Today I had an unexpectedly empowering conversation with an intern.
She, lets call her Jane, contacted me a week earlier over Eko messenger and said, “I don't feel like I’m a good fit here.” When asked about specific concerns that could be addressed in that moment, she deferred, asking to wait to talk in person. I made an active choice not to read anything into Jane’s comments and to wait (albeit anxiously) for our in-person meeting the following week.
Seated in a small private conference room, I inquired what was on her mind, asking Jane to be as forthright as possible. She brought up issues of compensation, not feeling comfortable with the possibility of other interns being compensated differently, and the lack of communication between the interns themselves about the topic of compensation.
The discussion of these topics did not catch me off guard. What was surprising is the fact that of all my interns Jane was the one to address the subject directly. Jane is very productive and an active member of our intern community but her interactions with our full time staff members and me had been minimal and timid.
Pride and openness were my initial reaction to her comments.
I told her that whether or not this conversation ends with achieving her desired outcomes, it is extraordinarily important that she advocated on her own behalf. I told her how proud I was of her candor and ability to approach me directly. She nodded and verbalized understanding while I underscored the importance of this skill, especially as a female, a millennial, and a woman working in the tech industry, and that a conversation is a great place to start.
“I shouldn’t be guilty for asking for more money, should I?” she asked.
I responded with a resounding no, also acknowledging that when asking for a raise or promotion, it is important to support the “why” with reasoning (the Human Resources side of me went into coaching mode). After reviewing her current compensation and her ideal compensation, we left the conversation as ‘to be continued’ pending a conversation with my managers.
After the meeting, I walked back to my desk feeling proud and excited on Jane’s behalf. She was comfortable enough with me as her manager to ask for a conversation and to speak candidly. Jane asked questions seeking information, not just answers. Most importantly, she took her life and career into her own hands for the better.
I am part of Jane’s career path and have cultivated an environment where her success is possible. This conversation is part of both Jane and my accomplishments, present and future.
Through one conversation, Jane inspired me to do more and to be better. Through one conversation she empowered herself and her future.