the exact same amount of money as Hasson, but he was earning 50% more than she had when she was at his level. “That was the wake-up call that I needed,” she reflects. “I expected I was underpaid. I kept hearing, ‘When you’re there, you’ll make market rate.’ I kept waiting to get ‘there.’ Then I realized I was already ‘there.’ And I wasn’t getting paid what I was worth.”
Inspiration from the Trenches
As Hasson saw it, she had three choices. She could throw herself a pity party; she could blame her employer and wait for others to fix it; or she could acknowledge
that even though it wasn’t her fault, she was someone who could change her situation. As she says, she could own her own outcome. So, Hasson read every book she could find about career development and negotiation. She hired coaches to the tune of US$5,000–$10,000. It worked. She
tripled her salary in less than two years. “I earn an additional six figures every year because I did that,” she says.
Hasson wasn’t content to stop there, though. She shared her story and found that it really had impact. She began to understand what a pervasive issue this was for women in tech and wanted to do more.
This is why Hasson founded Develop[Her], a career development platform “for tech women by tech women.” It’s accessible and it’s affordable. Unlike the sizable investment Hasson made in herself years ago, Develop[Her] membership costs under US$50 per month. This is Hasson’s passion project. She puts her own money into it; there are no investors. A recent addition to the website is a free online negotiation webinar series.
“It’s easy to say that this is a problem and someone needs to do something. Well, you know what? I’m someone. I’m a warm body. I’m a tech woman. I would have benefited from this. What would I have wanted?” she says. “Someone needs to inspire women. Someone needs to show them how it’s done. It needs to be someone who is actually technical and is still in the trenches, not an HR professional or a coach.”
Besides running the Develop[Her] platform, Hasson speaks around the country, telling stories and talking about how she negotiates her offers. She hosts a podcast where she interviews top tech women about their careers. “I had a Fortune 15 executive telling me she has impostor syndrome. She wasn’t speaking because she didn’t think she could deliver as much value as Sheryl Sandburg! So, she’s on my podcast telling me about this. Women are speaking candidly with me because I’m also a tech woman,” Hasson says.
Much of Hasson’s work revolves around helping women in tech sharpen their negotiation skills. As Hasson puts it, women in tech already have the skills they need. They just may not realize it.
“Tech women—the reason we’re good at what we do is that we’re good at data and information,” Hasson says. Her main
negotiating strategy is to put that power to work—to do research and ground herself in data in advance of any negotiation.
“I prepare in advance,” she says. “I don’t just go in and blindly hope to have a great outcome. I anticipate the pushback, and I have responses to counter that information. I’m also prepared with diagnostic questions to help determine where there might be leverage for me.” She uses this combination of data she’s researched
and leverage information she’s uncovered to negotiate a great end offer.
Here’s an example. Hasson once went to interview for a position at a tech company. She identified key leverage points by talking with recruiters and hiring managers through the process. She found out that they didn’t have a lot of candidates in the pipeline. In fact, she was the
only candidate who had made it all the way through the interview process. They didn’t have a large candidate pool to start with, partly because the company was not in a large metro area. Of that pool, very few could commute to the office. They didn’t have their “pick of the litter” to
begin with, and on top of that, the chief technology officer (CTO) was very difficult to impress.
This meant that when Hasson received her offer, she could negotiate it upward because she knew that they needed someone immediately, she was the only person in the process, and she was the only candidate who had gotten the
“I gave them a premium range, with a guarantee that I’d accept it and that I’d start within a week,” Hasson says. They accepted. In the end, she upped her initial offer by US $50,000.
“All of this leverage came from general conversation,” she says. “You’d be surprised at the information you can get from recruiters and hiring managers in casual conversation. I’m not grilling them. I prepare to look for
these types of things in advance. I do my research, and I target companies where I do have leverage.”
Even if you’re armed with data, you also need to have confidence, but Hasson says these are really the same thing. “It’s as simple as knowing your numbers up front and building your confidence around that,” Hasson says.
Knowing your numbers boosts your confidence. It shows you what you’re worth, and that helps you stand up for yourself and even walk away from the table, if necessary. Hasson has done this. She once went into a negotiation prepared with her numbers. “That’s not where we get our
numbers,” the man on the other side of the table told her. He proceeded to give a salary that was 70% of the market rate. He cited a report. She, too, had read this report, and she knew his numbers were incorrect. She was able to politely call him out on that, and she realized she was wasting her time with the company.
She’s encountered it all, from the lowball offer to the bait and switch with the title. She was once told by a hiring manager that the title she had come in to interview
for didn’t actually officially exist in the organization. The impact to her offer? A lower title with lower money. “I knew for a fact that people had that title, and I knew how much they made,” she says. “Because I had done my research, I knew this was nonnegotiable. I turned it down. I was confident in my ability to walk away.” And less than 48 h later, she had a revised offer that was US$25,000 more than their original offer—and the original title had suddenly become an official title.
Negotiation gets easier with practice, and women need to come into negotiations with a self-growth mind-set. “Every
time you get a little better at it. Every time you make progress. You’ve got to do the best with what you have and build on it every time. Just because you don’t get
what you want one time doesn’t mean you won’t get a great outcome the next time,” she says.
For all of this talk about data and numbers, though, her most important piece of advice is to put numbers aside before you begin your career search. Instead, take the time to reflect on what success looks like to you. When Hasson found herself on the market a few years
ago, she sat down to contemplate what she wanted her day to “look and feel like” in a year. She wanted autonomy, flexibility, and remote work.
“Because I did that, I accepted a job I never would have thought about otherwise. I would have been pursuing jobs
that would not have really given me the success that I wanted. It’s not just looking at numbers and titles but what are the intangibles. That’s been huge in my life. People ask how are you so happy and having so much career success? Because I put thought into what success looks like, and I’m open to different ways of getting there that might be different from what I originally thought,” she says.
For now, she loves that she has zero commute, schedule flexibility, and that she can run Develop[Her] as well. Her current position wasn’t her highest offer, but she
is paid very well and it has everything that she finds important at the moment.
She keeps in mind, though, that success may look one way one year, and the next year it may look totally different. “In a few years, I may value the no-commute less and value interactions more. It’s fluid,” she says. Still, should the time come when she needs to look for another opportunity, there’s no doubt she’ll know what she wants and she’ll be prepared.
This article first appeared in IEEE Women in Engineering Magazine November 2018.