Throughout our careers, we will face many situations, both good and unfavorable, and they will define how we see ourselves and our work.

It’s easy to get excited about being associated with projects, goals, and initiatives bigger than ourselves. From global brands to small businesses, we derive our value and even our identity, from who we work for and what we do.

But what happens when you get lost in your career and give your power away in the workplace? Often it happens when we think, what will happen if I say no, disagree, set boundaries, or ask for more?

Unfortunately that mindset ends up working against us because it assumes this fallacy: our value isn’t equal to the organization.

This belief is subtle, happening one decision at a time, when we make the choice to abandon what we know, and need, in favor of the organization’s requests, culture, or focus.

These are four areas I believe are important to examine to help ensure we recognize our worth in the workplace. 

The Interview

Forgetting our value can start during the interview process. If we’re worried so much about being good enough for the company that we forget that the position needs to be the right fit for us, we can easily discount what we bring to organizations.

To be clear, I firmly believe we should be ready to nail every interview and I’ve written guides on how to do that. The balance is recognizing that our time, skills, and professional needs should be prioritized more in the interview process.

Recognizing the value you bring involves looking at the interview not as one-sided but rather a two-sided conversation. You’ll spend a significant amount of time at work, applying your knowledge and expertise to benefit the company, so you should take the time to interview them as much you’re being interviewed.

Ask questions that are important to you – from culture, to growth opportunities, to social impact – so that it really is a process that you actively participate in to make a mutual decision along with the company that the role is the right fit.

It no longer is a passive interview process, where you show the company your best side and hope to be picked – you engage to ensure the company is the right pick for you

Salary Requirements

I talk about how nervous I was negotiating my salary early in my career in my book, and it still rings true with many women: we don’t negotiate our salary. Often we’re just happy to be offered the job and prioritize “not rocking the boat” or “not being seen as greedy” and opt not to ask for what our skill sets command in the market.

Making the choice to discount your expertise has serious ripple effects and can’t be taken lightly. If you consider the wage gap between women and men, which translates to millions of dollars over the course of a woman’s lifetime, this speaks volumes to the fiduciary duty you have to ask for the salary your skills command.

Furthermore, discounting your skills means ignoring the cost of acquiring them. Consider the cost of your education literally and the years spent acquiring your expertise – it has value that should be factored in when deciding on the salary you can accept. According to the American Association of University Women, women hold about two-thirds of the U.S. student loan debt, and black women have more debt when they complete their degree. Taking a lower salary can mean severely limiting the benefits of investing in the degree if you don’t have the salary that warranted the cost.

In addition, what you earn allows you to afford the lifestyle you desire for yourself and your family. Your current lifestyle, and the life you’ll live in retirement, is directly impacted by your income.

Ask for the salary that is commensurate with your skills – it’s absolutely the right thing to do for yourself. 

Setting Boundaries

There is a difference between wanting to do a great job or being a team player and not setting boundaries. However, it’s often a blurry line and really depends on whether the decision is one you willingly make and one you feel forced to make.

When we love what we do we gladly will work later sometimes or contribute more to help our teams. Or if the requirements of the job were clear upfront and we gladly accepted them, then it’s mutually agreed upon. But when we feel obligated to do things we would have not agreed to because we are afraid we won’t be viewed positively, fear losing our job, and other parts of our lives suffer – from our health to our family – it’s time to assess if we’re really making the right decisions.

The prioritization should always be on what can’t be replaced – you and those you love. When we recognize our value, and that we are contributors to our organizations and not owned by them, we can give ourselves space and freedom to create healthy boundaries. This is not an easy shift – it requires you to recognize that your value is not based on one company.

Knowing When to Walk Away

Women are everyday superheroes. We have invisible capes on, often ready to save the world, from our families, friends, and those in need – it’s the internal instinct many of us have. The challenge becomes knowing when we simply can’t save a situation and that it’s better to walk away.

Knowing when to walk away from an organization means validating the belief that the season of being at the organization is passed and requires us to move on. Sometimes we’re staying in organizations to prove that we are loyal, only to our detriment. It doesn’t have to be toxic either – it can simply be no longer what is best for you.

Being able to do that requires knowing that you are worth a job that is satisfying or fits the season of life you’re in. It can be challenging to move on from what’s familiar, from colleagues to perks or benefits you enjoyed, but your overall wellbeing is worth it.

Are you recognizing your worth in the workplace? What areas do you think you can improve to do so?