Q: My husband is beginning to fundraise for his new startup. I’m a professional brand strategist. He and his co-founder want my help naming their company, crafting messaging and creating their website and pitch materials. When I asked how formal the arrangement would be and whether there would be any compensation involved, he was incredibly hurt and now believes I don’t support his business. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I am extremely proud of him. He says he respects my opinion and apologized for making assumptions, but I can tell I really hurt him and made him feel unsupported. I’m used to being compensated for the same skills in my day job, so I was surprised by his reaction and felt like my expertise wasn’t valued. Am I completely wrong here? Should I work for him for free on the principle of being his wife? — Anonymous, Berkeley, California
A: I understand why your husband was hurt. He clearly believes supporting him involves working with him to get his company off the ground, but he has drawn this conclusion without consulting you. My wife happens to be a brand expert, too. I occasionally ask her for advice on how to position this or that project, but there is a difference between seeking advice and expecting the work of brand development. I would have a hard time wrapping my mind around paying her or vice versa. We’re married. We support each other. But we also respect each other’s expertise and time. When I need something beyond advice, I ask for recommendations, and she directs me to a professional who will be able to execute the ideas we’ve discussed, for compensation.
You and your husband need to have a loving but honest conversation. Make clear that you are excited for and support his vision and that you’re happy to lend your knowledge to his efforts. Then manage boundaries and expectations. How much uncompensated work are you willing to do for his company? What will that work look like, ranging from consultation to identity development to market positioning? What happens when you reach the limit of what you are willing to contribute? Would it be better, for the sake of your marriage, to recommend someone else in your field? If there is no direct compensation, will he give you stock options as a measure of good faith that acknowledges the value of your expertise? Married or not, any contributions you make to his dreams deserve to be acknowledged in ways with which you are both comfortable. Best of luck to him and you.
Smash the patriarchy
Q: I am a Gen X API woman who has a reasonably successful career in an industry dominated by white men and, more specifically, white male archetypes of leadership. I now manage — and, happily, mentor — a wonderful 20-something API woman, who is as thoughtful as she is ambitious. I give her a healthy amount of supportive feedback on the substance of her work. However, I would like to give her some feedback on style issues — upspeak, business writing tone, etc. — that I think will help her advance in this industry. Frankly, these are all issues that I’ve navigated myself. However, I recognize that giving her such advice will only reinforce the kind of patriarchal nonsense that I hope her generation will face less. Should I just focus my feedback on substance? — Anonymous, Philadelphia
A: There are a lot of unspoken rules about how to succeed in many industries. It’s a good idea for you, as a mentor, to teach your mentee both the spoken and unspoken rules that will contribute to her success. But it’s also your responsibility to provide her with the necessary context as to why those rules exist and whom they benefit most. It would also be useful to discuss alternatives that challenge patriarchal norms, because change does have to start somewhere. Try to find that sweet spot between idealism and a realistic understanding of the workplace.
To come out or not to come out
Q: I’ve worked at a nonprofit for almost a decade. Nearly a third of the workforce identifies as gay or lesbian, including its leadership and my boss. I’m a cis, bisexual woman in a non-monogamous relationship with a straight man who is my primary partner. For a variety of reasons, I’ve been assumed to be straight at work. The longer this has gone on, the more conflicted I’ve felt about coming out at work. I’ve had negative experiences where revealing my bisexuality and non-monogamy made me feel like my personal life was up for grabs as entertainment. As a straight-passing person, I haven’t dealt with the same challenges as some of my colleagues, most of whom are a generation or two older than I am. Have I waited too long? Do I have to also reveal that we have an open relationship that allows me to date women in order to be perceived as “legitimately” queer? — Anonymous
A: It is never too late to come out. Your bisexuality matters. Our sexuality isn’t rendered irrelevant when we enter into a domestic partnership. And you don’t owe anyone any information about the nature of your relationship. You’re queer. You don’t need to prove it. I understand your dilemma, which is one most bisexual people deal with, especially when we are in relationships with someone of a different gender. You can’t control how people will respond to you or what assumptions they may make. Forget about them. Try to think of this in terms of what you want from coming out. Whatever decision you make will be the right one.
The mysterious case of the nonexistent job offer
Q: I’ve been at the same company for 10 years. I recently found out that my deputy is paid almost $15,000 more than I am. I knew I was being underpaid, but this was a slap in the face. I brought it to my boss and asked for a raise, and he said they’d work on it. A few months later, I talked to him again. He said his bosses are only approving raises if someone has another offer. I’ve tried applying for other jobs, but it hasn’t worked out. Do I make up another offer? Or just keep applying to other jobs when I’d really just like to stay at my current company? I really don’t want to lie, but I’m worried I’ll never get the raise if I don’t make up another offer.— Anonymous
A: You would be on very shaky ethical ground if you lied and invented another offer to get a raise. Do people go that route? Absolutely. Sometimes it even works out. In a previous column, I responded to a hiring manager who believed that her new employee invented an offer. But what happens if you’re asked for proof or if your deception is otherwise exposed? Your integrity will be called into question, and you will jeopardize your standing. It is frustrating to know you’re underpaid, especially by such a significant amount. And it is even more frustrating that your employer is refusing to create parity. This is why pay transparency is so important. It clarifies where things stand. Your best bet is to continue looking for a new position that will offer you compensation more in line with your expectations. The disrespect your current employer is showing you is unacceptable. You deserve better in every way.