Catherine T. Hunt's Quote To Live By

Every week in the Currents section of the Sunday paper, the Philadelphia Inquirer runs a feature called "Influences: What Shapes The Minds That Make The News". It's basically a "twenty questions" type of thing, with the same questions each week, and each week some interesting local bigwig answers it.

This week's bigwig is Catherine T. Hunt, who is president of the American Chemical Society, and is also described as a "leader in technology partnerships, Rohm & Haas Co., in Spring House". Let me just note here that she is also an alumna of Smith College; women's colleges send a disproportionately high percentage of their undergraduates on to graduate study in science. Clearly Dr. Hunt has done well.

The first question in the interview is "Quotation to live by" and I loved Dr. Hunt's answer:

My mom always said:"Ask and you shall receive; Seek and you shall find; Knock and it shall be opened unto you." (Matthew 7:7) My graduate adviser always said, "You don't ask, you don't get!" A former boss at Rohm & Haas always said: "Katie, if I'm always saying yes, then you are just not asking for enough." The corollary to this is: Watch what you ask for.

Excellent advice for women in science and engineering everywhere. According to the Women Don't Ask website,

By neglecting to negotiate her starting salary for her first job, a woman may sacrifice over half a million dollars in earnings by the end of her career.

Check out the site, especially the "interesting statistics". Thanks, KSU ADVANCE for the link!

When I got my first job in industry, Mr. Zuska coached me on negotiating my starting salary. I was also fortunate enough to know someone who was working at the company (which was how I had heard of the job in the first place) and who gave me an idea of the salary range for the position I was applying for. Here's what happened: at the time, I was working as a research associate, five years after the PhD, disillusioned about the chimerical tenure-track position and eager to embark on a different path. The initial offer from the company was for $10,000/yr more than I was making, which at the time represented a substantial percentage increase. However, I played disappointed, and pointed out to them that I would be leaving my office with a door (yes! I did have one of those! my one perk) and four weeks of vacation for a cubicle and three weeks vacation, so I couldn't possibly do that for less than a $15,000 increase. (This was more than a decade ago, so you have to adjust salaries for inflation). Mind you, I was doing this negotiation via phone call from the Jersey shore, in my bathing suit at the B&B where we were vacationing. I did my best to sound incredibly professional. It must have worked because they caved nearly instantly. Which, I suppose, means I could have asked for more, but I was very happy to increase my salary by nearly 50% overnight in moving from research to industry.

Naturally, this base salary in industry set the level for every job that followed; when I moved back to academia temporarily, I was able to negotiate maintaining my high industry salary as a condition of taking the administrative position in academia. I was also coached by some really wonderful women mentors about negotiating for non-salary items that were critical for my success in that position - and about getting it all in writing before saying yes.

Here's something that's been even more important about my salary level, in my last job: when I had to leave work because of illness and go on disability, my company's disability insurance provided me with approximately two-thirds of my salary as monthly income. Because my salary level was sufficiently high, two-thirds of it is still enough to cover bills, mortgage, and most expenses.

When you are starting out on your first job, you never think about things like the possibility of becoming disabled. And yet, that possibility is just one of the very good reasons why you absolutely must negotiate aggressively on your own behalf for salary and benefits. You shouldn't assume that you, or your partner, will always be healthy and able to work. Or that your partner will never lose a job. All kinds of life things happen. A woman needs to make as much money as she can; she needs to be able to rely on herself, financially.

Women don't ask. But they really, really need to.


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Zuska, so so important! I low balled myself when I came into the company where I work and it has followed me for 10 years. I have had to work hard to get increases that reflect what I should deserve, and still am underpaid. Thankfully I am a good saver, but I definitely have learned the hard way.

The other thing of critical importance for younger women especially (read high school) is that they take as rigorous a program as absolutely possible, and make every effort to keep their skills current and marketable.

There is no way of knowing what this life will bring, but one of life's possibilities is that a woman, with children/husband/etc, may, in fact, be called upon to be the sole support of her family--either temporarily or permanently. Without a very strong background and up-to-date skills, she is less likely to be able to assume that role of sole supporter successfully, and, thereby, be able to provide her family with a comfortable lifestyle.