Tracee Ellis Ross: 'Don't be afraid to ask for support and ask for help' in your career

When it comes to negotiating a deal or fighting for equal pay, actor and entrepreneur Tracee Ellis Ross says she's come a long way over the course of her career. 

But like most women, Ross didn't start out as the confident, business-savvy woman she's become. "I did not know how to negotiate on my behalf. I did not know how to talk about money," Ross, 47, said during an interview Thursday that was part of U.S. Bank's Women & Wealth Summit. 

It's not uncommon for women to feel that way, she says. "Culturally, women are not taught to talk about money. It is thought to be gauche, to talk about money, to be ambitious," she says. "Patriarchy, racism, sexism, all of these things, have given the very clear message that women are meant to not take up space and not rock the boat." 

But that doesn't mean you should give in or take what you're offered. Instead, ask other women around you for advice and information. "Don't be afraid to ask for support and ask for help," Ross says.

"No one wants to give you money, no one wants to give you all the things you should have," Ross says. "I strongly believe in women and women of color fighting for equity, for having a stake in what they create, because historically we give up our names, we give up all these things, and we have no stake in what we make," she says. 

One thing that's made this more difficult is that for many, it's taboo to talk about your salary or share information about your job situation. Instead, many women go it alone. "And when you think you are alone, it is very scary to show up for yourself and to have confidence," Ross says. Especially when it comes to things like negotiating your salary or seeking a promotion. 

"I've heard people having this conversation say you have to be willing to walk away from the job to get what you deserve," Ross says. "Well, that's crazy and scary. How the heck are you going to do that? Who has the luxury and the amount of cash in the bank or a tree growing money that they can say, Oh, I'm going to walk away from this job."

That's why having a support system and reaching out for help can be key. "You can't just be fighting on your own," Ross says. "That is where my confidence has come from: from the collective energy of other women being transparent with me, holding my hands, locking arms for me, with me."

"And if you go somewhere to ask for help and support and that person doesn't make you feel confident, but makes you feel more wobbly — that wasn't the right person. Try somebody else," she says. 

When it comes to building your support system, Ross recommends having people in your circle that are steps ahead of you and steps behind you in their careers. That way, you can look to those that have done it before to get support and advice. In turn, you can also share that with people coming behind you. 

Beyond creating a support system for yourself, it's also important to think about creating and joining wider movements that will advance equity for everyone, Ross says. 

"I believe in people — any people, all people — being paid fairly and equally for the jobs that they do," Ross says. "That's where, to me, voting comes in. That's where legislation comes in. That's where equal pay comes in. You can't just be fighting on your own."

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