#PrivilegeTax Story: Danielle Yokell - EleVen by Venus Williams

#PrivilegeTax Story: Danielle Yokell

Danielle Yokell
Danielle Yokell
Principal at Alliance Bernstein
Alliance Bernstein (AllianceBernstein.com)

Q. I believe you must constantly be in pursuit of your best self. How have you prioritized doing so over the past year with the world being in a state of constant chaos?

One of my fundamental beliefs is that you are the company you keep. In a world of chaos, I’ve made it a top priority to stay connected to “my people.” At the beginning of the pandemic, that meant regular Zoom sessions with my college besties, 4-way-family group Facetimes, anything that went beyond the occasional text message. The differing perspectives, the recognition of the various challenges everyone was facing, helped to normalize life and make me feel connected even if we weren’t in the same room.

It’s all the pandemic rage but meditation and exercise – they seem like they’d be in stark contrast but routinely incorporating both into my pandemic life has kept me steady, focused and content. I’ve also tried various forms of exercise that I never have before – pilates, yoga, all sorts of strength training. Who knew that could be as fun as running and biking?!

Q. Where did you first discover that women were paid less than men?

It was my first job out of business school. It was more than a decade ago but I remember it like it was yesterday – I can still feel how hot my face felt when I saw the pity, embarrassment, discomfort everyone around the table felt when we realized they were making 20% more.

I was in a training class with 25 people – I was one of two women, the other woman was about 30 years older and far more senior in her career. The men ranged from a few years to several decades older. Someone made an offhand comment about how much we were being paid and whether he’d be able to afford rent. 

“Wait,” I said. “Is everyone being paid that because I’m not?” Silence. Looks between them, then back to me.

“Well maybe it’s because you’re younger?” someone offered in an attempt to minimize the discomfort. 

“Riiiight,” I said. “But we were hired to do the same job. Shouldn’t it be standardized based on function?” More silence.

I still feel sick when I reflect back on that moment – because what I realize in retrospect is it wasn’t embarrassment I felt, but shame. And why should I feel shame? It wasn’t my “fault” but that’s how it felt. 

I eventually got up the courage to approach my boss a couple years later and to his credit, he righted it and then some. But why did it have to come to that? Why did I have to practice my “speech” about why I deserved equal pay?

Q. Any advice for women that want to advocate for pay equity?

Do it with data and frame it positively. Be strategic and understand human nature: are you more likely to absorb the message of someone threatening you or calmly presenting facts and backed by superior work ethic and measurable impact to the company.

Q. What one piece of advice would you give your 13 year old self?

Turns out your gut reaction is typically right – trust yourself.

Q. What’s your go-to resource recommendation for learning about business and/ or leadership?

HBR After Hours (podcast), Anne Morriss & Frances Frei "Unleashed" (book), How I Grew This (podcast) 


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