MONEY pay gap

3 Ways Women Can Make Sure They Get the Raises They Deserve

hand helping hand
DAJ—Getty Images/amana images

Career coach Caroline Ceniza-Levine weighs in on the controversial comments made by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella last week. Her take: They underscore the need for women to find sponsors and sponsor others.

I imagine that the savvy, self-starting executive women of Microsoft felt particularly deflated by CEO Satya Nadella’s recent remarks (later withdrawn) that women shouldn’t negotiate for more money. Here they are most likely doing all the prescribed “right” things:

  1. Entering a high-growth industry, such as tech
  2. Working for a brand-name firm, like Microsoft
  3. Proactively working on their negotiating skills

…and then BAM! Here comes Nadella essentially saying that they should just wait for the system to even out the gender pay gap. If the CEO isn’t going to support your efforts, why even bother?

Actually this is precisely why you should bother with all of the proactive hard work. Your effort and skills belong to you, and you can take them somewhere else if you should hit a brick wall.

Sure, Satya Nadella’s unfortunate admission shows that a CEO of a major corporation may thwart your efforts just as a mid-level manager or even a narrow-minded friend (in the guise of well-meaning advice) might. You may not get the support you expect. But if you keep doing the prescribed “right” things below, you will collect some supporters to your cause along the way—including more open-minded, equitable executive sponsors.

Create an amazing body of work

It still starts with getting results, establishing your expertise, and contributing to the bottom line. Don’t let your own work product suffer because there is someone at the top of your company who doesn’t care—others do care and are watching for promotion-worthy candidates. You want your name to surface.

But you cannot simply let your accomplishments stand for themselves. You need to advocate for your them, to ensure they are recognized. See my previous post on preparing for your next review for step-by-step instructions on making sure you get your due.

Build a strategic and supportive network

So Nadella is out of step, and there are probably other CEO’s who share his view. But there will be men and women—at every level, in every industry, in every functional area—who are supportive.

I once had a banker at a big-name firm encourage me to “follow my heart” and take an unexpected career turn, even if it meant turning down his firm’s offer. He was so supportive and generous and gave me courage when I needed it most—and this was a BANKER! If I managed to find a mentor with a heart of gold in that industry, there will certainly be supportive senior people in any industry.

Find them. Enroll their support.

Be a strategic and supportive of others

Be the anti-Nadella. Don’t just throw your hands up at the amorphous system; proactively help others along and do your part to change the game.

Pick the smart but shy person in your group and plan to call on that person in the meeting; let the person know what you will ask so they have a chance to prepare. Think of that colleague from another department who always helps you and write a commendation to her (or his) manager, cc’ing the person you’re writing about. Return to your alma mater for a networking event or career talk.

As you build your amazing career and advocate for yourself, reach back and better the system for others.

 

Caroline Ceniza-Levine is co-founder of SixFigureStart®career coaching. She has worked with professionals from American Express, Condé Nast, Gilt, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, and other leading firms. She’s also a stand-up comic. This column appears weekly.

Read more from Caroline Ceniza-Levine:

TIME women

6 Items You Should Wear To Achieve World Domination

Shirt on hanger
Getty Images

What kind of clothing makes you feel most powerful?

xojane

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

This story originally started out as a fashion guide for ambitious women… until I got power-hungry. Now it’s about taking over the world.

Maybe I got a little too pumped up by the playlist I was listening to while writing, but I suddenly felt like ambition wasn’t enough. It’s time to rewrite the rules — it’s time to completely own shit! And if you want to take over the world, you need the right wardrobe to do it. Here’s what I’ll be wearing on my path to world domination.

1. Something Super-Feminine

Let’s shove aside this tired idea that menswear-inspired clothing is the only way to show you’re serious. Put on the girliest dress in the gauziest, ruffle-covered fabric with tights, or a velvety bodycon number (that’s office-appropriate) and wear it to work, sit at that board meeting and make a few people uncomfortable in your frilly blouse.

Femininity can be powerful and what’s more powerful than a woman being comfortable with that?

2. Chunky Heels

The sound of feet stomping is commanding. Whether it comes from a marching military or the loud stomp of your upstairs neighbor, it makes you aware of a person, sometimes without even seeing them.

My wishlist is full of them. There’s something about a chunky heel that makes me want to spend my entire paycheck on nothing but them. World domination starts with a sturdy foundation and what’s sturdier than a chunky heel?

3. Futuristic Fabrics

My favorite versions of the future are “The Jetsons” and 2001: A Space Odyssey. I like the stark white of the latter and the fun and flying cars of the former.

Why not get dressed for the future while thinking of the future, even if it’s a very distant one? Think of what you’d wear if it were 2214, or better yet, try to think of yourself as completely different being. The future alien you is infallible — a cold, emotionless robot who’s formidable and incredibly intelligent. Imagine efficient, sleek clothing made from newly invented material, doing everything with extreme precision while dressed in neoprene and vinyl.

4. Oversized Everything

Sometimes the world is like that guy on the subway who takes up two seats because he wants to sit with his legs wide open like he owns the place and there’s no space for you. Demand your space, and take it in an oversized coat. Sit down and “accidentally” hit him with your larger-than-life purse. If there’s no room for you, then make room.

5. Mysterious Sunglasses

Regardless of why Anna Wintour constantly wears those sunglasses, they are now a part of her legend. People have come up with their own reasons for why she’s never seen without them, and the thing that’s clear from all of this is that those sunglasses make it hard to read her emotions, and that scares people.

Personally, I love it. When people have no idea what someone else is thinking it kills them. In Anna’s case it’s constantly analyzed, people gossip and write articles about it. I bet she’s sitting in her office now, laughing at all the rumours going around, her legend spreading, and all she had to do was toss on a pair of sunglasses. So, wear a stony expression, put on a pair of sunglasses or an oversized hat — anything that will hide part of your face — and let the world create your myth.

6. Eccentric Details

Eccentrics make life a lot more fun. Eccentrics are captivating, but not always the loudest, most aggressive person in the group (look at Bill Cunningham.) Buy a vibrant plaid suit and wear it with a printed blouse. Find something Commes Des Garçon or Margiela-inspired and wear it in an unexpected way. Look to other fashion eccentrics like Isabella Blow, Leigh Bowery and Anna Piaggi. Wear an all-silk pajama look to the office, the absurd hat you just purchased, or the Bond Hardware accessory you’ve been dying to show off.

So, for those of you who may be wallflowers but still want to take over the world, there’s no better way to make a statement than through clothing.

What kind of clothing makes you feel most powerful?

Sydney Scott is a writer and fashion and beauty enthusiast.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME feminism

It’s Not Just You. Feminism Does Seem To Be Getting Weirder.

Women support feminism
Getty Images

How can we move feminism forward?

It’s not just you. Feminism does seem to be getting weirder. On one hand, an increasingly diverse chorus of academic, pop culture, and male voices is claiming the F-word label. On the other, it can sometimes look like this diverse set of voices — each with its own set of demands and priorities — will doom the movement through internecine warfare over everything from abortion to hashtag activism. But many roads have diverged in feminism’s yellow wood throughout its history. Being at a crossroad doesn’t mean that feminists should be paralyzed by fear of making a bad choice or going in a “wrong” direction.

To Salamishah Tillet, a cultural critic and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, feminism itself is a crossroad, because it is an intersection — where structural oppressions embedded in gender, race, sexuality and all forms of difference collide. For women of color and others for whom intersectionality is a way of life, feminism has and should always be that crossroad. As we look to the future with all these new feminists joining the ranks, the key question is: how can we honor, learn from, and draw upon the experiences of all kinds of women in order to form coalitions and move feminism forward? Recently, we’ve started to hear some answers. Judith Shulevitz and Rebecca Traister, senior editors at The New Republic who wrote a recent cover story on the future of feminism, each offered two potential areas of common ground that could provide cornerstones for coalition-building: easing the exploitation of caregivers and mandating paid family and sick leave, respectively.

In a conversation at New America NYC, Tillet, Shulevitz, and Traister took on two of the most divisive questions confronting feminists today, questions that seem poised to threaten feminism’s foundations and its future: how to combat sexual violence against women and girls and how to situate or address celebrity feminism, embodied by Beyoncé and Sheryl Sandberg. These are two women who, according to moderator and Jezebel founder Anna Holmes, “make people’s heads explode when it comes to feminism.” While affirming that sexual violence is feminism’s sine qua non, Shulevitz raised eyebrows on the panel and in the audience by drawing distinctions between “campus rape” and “true atrocity” abroad. Even when her co-panelists objected, Shulevitz insisted that campus rape is “of a different order” than forms of sexual violence experienced by women outside the developed world. Traister countered by expressing her uneasiness with making such comparisons, which she said imply an unproductive difference between similar things instead of including both on a spectrum of systemic oppression. Tillet drew from her experience as a survivor of rape both on campus and abroad in Kenya to insist, “This moment [in which campus rape is generating media and policy attention] was so hard fought.” She gave special recognition to the foundation of global and national activism and organizing that has culminated in today’s younger women using Title IX as a new weapon to insist on safety and redress as a form of parity required under the law.

On the subject of celebrity feminism, Traister, who admittedly “hates talking about Sheryl Sandberg” and “doesn’t want to make her the face of feminism,” identified the most radical feature of Lean In as its insistence on an equal partnership that does not include stay-at-home parenting. Tillet, who in a few weeks will deliver the guest “Beyoncé lecture” to Michael Eric Dyson’s class on Jay-Z at Georgetown, offered a key insight on celebrity feminism: she suggested that because of their celebrity status, women like Sandberg and Beyoncé are forced to become “icons” at the stage when other women are still figuring out their own feminist identities (“The Feminism 101 moment,” interjected Traister). Wouldn’t it be a more interesting story, Tillet asked, if Sandberg revealed ways in which not calling herself a feminist affords women like her privilege in male-dominated worlds like tech? Picking up on celebrity feminism and the much-discussed question of who should get to speak for women, Shulevitz had one of the most-Tweeted lines of the night when she declared, “What I’m sick of is editorializing. What I’m looking for is pamphleteering. I want women to be writing manifestos.”

The final question from the audience echoed the panelists’ palpable frustration about where feminism is and whether it’s helping women in tangible ways. “I’m 63,” this audience member noted, “and I want to know what you’re going to do by the time you’re my age to get us there.” For Traister, potential for change lies in what she observes as the mass social shift in the “absolute remaking” of the family (the subject of her forthcoming book).

“Getting us there” also requires finding new sources of fuel to power feminism’s engines. Tillet, like one of her mentors, Gloria Steinem, draws energy from inter-generational collaboration with fellow feminists. The answer to so many of feminism’s trickiest questions, she indicated, lies in the ability to use those collaborations to create and circulate powerful narratives, and to renew them again and again and again.

Jane Greenway Carr is an ACLS Public Fellow and Contributing Editor at New America. She holds a PhD from NYU, where she has been a lecturer and done research at the intersections between U.S. literary and cultural history and social and political activism. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY Careers

Microsoft’s CEO Wasn’t the Only Male Exec to Say Something Clueless About Women This Week

Microsoft Satya Nadella gives a lecture about dream, struggle and creation at Tsinghua University on September 25, 2014 in Beijing, China.
Microsoft CEO Sayta Nadella isn't smiling after his comments about women in the workplace were universally panned. ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images

Yesterday, Microsoft's CEO said something really wrong about women. But he's just one of a number of tech executives to make similar gaffes in the last few days.

Updated—3:52 P.M.

This has not been a great week when it comes to equality in the workplace. On Thursday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made waves when he advised women against asking for pay bumps. “It’s not really about asking for the raise,” he told a mostly female audience at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, “but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along.”

By Thursday night, Nadella was in full damage-control mode, renouncing his previous statement in an email to Microsoft staff. “If you think you deserve a raise, you should just ask,” he wrote.

It’s good that Nadella acknowledged his mistake, but the gaffe shows how many in the business world still have difficulty understanding the prejudices faced by their female colleagues. And as our colleague Margaret Magnarelli points out, “he still doesn’t realize it’s not as simple as ‘just asking’ for us.”

What’s more, the Microsoft chief wasn’t the only boss even in the past few days to make clueless comments about how women should behave in the workplace. Earlier at the same conference, a group of male execs from Facebook, Google, GoDaddy, and Intuit participated in a panel purporting to offer tips on how both men and women could help stamp out tech’s bro-centric culture. A video of the event is available here, and Readwrite gave the blow-by-blow.

It did not go well. Here are a few of the most most off-base observations:

“It’s more expensive to hire women, because the population is smaller.” – Mike Schroepfer, CTO of Facebook

Actually, it’s not. While Schroepfer was trying to say that it’s more expensive to recruit women because they are underrepresented in computer science, it’s been widely reported that women make 78% of what men make. This is the so-called gender pay gap.

And yes, the gap persists even in the supposedly meritocratic tech world: According to a recent analysis of Census data, men with a graduate or professional degree working in Silicon Valley earn 73% more than women with the same degrees working in the same industry.

While some of the pay gap is explained by factors like experience level and industry choice, economists Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn found that even when you control for those factors, 41% of the gap remains “unexplained.”

In fact, at a conference last month, Australian tech mogul Evan Thornley made the opposite point: that women are “Like Men, Only Cheaper.” That quote comes directly from his slideshow. “Call me opportunistic,” he elaborated, “I thought I could get better people with less competition because we were willing to understand the skills and capabilities that many of these women had.” Thornley later apologized.

“The only thing I would add is speak up … Speak up, be confident.” – Blake Irving, CEO of GoDaddy

This isn’t bad advice by itself — studies have shown that women who self-promote and negotiate harder do end up with with higher salaries — but like Nadella’s email to employees, it fails to acknowledge that women are often punished when they do speak up. “Assertive or competitive qualities are usually associated with men, and are thought to be essential for successful leaders. But for women, they can be a landmine,” said Daina Middleton, global CEO of Performics, in an interview with Fast Company.

Need evidence? Economist Linda Babcock ran a study where she videotaped men and women asking for raises using the exact same script. Viewers of the tape agreed that the man deserved the raise. But they did not like the woman who asked for the exact same thing, in the exact same way.

“People found that to be way too aggressive,” Babcock told NPR. “She was successful in getting the money, but people did not like her. They thought she was too demanding. And this can have real consequences for a woman’s career.”

Other data suggests that women entrepreneurs also get turned down more often than men do. One study found that investors are more likely to accept pitches from male entrepreneurial teams than from female teams — even if they’re making the exact same pitch. In another study, business school students read a prospectus for a mock company. In some versions, the CEO was listed as male; in others, the CEO was female. The students were four times more likely to recommend the company led by the male CEO.

“It will be twice as hard for you … but you can make a big difference in your company.” – Alan Eustace, senior vice president of search at Google

True, but unfortunately women are often absent from the kind of high level positions that would allow them to “make a big difference.” Only 4.8% of Fortune 500 CEOs are female — and those 24 women represent a record high.

Women already know it’s at least twice as hard for them to succeed. They just wish business leaders would do something about it.

To Eustace’s great credit, he acknowledged the panel’s issues on Twitter and made a great suggestion for future male allies.

 

MONEY pay gap

Why Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella STILL Has It Wrong on Raises for Women

Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella
Manish Swarup—AP

The exec has taken back his comments that we should count on karma to boost our salary, but that doesn't mean he gets what it means to be a female at work today.

Easy for a dude to say that women should have “faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along.” Especially a dude who makes $7.6 million and sits at the top of one of America’s largest companies.

But Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who made that comment in answer to a question about how women should ask for a salary increase—in front of a room full of women at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing on Thursday—at least seems to have realized the error of his statement.

On his blog last night, he acknowledged:

I answered that question completely wrong. Without a doubt I wholeheartedly support programs at Microsoft and in the industry that bring more women into technology and close the pay gap. I believe men and women should get equal pay for equal work. And when it comes to career advice on getting a raise when you think it’s deserved, Maria’s [Maria Klawe, computer scientist and moderator] advice was the right advice. If you think you deserve a raise, you should just ask.

Great that he owned the mistake. But what’s worse, the fact that he didn’t realize that women are paid 22 cents less on the dollar than our male peers—or the fact that he still doesn’t realize it’s not as simple as “just asking” for us?

Yes, We Pay a Penalty for Not Asking

Assuming you care remotely about women’s issues, you’ve seen the research showing that few women negotiate salaries. (By the by, it goes all the way up the ladder. Nadella’s fellow C-suiter GM’s Mary Barra noted at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit that she had never in her career asked for a raise. The emcee then polled the audience on how many of them also had never asked, and “the majority of the conference’s high-powered female attendees raised their hands,” according to Fortune‘s Broadsheet.)

Our reticence has a compounding effect over our careers. By not asking right off the bat, Carnegie Mellon economics professor Linda Babcock has said, we leave lost earnings “anywhere between $1 million and $1.5 million” on the table.

But We Pay a Penalty for Asking, Too

Yet Babcock’s research found that we may be on to something with our sense of caution. Simply stating the case for why we deserve a raise doesn’t tend to get women to the same result as it does men. In fact, it can actually hamper our career progress.

For a study published in 2005, Babcock and Hannah Riley Bowles, a senior lecturer in public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School, asked participants to watch videos of men and women asking for a raise. The guys and gals in the video used the exact same scripts.

The result? Participants liked the men and agreed to give them the bump in pay, but found the women too aggressive. While they gave her the raise, they did not like her. In particular, male study participants were less willing to want to work with the female negotiator.

We know that being well liked—a quality we women struggle with starting from the first grade-school birthday party we’re not invited to—is also key to getting ahead. So we’re caught between a high heel and a hard place.

Or, as Joan Williams, founding director of the Center for WorkLife Law, put it in The Huffington Post,

If women act too feminine and don’t ask, they end up with lower salaries. If they act too masculine and ask, then people don’t want to work with them. Women walk a tightrope between being too feminine and too masculine. Men don’t, which is one reason why office politics are trickier for women than for men.

So We Have to Give an Oscar-Winning Performance to Get What We Want

The research Babcock and Riley Bowles have done has found that women have to be more, well, “womanly” in their approach in order to get the raises and promotions that they deserve and come out the other side smelling like a rose.

You know—positive, solicitous, and putting others first. Less shark, more 1950s housewife.

Acknowledging herself that these findings are “depressing,” Babcock (along with Riley Bowles) concluded that being collaborative—trying to take the perspective of the company and hiring manager and using “we” statements instead of “I”—tends to be more effective than other approaches. They’ve also emphasized trying to be “authentic” by using language that feels comfortable.

That doesn’t feel the same as “just ask”—it requires us to act a part when what we simply want is for our managers to respect us as workers and people in a gender-neutral way.

We want to be able to walk in and say, “I brought in $2 million in business this year and am underpaid relative to my position,” and be better paid and just as well liked at the end of it.

You know, like a dude.

Related:
5 Ways Women Can Close the Pay Gap for Themselves
When She Makes More: How to Level the Financial Playing Field

TIME gender

Microsoft’s Leadership Is Less Than 20% Female

Microsoft Corp Chief Executive Officer Satya NadellaSpeaks At Company Event
Satya Nadella, chief executive officer of Microsoft Corp., speaks to students during the Microsoft Talent India conference in New Delhi, India, on Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

The company released diversity numbers just days before CEO Satya Nadella was lambasted for dissuaded women from asking for raises

Microsoft’s leadership is only 17.3% female, according to diversity numbers the company released Oct. 3, while women make up less than 30% of the entire company as a whole.

Those numbers are coming under new scrutiny after Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was the target of severe backlash Thursday night after he suggested women should rely on “good karma” for promotions instead of directly asking for a raise.

“It’s not really about asking for a raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will give you the right raise,” Nadella said at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing on Thursday. “That might be one of the initial ‘super powers’ that, quite frankly, women [who] don’t ask for a raise have. . . . It’s good karma. It will come back.”

Nadella apologized hours later in a tweet and a longer email to Microsoft staff, saying the comment was “inarticulate.”

According to the diversity numbers, women make up almost 45% of the non-tech jobs at Microsoft, but only 17% of the tech positions.

MORE: Microsoft’s CEO Tells Women It’s Bad Karma to Ask For a Raise

 

TIME women

Doing Shots in Vegas—The IVF Kind

Las Vegas sign
ranplett—Getty Images/Vetta

Who needs a man to get pregnant when you've got a lemon drop shot in one hand and a fertility shot in the other?

When people talk about doing shots in Vegas, this isn’t what they have in mind. But on a Tuesday night in July, I sat at the black granite dressing table in a bathroom at the Palazzo, my bikini still damp from the pool, and prepared to jab myself in the abdomen.

I had been thinking about freezing my eggs for a long time. At 38, happily single with a career just starting to take off and a lot of travel in my immediate future, I knew I wasn’t ready to start a family. But since I want a child of my own some day, I figured now was the time to freeze my eggs.

Once I’d decided on the procedure, I told all of my close friends. At first I felt sheepish, as if the decision signaled that I had “given up” on finding a partner. The traditional model of an American woman’s path to happiness and a family, reinforced in movies and television, does not leave much room for deviation. It feels as if the options are black and white—either you follow the traditional path (love, marriage, baby) or you’re a spinster with cats.

Luckily everyone—my parents, friends, and colleagues—was incredibly supportive. My friend Briita even texted me emoji of hypodermic needles and chicken eggs.

After getting over the exorbitant cost—the biggest barrier to egg freezing—my greatest fear was giving myself the shots. I imagined maneuvering giant horse needles into my butt, jabbing backward into the skin like puncturing a watermelon with a bread knife. Instead, the needle I held in the Vegas hotel bathroom was shorter than my thumbnail, and slid into the skin of my abdomen nearly effortlessly.

When Briita invited me to join her for a weekend in Vegas, I almost didn’t go because it was going to be the first night of my injections. But I figured if I had to do them, Vegas would be as good a place as anywhere.

Briita and I discussed the procedure poolside, lounging in the warm desert sun. Glancing at my watch, I realized the two-hour window for the injection time, which started at 6 p.m., was approaching. Briita gave me the idea to commemorate my first one: a shot for a shot.

A waitress came over, and we considered what kind of liquid encouragement was appropriate for my first stab into motherhood. “A lemon drop shot,” said Briita.

The drink arrived in a plastic mini-Solo cup. The purist in me wanted a real shot glass, but this would do.

“Do you want me to go with you?” Briita asked, her voice dropping, the words coming out more slowly and carefully, as if she wanted to offer her help but wasn’t exactly sure of the protocol.

“No, it’s fine. I got this. I’ll text you if I need help.”

Drink in hand, I went up to our palatial hotel room and retrieved my box of Follistim cartridges from its minibar perch on top of tiny cans of Red Bull and Heineken. I meticulously went through all the prepping steps, watching and re-watching YouTube instructional videos produced by fertility clinics, which usually featured married white couples with the husband administering the shot. They zoomed in on weirdly manicured and disembodied hands dialing back the dosage on the injection pen as if it were a gold watch on QVC.

The unofficial videos on YouTube by regular people were far more relatable. If a woman sitting at her computer could slide a needle into a soft roll of fat while talking to a camera without skipping a beat, then I knew I could do it. These women talked frankly about their fertility, the challenges of IVF, and the unexpected side effects. There were women struggling with infertility wishing each other good luck and “baby dust,” message boards where you could find “cycling partners” who were on the same hormone schedule, and endless tips about how to make the shots easier.

Pumping the music out of my iPhone (I had built an injection playlist that included Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name” and LMFAO’s “Shots”), I laid out some paper towels on a “clean, flat surface,” sang along to the refrains, and giggled at every “shot” reference. Silly puns, it turns out, have great healing value. Aging, single motherhood, infertility, fear of dying alone—these issues are serious enough. When they’re coupled with a syringefest reminiscent of a scene from Pulp Fiction, you don’t need any more fear and trepidation. You need Pat Benatar, cranked up. There is something incredibly rewarding about drawing a deep breath, putting “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” on replay, and just getting it done.

I took a swig of the lemon drop shot with my left hand and steadied the needle with my right. I made two aborted attempts. And then I sank the needle into my belly, released the pinch of skin I was holding, and slowly pushed the medicine into my body. I counted to five, pulled out the needle, and began celebrating.

Las Vegas is such an impossible, unlikely place, a neon metropolis in the middle of the desert. Equally marvelous and unlikely is the technology that allows me to safely retrieve and freeze my eggs for future use, without a single incision. Because egg freezing only recently lost its “experimental” status and the success rates are not as well known as with embryo freezing, I decided to keep my options open and freeze both eggs and embryos. It feels a little bit like I’m living in a science fiction novel.

Now, a few months post-retrieval, I wonder when and how I will decide to use the eggs I’ve just nourished, protected, collected, and frozen. It’s possible I’ll meet someone and have children the traditional way. It’s possible I’ll marry in time for one child, but need to return to my frozen eggs for a second one. It’s possible I’ll decide to be a single mother, the way my mother was for many years. It’s possible I’ll adopt or decide not to have children at all, and be equally happy. But if I do have a daughter or son some day from the eggs I retrieved, I look forward to telling my child about the unexpected summer night in Vegas when it all started.

Tara Prescott is a lecturer in writing programs and faculty in residence at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is co-editor of Feminism in the Worlds of Neil Gaiman and editor of Neil Gaiman in the Twenty-first Century, to be released by McFarland & Company in 2015.

This piece originally appeared on Zócalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME women

I Was an Elite Female Firefighter

Forest fire and helicopter
Erik Simonsen—Getty Images

A female hotshot may spend six months a year out in the woods with 18 hot-as-hell firefighters, but if she acts like she’s in her own private season of “The Bachelorette,” she’s going to lose their respect with the quickness

xojane

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

The sound of my squad boss’s voice invaded my sleep. “Spot fire! Spot fire! Get up! Hustle! Hustle!” I pried open my eyes and tried to orient myself. I was lying in the ash of a forest fire, curved for warmth around a small, smoldering stump. Around me members of my elite Pike Hotshot Crew rubbed their eyes and pulled on their packs as they lurched to their feet. I glanced at my watch. It was 6 am. Other than the brief nap we’d just had, my crew and I had been working to fight a raging wildfire on the Angeles National Forest for 24 hours straight.

I jumped to my feet and joined the line of my crew members hiking hard and fast towards a large spot fire that had sprung up in a flat of manzanita, a tangled, fast burning brush native to California. If we didn’t dig a fireline around the spot fire in a hurry, the fire would likely explode, and there was no safety zone we could retreat to easily.

Another day in my life as a wildland firefighter had just begun.

When I arrived to start work as a wildland firefighter on the Pike Hotshot Crew, I had only been camping a couple of times. I’d rarely gone more than two days without a shower. I didn’t even know how to dry brush my teeth. I knew that soon I would hike up and down mountains towards raging wildfires with a 40 lbs. pack on my back. I would suck smoke, and dig fireline for 15 hours a day, and sleep in the ash. I would go two weeks at a time without a shower. I would spend every waking moment with my crewmembers. I knew a little bit of what I was in for, and I was excited and afraid.

When I parked my car at the Pike Fire Center, a cluster of old cabins built in the mountains of the Pike National Forest in Colorado, I was nervous as hell. As I stepped out of the car I heard voices yelling at me, “Make way for the rookie! Rookie on the deck!”

I glanced around, but saw no one — just a life-sized Smokey the Bear cutout that said, “Welcome to the Pike Interagency Hotshot Crew.” Whoever was yelling at me was doing so from the cover of the old wooden buildings surrounding me. I took a deep breath and headed for the bunkhouse, where I would live with the other members of my crew for the next two fire seasons.

When I met my fellow hotshots, the men barely lifted their chins at me. Most couldn’t be bothered to even say, “Hey.” They looked me over, and their looks said, “We’ll see how you do.”

Most of them were from rural Colorado or Wyoming. They had grown up out in the woods. They dipped tobacco and drank Coors. They knew how to swing a Pulaski and run a chainsaw. They could gut a deer, and start a campfire with no matches. I, on the other hand, grew up in Austin, Texas — a hipster and hippie haven — and had just graduated from a small liberal arts college. I loved Kathleen Hanna and films by Jim Jarmusch, novels by Virginia Woolf and micro-brew.

And I was a woman — I would be one of only three women on the 20-person crew that year. All-male crews were generally considered tougher than crews that included a female or two. The hotshots did not give me a warm welcome.

But let me make it clear: No one arriving on a hotshot crew — male or female — gets a warm welcome. Hotshot crews are clannish. The work is so dangerous that no hotshot wants someone on their crew who can’t handle the stress, demands, and dangers of the fireline.

“Hotshots are the best-trained and best-equipped wildland firefighters, sometimes referred to as the Navy SEALs of their profession,” says Rolling Stone magazine. The world of hotshotting is an insular, masculine and exhilarating place. Crewmembers have to trust each other with their lives on a daily basis. And so the guys on my crew wanted to wait and see what I was made of before they gave me even a smile of encouragement.

I’d trained hard, and so I held my own on the initial physical fitness tests. By the time we were called out to our first fire, my crew had seen me keep up on hard training hikes, dig some practice fireline (rather badly at first, but with enthusiasm), and get hammered with them at several crew parties.

I had not hooked up with any of them. Female friends with wildfire experience had warned me against beginning any sort of romantic involvement with a crewmember. A female hotshot may spend six months a year out in the woods with 18 hot-as-hell firefighters, but if she acts like she’s in her own private season of “The Bachelorette,” she’s going to lose their respect with the quickness. Were many of my crewmates ripped and beautiful and manly and sexy as hell? You bet. Did I pretend like I didn’t notice? Absolutely. In fact, I realized soon enough that I would fit in best if my crewmates more or less forgot I was a woman at all.

We finished our training and were soon dispatched to our first fire. After driving for hours through the night, we stopped and slept on the ground outside of a Forest Service District Office for a few hours. We woke up before dawn. My teeth felt furry. I went in search of a bathroom and running water. When I came out of the district office, all four rigs were idling. Everyone was loaded up, waiting for me. I ran towards the rigs and jumped in. “What in the hell were you doing, rookie?” my crewmates asked.

“I was looking for a sink,” I said. “I needed to brush my teeth.” My crewmates gave me hell for that small fail for a long, long time. And I was never late getting to the rigs again.

We arrived at fire camp as the sun began to rise. We loaded into helicopters that flew us up onto a mesa where a wildfire burned through the piñon juniper. We hiked in to the fire and got to work. The sawyers on my crew used their chainsaws to open up a 15-foot space in the tree canopy called a “sawline.” With the other diggers on my crew, I helped to dig a shallow trench or “fireline” underneath the sawline. I bent over and swung my fire tool, helping to scrape a 24-inch fireline. My hard hat tilted on my head, perilously close to falling off. Sweat ran stinging into my eyes. Within 15 minutes, I was desperately out of breath, and felt like I might keel over.

In the following days, the palms of my hands blistered. My entire crew was doused with fire retardant dropped by a “slurry bomber” airplane. We were covered in sweat and dirt and ash, and none of us got a shower. And one afternoon we had to run full speed to our safety zone to escape the 200-foot flames crowning through the treetops. For at least 12 hours a day, I swung my fire tool, and at night I lay on the ground in my sleeping bag— not even bothering to put up a tent — and I slept like the dead.

But a few days into the work, I began to find my rhythm.

In my two seasons on the hotshot crew, my crewmates and I often saved each others’ lives — so often that it was sometimes not even commented on after the fact. We did so by calling out when a burning tree crashed to the ground unexpectedly, by yelling for someone to get out of the way of a falling boulder. If one of us tripped and fell into a stand of burning chaparral, someone else would yank the fallen back to his or her feet before s/he was burned.

Once, when I was pushing over a tree stump that my friend Mark O’Shea was cutting with a chainsaw, I lost my balance and fell with my arms outstretched toward the roaring saw blade. Both of my hands would have been cut off by the chainsaw if O’Shea had not thrown the saw away from us.

The danger that my crewmates and I survived together bonded us. And we grew to love each other. And I got used to basically being a dude. My hotshot buddies would cut warts off my leg with a Leatherman, or ask me how my crap in the woods had gone. And I’d tell them.

Once I was accepted by my crewmates, I did eventually break the golden rule of firefighting and hooked up with one of my buddies (albeit discretely). While it caused ripples of teasing and even some disdain, it didn’t essentially capsize my standing on the crew.

When I left the crew after two years, it was in part because I wanted to hunker down and write a novel inspired by the adventures we had together, and by the challenges of finding a place of belonging as a woman on a hotshot crew. My novel “Wildfire” has just been published, and is dedicated to my friends on my crew. (“Wildfire” has been optioned for film as well, and I’ve written the script. I’ve found out that that only 10% of screenwriters of major motion pictures are female — probably even less than the percentage of female hotshots fighting wildfires. And that’s something we got to change.)

If my life falls apart tomorrow, and I find myself in need of shelter and support, I know that I could show up on the doorstep of a friend with whom I fought fire. I know that he and his wife would take me in. And that’s a sort of miracle.

Mary Pauline Lowry is an author living in Southern California.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Family

My Mother Died Three Months Ago and I’m Still Figuring Out How To Grieve for Her

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It's hard to get out of bed, most days. I am drowning in her

xojane

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

This has been, to date, the most difficult essay I’ve ever written. Usually, I can bang one out in a day or two. A week, even. But writing about the death of my mother has been a series of stops and starts, deletions and revisions. How do you write about something that feels as if it happened yesterday and not three months ago? How do you distill grief and heartache in a few paragraphs?

It’s hard to get out of bed, most days. There’s a heaviness in the air, and it’s hard to breathe. Sometimes the grief paralyzes me. I’ll lay in bed and stare at the ceiling, silently willing myself to get up and start the day.

“Mommy, I wanna see grandma.” The toddler always makes this demand casually, usually as I’m picking him up from school or fixing him dinner. Sometimes he’ll ask looking up from his tablet while watching one of his favorite shows. Three months later and I still can’t find the words to tell him she’s gone for good. “We can’t see her right now,” I’ll say, knowing that in a few minutes he’ll forget he asked.

For two months, I’ve been staring at a cardboard box. It is roughly 5×7, and it’s blue. It contains what is left of the woman who taught me everything from tying my shoes to picking greens. Her last name is misspelled on the side. The blue box sits on a shelf in my bedroom, amid books and clothes. Boxes filled with her personal effects crowd the hallway of my apartment. Furniture from her oversized studio take up my dining room. Pictures from her photo albums are strewn across a table in the living room, the same table where I ate dinner until I went away to college. The “Thank You” cards I bought a week after her memorial are in a bag on my desk, untouched.

Every morning I’m greeted by these reminders, and I summon the strength to navigate around them. I will occasionally glance at the blown-up picture of her, perched on a barstool wearing a black dress and a demure smile. It’s tucked in the corner of my living room, near the window. I replay our last conversations while I’m working on an assignment, or look at the blue box as I’m brushing my teeth.

I am drowning in her.

Last month, at the suggestion of my sister-in-law, my husband bought me a copy of Hope Edelman’s Motherless Daughters. Edelman, a mother-loss survivor herself, interviewed hundreds of other women who had lost their mothers at various points in their lives. While the book is geared towards women whose mothers died when they were young, it has helped me a great deal. I no longer try to suffocate Grief with a pillow, or stab it with a fork; I hold on tight and ride the wave until the tide settles, until the calm returns. This isn’t a process, Edelman says, but a life-altering event.

“Expecting grief to run a quick, predictable course leads us to over-pathologize the process, making us think of grief as something that, with proper treatment, can and should be fixed. As a result, we begin to view normal responses as indicators of serious distress,” Edelman writes. “The woman who cries every Christmas when she thinks of her mother—is she really a woman who can’t let go of the past, or just a woman who continues to miss her mother’s warmth and cheer at holiday time?”

One of the last hospital visits, days before she passed in mid-June, taunts me. We’re sitting on the couch and it seems like she’s back to her old self. I am brimming with hope. I’m telling her of the plan to move her into our apartment, to take care of her the way she took care of grandma years ago. She’s excited at the prospect of living with her grandson, of us being under the same roof again. I wondered if I could handle caring for her and a four year-old boy. I had support, but those people had lives and responsibilities of their own. If she fell while my husband was at work, I’d have to find a way to pick her up. I’d be responsible for her diet, her health, her overall well-being. The enormity of what lay ahead frightened me, but this is what I wanted, for her to live out the last years of her life surrounded by love and family, not in a place I no longer trusted. In the Nicholas Sparks’ version of her last days, she quietly slips away as she sits in her favorite chair, catching a final view of the lakefront from our highrise as she goes.

She asked me to stay a little longer. I couldn’t. An appointment to enroll her grandson in Pre-K had been scheduled for weeks. I remember the feeling of relief I had as I left her room, the feeling that everything was going to be okay. Three days later I’d be standing over her body, clasping her hand as the warmth evaporated from her body, as blood spilled from her nose. The third attempt to revive her after another cardiac arrest had done the most damage. In my head, I’d had years to prepare for that moment, years of hospital visits and grave diagnoses. But no amount of preparation will ever soften the blow.

Even as I watched my mother’s health deteriorate in recent years, I still held fast to a glimmer of hope that somehow, someway things would turn around. Maybe she’d get bitten by a radioactive spider, regain full mobility, and take up crime-fighting. It didn’t hit me until hours before she passed, as I sat in the hospital chapel after visiting her, that she was literally in the process of dying. But that’s how denial works. Though it’s taken some time to accept, I realize now that she left when she was ready, and that I knew my mother well enough to know that when she was ready to go, there was nothing you could do to stop her.

Edelman says that most motherless daughters my age process the loss differently than our younger counterparts because we’re able to confront it with a relatively intact personality and more mature coping skills than a teen or a child. “Losing a parent at this time violates fewer assumptions she has about her future,” she explains. “A motherless woman continues to renegotiate her relationship with her mother throughout her life, changing her perceptions and trying to fnd a place for each new image as it develops.”

In my case, my mother’s death has forced to reexamine choices made and opportunities given. That she died in my 37th year, the same age she gave birth to me, is not lost on me. It signifies rebirth. Renewal. A chance to accomplish the things she wanted for me, all the hopes and dreams she’d share throughout the course of my life. It is her legacy that I carry with me wherever I go, and I am grateful that I was loved by such a remarkable woman.

Jamie Nesbitt Golden is a journalist originally from Chicago.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME relationships

Why Dating Someone Younger Shouldn’t Be a Big Deal

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This article originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

One of my friends only dates much younger dudes and it’s not a good look for her. She always end up in super casual relationships where neither of them seem to take it very seriously, but I know she wants to have a family one day. I get that everyone has “a type” but I care about her and don’t want her to keep wasting her time on these scrubs. Should I say something?

Natalie Ruge, Licensed Marriage And Family Therapist

If your friend seems to truly be enjoying her casual relationships and is okay when they don’t last very long, then sounds like it’s more your problem than her problem. A younger man may feel like more of a challenge, give her a sense of control, or just be a better match for her — sexually or otherwise. Some women enjoy being assertive with a younger man, making the first move, and confidently telling him what she likes and doesn’t like. And, if that’s the case, then more power to her! The world needs more people who know what they want and aren’t afraid to go after it, regardless of social norms or peer pressure. It could even be said that the older woman-younger man pairing results in a more equal power dynamic, and research shows that mutual respect and high regard is a strong indicator of a long-term, successful relationship.

(MORE: The Worst Questions Women Get When Online Dating)

I believe that your concern comes from a good place, but it does sound a little bit judgmental. Are these men “scrubs” just because they’re younger, or not in the kind of careers that you consider successful? And, why do you assume that she can’t have a family with someone younger than her? Maybe settling down with an age-appropriate finance type sounds like a death sentence to her. Just because you’re friends and have things in common doesn’t mean you have the same romantic interests. And, that’s a good thing — at least you’ll never fight over an S.O., which is never a good look.

(MORE: Dating 101: The New Rules)

On the other hand, if you’re just curious and want to know her better, there’s no reason why you can’t start a non-judgmental, but honest, conversation about what you want in a committed partner and then ask her what she wants in hers. However you handle it, just remember that for the most part, unsolicited opinions are rarely received well. No matter how nicely you say it, the message will be that you know what’s better for her than she does. If the guys she’s dating treat her like an adult that’s fully capable of making her own choices (and it seems like they are), you should too. Unless a friend is hurting herself or someone else, it’s best to live and let live.

There’s a difference between concern and control, so unless the issue is somehow affecting you directly, or if she seems unhappy about said partners, keep your opinions to yourself and enjoy your friend’s scandalous cougar tales. Maybe she’ll even convince you to give it a go yourself — have fun!

(MORE: Why I Dated a Guy Who Hated My Body)

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