In 1999, I was the Director of Organizational Development at Yale. I had only been there for six-months, when I was recruited by another Ivy League school for the same position.

I’m a Yale School of Management graduate, and I met my husband at the time at the Yale graduate student bar and social center. My son was born at Yale New Haven Hospital, and I had been living in New Haven, Conn. since 1984. I had deep roots in New Haven. More importantly, I loved my new job and I had one of the best bosses I had ever had in my career — the head of HR for Yale.

The job’s purpose and potential mattered a great deal to me philosophically. I cared about Yale, and I cared about making it a better place for people who worked there.

Given all these reasons to be at Yale, I declined the offer to interview at the other institution.

Over dinner, shortly after declining the offer, my husband said to me, “You’re going to speak to your boss, right?” I said, “Why?”

“For two reasons,” he said. “One — the Ivy League community is small. Secondly — you should ask for a raise.”

It had not occurred to me to parlay the recruitment attempt into more pay and it felt like a mild sort of blackmail or threat, but I saw my husband’s point and knew that a man would probably not hesitate to do so. It still didn’t feel quite right but I did go to my boss.

I told him about the offer to interview and told him that I already declined it, and I was not looking for anything from Yale. I just wanted him to know that the other school had reached out to me in case he encountered someone from there who might mention it to him. Without skipping a beat, my boss responded, “I’m increasing your pay.”

I have used the insights from this scenario throughout my career when I coach executive women. It’s not about “blackmail” or threats; it’s recognizing that the market values your talents and is willing to pay you more than what you’re making. It’s information that you might be underpaid. Sometimes, it’s an opportunity to ask for a change in title or a change in breadth of responsibility; it’s not always about the money.

But it is a cue to have a conversation with your boss, no matter what.


  • Laura Freebairn Smith


    Organizational Performance Group

    Laura Freebairn-Smith has been a consultant for such distinguished companies as the New York Times and People’s Bank. Her specialty is assisting leaders in realizing the full potential of their organizations through humanistic and analytical practices, while offering guidance in the redesign of infrastructure, the creation of strategic plans, and with organizational development. Laura currently teaches leadership at Yale’s Drama School, and diversity and team building in the Executive MBA program at Yale’s School of Management. Prior to that, she served as Director of Yale’s Organizational Development and Learning Center, which she helped create. Laura’s credentials include a BA from UC Berkeley (Philosophy and Political Science) and an MBA from the Yale School of Management. She holds a doctorate in Organizational Systems from Saybrook Institute and has published articles and chapters on organizational development topics, most recently on the issue of stereotyping in the workplace.