Buzz Aldrin

Women – would you like to earn as much money as your male colleagues?

I was at #altukgc13 yesterday on the 5th floor of the Royal Festival Hall.  It came about thanks to Lloyd Davis & James Cattell who jumped into action following cancellation of UK Govcamp because of a bit of snow & the chaos that wreaks on the British public transport network (I note that even Buzz Aldrin had to take the train from London to Edinburgh on Friday and sit in standard class, although from the photos online he appeared to be having a great time).

One of the groups I joined discussed why it is that conference speaking platform slots are overwhelmingly dominated by white, middle aged males.  We had a lively discussion & generated some ideas.  One of the women in the group, the very fabulous & sadly ex-public sector Sharon O’Dea, has successfully managed to break onto the speaking circuit herself where she talks about technology.  Rare indeed.  Sharon agreed that she will write a blog with some tips for interested people on how they may do the same.  You can find Sharon’s blog at

The discussion got me thinking that many of the reasons that women in particular don’t put themselves forward for speaking slots are similar to the reasons why women are so rubbish at either negotiating or improving their salary packages.  That was my driver for writing this blog.  When I was a younger person in a junior job it didn’t occur to me that there was a difference in outcomes of salary negotiations between men & women.  I naively assumed that everyone did as well as each other.  I knew I felt a bit uncomfortable having to wrangle with my MD in this way once a year.  Then one day in a team meeting a wonderful woman that I used to work with, Kirsten Gillingham (now Bursar at St Antony’s College, Oxford) challenged our MD about this inequality & made reference to the many studies that have been done showing that women are extremely unwilling to negotiate their salary and are financially disadvantaged as a result.  For me, merely becoming aware of this fact was enough to bring about a change in my own behaviour from that moment on – another reason for writing the blog as hopefully the same thing will happen for at least one person that reads it.

When you get to the stats they’re a bit alarming.  For new graduates, 57% of men negotiate a higher starting salary than the sum they are first offered but only 7% of women do.  In recruitment exercises, 90% of men immediately ask for more money when their offer comes through but over 50% of women accept the first offer.  Women earn about 75% of what men do in the same role.  I’m not talking about the public sector here or organisations where there is a transparent pay scale – although I will say that even then, you do still have a chance of negotiating a better deal when you’re joining the organisation.

So why is this?  What are the contributing factors?  I think there are probably a lot including:

  • women systematically underestimate their own abilities and performance
  • women underestimate their own value and the contribution they make to an organisation
  • women often aren’t used to negotiation because of the types of jobs they do
  • women probably care more about fairness
  • women are nervous & less confident of their position if they don’t have complete information – in this context specific salary information on other people is unlikely to be available
  • women don’t usually like conflict & will be extremely reluctant to threaten to walk if they don’t get what they want
  • at recruitment time, women may believe they’ll be able to improve their lot once they’ve started working & demonstrated their value to the organisation
  • perhaps women are more scared of losing the job offer than men are
  • maybe bosses treat this as a bit of a game and women don’t readily understand the rules
  • perhaps worst of all, success & likeability are positively correlated for men & negatively correlated for women – I can think of many occasions where I’ve underplayed my own achievements in order to be better liked or more easily accepted (we publicly put our success down to luck or help from other people).  So the male that negotiates a great package for himself is seen as an all-round great guy whereas the woman who does the same thing is seen as a hardnosed ballbreaker.

No doubt there are many more.

So how can you improve your salary negotiation outcome?

  1. By being aware that this is just how things are done.  It isn’t personal and you may not like it.  During the hiring process most company’s recruiters will start by offering you less than they are authorised to spend on the post.  It is perfectly acceptable for you to refuse that sum & state what your expectation is via a counter offer.  The negotiator will then often lowball you with another offer that is less than they can pay you.  Again – just stick to your guns & continue to counter offer.  Stay calm & polite at all times.  Don’t give any reasons why you want more money unless they really press you to.  Often they won’t.
  2. Be familiar with your industry metrics so that you know what’s realistic – it probably isn’t realistic to ask for £50k when you’ve been offered £25k – but who knows – dependent on your sector & skills maybe it is.
  3. Practice your negotiations with a friend or mentor & reassure yourself that your demands are reasonable.
  4. Remember that negotiation at its core is culturally masculine.
  5. Don’t be afraid to initiate a conversation with your manager about a salary increase – my own team is made up of males & females but inevitably it’s the men who will chance their arm and pitch to me the reasons why they deserve a pay rise, even when they aren’t due for one.

Ideally the process should be changed as there’s also a commercial downside & cost to behaving in this way.  No enlightened company will consciously operate like this as they will appreciate that in order to succeed commercially; they need a gender balanced and happy workforce who are treated fairly.  At Learning Pool we want our people to have the same opportunities and to be treated equitably.  We recognise the very large sums of money we spend recruiting and training our team members so it’s in our interests that they are content & stay with us for the long term.  There’s probably a special place in hell for managers who offer pay rises only at the point where their people threaten to leave.

When I was researching this topic last night I watched again Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg’s famous TED talk entitled “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders” – it’s just shy of 15 minutes long & well worth a viewing or another viewing.  I won’t repeat what she says but she makes some great points that really made me think.  The link is here

I sincerely hope no-one is offended by this blog post.  That isn’t my intention & those of you who know me will know that I thrive in a male dominated sector and industry.  There’s lots more that can be said on this topic and I hope many of you will start a conversation using the comment section below.







Living legend Buzz Aldrin at Soho House in London…alive, well & talking a lot of sense

Buzz Aldrin speaking at Soho House during the London Olympics

Buzz Aldrin speaking at Soho House during the London Olympics

Here in the middle of London Olympics fever it’s easy for me to identify my favourite moment from the Games & I’m afraid it isn’t sport related.  It was 2 August when my goddaughter Olivia & I went along to Soho House for an audience with Buzz Aldrin – yes that Buzz Aldrin – second man to walk on the moon & one of only 9 human beings still alive who have walked on the surface of our closest space neighbour.  And let’s face it – he’s the one we’re all familiar with as only one decent photograph was taken of poor Neil Armstrong on the moon.

To say we were excited doesn’t even come close.  Walking there I told Olivia the story of watching the Apollo 11 moon landing in July 1969 as a child.  My sister had already told her the same story many times.  As children we (with tens or even hundreds of millions of others) watched Apollo 11 blast off and felt we were there every step of the way with the 3 astronauts as they sped towards the Moon.

When it was near time to land, we were horrified to find that landing time was way after our bedtime but our dad promised us faithfully he would wake us in time to watch it live & he was true to his word.  He woke us up at 3.30am & carried us both downstairs wrapped up in blankets.  It’s something I’ll be eternally grateful to him for as those 8 days still go down as one of the most exciting periods of my life, even now over 40 years later.

I’m lucky enough to meet a lot of unusual & interesting people in the course of my work and life but I never thought I’d get to meet Buzz Aldrin in a million years.  To see him so vibrant & fresh at the age of 82 and with his adventurous spirit intact was a complete joy.  Anyway – enough old chat – here’s some of the interesting (to me anyway!) things he said on the day:

  • When asked why he wore his Omega Speedmaster on the Moon’s surface he said that it had been a personal gift from his government & being a watch man, he elected to strap it onto his wrist.  He did however go on to comment that when on the surface of the moon, the ability to know the local time in Houston, Texas was not that pressing.  He got a bit of a laugh with that comment.
  • On coping with fear he was very clear.  He said that unforeseen events can happen to anyone at any time but especially in combat situations (he was of course a decorated fighter pilot before becoming an astronaut).  His advice (maybe easier said than done for many people) is to stay calm & save your energy for when something happens & you need to do something about it.
  • He constantly reminded us that the Apollo missions had been a team effort involving hundreds of thousands of people all working towards a shared goal.  In terms of the USA putting a man on the moon, the goal was one publicly declared by the leader (JFK) and his specific order was that it was to take place before the end of the decade.  In 1963 everyone thought the goal was impossible but nevertheless “no-one was interested in failing” – what a priceless attitude.
  • His mother’s maiden name was Marion Moon.  I thought that was pretty weird – it isn’t that common a name.
  • He was given exactly the same name as his father at birth – Edwin Eugene Aldrin – and as a result was known as “Junior” when he was a child although his sisters called him Buzz.  He finally formally changed his name to Buzz in 1988 (quite an American thing to do I thought – but loveable – how awful to have the same name as one of your parents).  (I can say that with some authority…)

    Buzz Aldrin wearing his Omega Speedmaster on board Apollo 11

    Buzz Aldrin wearing his Omega Speedmaster on board Apollo 11

  • He’s passionate about STEM & talked about its importance in the school curriculum not once but twice.  He commented how disappointed he is that the US government does not, in his opinion, invest anything like enough money and attention into encouraging young students to study STEM subjects.  It’s the same in the UK.
  • Despite having a degree in aeronautics from MIT he wasn’t accepted onto the space programme the first time he applied as he hadn’t trained as a jet pilot; he persevered & once in the programme, was known to his peers as “Dr Rendezvous” because of his thesis work on “orbital space rendezvous”.
  • He was the first astronaut to use his experience as a scuba diver to train underwater; he went on to train others in these techniques (he showed us a recent photograph of him swimming with a whale shark in the Galapagos & advised us not to try this as it’s dangerous – the man’s 82!  He recently visited the site of the Titanic in a French submarine and he’s been to the North Pole in the last couple of years).
  • He wears a ring on his right hand in the shape of a planet and a crescent moon – you can see it in this photo – and check out his tie whilst you’re looking.
  • He was last man to board the command module and says he watched the sun rise as he climbed the gantry on 16 July 1969 and as he climbed, he reflected upon how wonderful his life had been; when he left the Eagle to begin his descent onto the Moon’s surface he closed the hatch over but didn’t shut it completely – I love that.
  • Being an engineer he loves computers (and his iPhone) but said that computers can make us lazy about reading books and he’s nervous that pretty soon a lot of people won’t know even the basics about how things (like cars for example) work.

The last of his quotes that I’ll leave you with is my favourite.  When asked what was the strangest thing he’d seen or felt in space he said “You know, when you’re on the Moon pretty much everything is unusual”.  Love it.

Olivia in the Soho House garden

Olivia in the Soho House garden

Thanks Buzz for being a complete inspiration all of my life and for being better in real life than I dared you would be.  Thanks to Alex Donaldson and Isabella Macpherson of Arts Co for squeezing Olivia & me onto the packed guest list and thanks to Ben Cackett of the Mayor of London’s office for organising such an amazing cultural programme to run in parallel to the London Olympic Games 2012 and for being such a wonderful host over the past two weeks.

Also – if you get an invite to a party at Soho House accept it at once.  It’s the coolest party venue in London and probably in the world.  Olivia & I believe it really is “Through the Looking Glass” & that footman on the front door really is a White Rabbit.  We checked the white flowers everywhere to see if they’d been painted…

Folks – there’s a lot more I didn’t write because it would have made the blog too long but if you ask questions in the comments I’ll do my best to answer them.  Buzz Aldrin answered 15 questions from the audience and he answered them thoughtfully & with considered & coherent lengthy answers plus I have a lot of notes.