How to Win at Salary and Benefit Negotiation for Women and LGBT Professionals


As a woman, a person of color, and an LGBTQ individual, I get how negotiation can be in an uncomfortable conversation when you’re used to having a fight just to get a seat at the table. So that is why I wanted to talk to Kimberly Aguilera, founder of Zocalo, a recruiting firm bringing top-tier talent to today’s most ambitious and admirable companies. 

Kimberly is a recognized leader in the executive search space. She is a hands on matchmaker who understands the needs of both companies and candidates. Impressively, 85% percent of her placements to date have been filled by people of color, LGBTQ individuals and members of other underrepresented groups.

In this 35 minute video webinar, Kimberly answers the following questions and more. If you’re short on time, these key points in Q&A below are broken out from the content of the video: 


Jenni: As a financial planner, I help people figure out how to get the most out of their money through lowering taxes, investing smartly, maximizing your equity comp, and having a plan. But nothing fuels your financial independence like negotiating for higher compensation in the first place. 

Sometimes a 30 minute conversation can change the course of your financial life. And it is not just your salary that is up for negotiation: Equity comp, the number of days in the office, and extended breaks are too.

Just to add a personal story… I was a couple of years into my career at one of the big tech companies in Silicon Valley and I wanted to take a year off to travel around the world with my wife to work on a passion project. I assumed that I would have to quit if I wanted to travel around the world for a year. But a colleague convinced me that I might as well try to negotiate which I was scared to do. But I prepared, had the conversation, and was successful. So that was a really huge lesson for me.

As a woman, a person of color, and an LGBTQ individual, I get how negotiation can be in an uncomfortable conversation when you’re used to having a fight just to get a seat at the table. So that is why today I invited Kimberly Aguilera, founder of Zocalo, a recruiting firm guiding careers and helping clients build their businesses.

Her focus is helping folks in marketing, communications, and product. She helps match clients (companies) with candidates whose are values aligned. Kimberly is a recognized leader in the executive search space. She is a dedicated advocate for advancing communities of color and workforce equity.

She is a hands on matchmaker who understands the needs of both companies and candidates. I love the fact that 85% of her placements to date have been filled by people of color, LGBTQ plus individuals and members of other underrepresented groups. Thanks, Kimberly, for joining us.

Why is it important for women, LGBTQ plus individuals and people of color to negotiate? (02:18)

Jenni: Well, my first question I have is just like, why is it important for women, LGBTQ plus individuals and people of color to negotiate? 

Kimberly: It is important because I think a lot of us grow up taking what we are offered as if we’re lucky to have what we have. A lot of us who are first generation and very much just thankful. We earned it, but we don’t push or want to disrupt things.

But when I got into executive recruiting, I was astonished by how much people asked for and how far they pushed it. And I just didn’t know that this is actually the norm. And I have this joke that I tell people, “pretend you’re a white male. They asked for everything. And they get it! That’s why people move up. So wish for the stars and you’ll get something in between. But if we don’t ask, we’ll never know. And you know, everybody else is doing it.

Jenni: I love that advice. I tell myself that sometimes too.

Kimberly: I have to as well. Stand in your power. You deserve this.

What should you think about after receiving an offer? (03:38)

Jenni: So imagine you are talking to a candidate who has gone through the interview rounds and has gotten an offer. What would you tell them?

Kimberly: First of all, congratulations. I think so many people are so stressed through the process of interviewing and getting to an offer that we forget to celebrate our wins. Getting an offer is tough, especially in this market. There’s not a lot of big roles open and there’s a lot of competition for them.

So celebrate a little bit, be happy for yourself, and live in that for a moment. But also think about why you started your search in the first place, or if you weren’t searching why you accepted the conversation. Just lean back on what’s important for you in the role. Make sure it’s the right role such as the title and the leveling.

Then when looking at the offer and salary, how does it feel now? Because you don’t ever actually know until like the offers in your hands. When you’re reading through it how does it actually feel? If you started day one and you took this offer, would you feel like, damn, I should have asked for something for more? Or how am I ever going to grow from this level?

You really want to feel comfortable, set up, and celebrated in that offer. So think about all the things that are important… the base, your vacation days, etc. Everything that doesn’t feel good you can actually push on all of it. So think about how it feels, what would feel a little better, what wouldn’t feel right.

If the offer doesn’t feel right, it’s okay. You can say no. Sometimes interviewing can also just validate that you want to stay where you are. And that’s not a bad thing. People do it. Yes, a lot of time and energy goes into the search and it’s unfortunate. But it’s your life not anybody else’s life. You have to live with this day today. If you took the job and you would’ve regretted leaving that last company because you may be leaving things on the table, you don’t have to. So you just have to think about it as a big decision.

Changing your job, buying a home, moving, choosing a partner are all the biggest decisions in life. So be really thoughtful with it and take your time. Don’t feel pressured. You usually have about a week.

How do you know the upper limit of an offer and what you’re worth? (06:26)

Jenni: Got it. That’s helpful. So let’s say, I’m this candidate. I’ve gotten an offer and I’m trying to figure out what to even ask for? How would I know what the upper limit of an offer and what I’m worth?

Kimberly: I know that you have a global audience. I’m localized in San Francisco, New York, and L.A. In both in California and New York now we have local laws and have to post the salary band on the job description. It depends on where the company is  based as to whether they have to put that salary band.

So if its a California company, they have to post it for global roles as well. So you can see on the job description now , it has to be on there. Typically, there’s about 10% above what’s posted for some like wiggle room or negotiation room for big tech companies and maybe even more. Sometimes with tech companies there is just so much money in there. But it depends. Typically there’s a little bit more.

I would really use your network to dig around to find anybody you know to understand their leveling. So you can understand what level is it? Sometimes it’s like the director or their number levels. Every company is different, so just try to get in there and get some info.

You can use the internet to try to find out, but it’s not always reliable. That’s why you should have a really good recruiter because even if they didn’t get you the job, a good recruiter will still help. We are gatekeepers. We have a lot of information, so we really want to help people advance. So, we’ll try to find the info for you. For instance, I have a lot of recruiters inside tech companies, and I ask them to help with candidates. People want people to advance, so I would just do due diligence using your network and trusted confidants in the industry and shared industries.

Jenni: How has the environment of compensation changed? We’re talking about this at the end of 2023 going into 2024. And maybe you can talk about this from the standpoint of these mega tech companies, as well as maybe some of the smaller private companies.

Kimberly: So overall I would say that the funny money is gone. But I should preface that I have moved away from working with huge tech companies such as Apple and Meta to private companies or VCs that are nonprofit.

There was just really crazy money going around. So it’s changed. There are just less roles open. We’ve all seen the layoffs. I think the band stayed truer to where they are. They haven’t lowered, but they haven’t raised in the past three years for the senior roles.

You can still negotiate because it hasn’t really changed the negotiation tools. Internal talent people are inundated with resumes now, getting hundreds and hundreds of resumes. It is a horrible job. The wrong people are applying and it really takes a lot of time. So once you even get to the offer, it is a big thing. They don’t want to lose you. I wouldn’t use that leverage in an untrustful way.

You still have negotiating power at the offer stage, but they’re not throwing money around. So there’s less wiggle room on the money and more opportunity to ask for things like vacation days or flexibility in the workplace.

Jenni: Okay. That’s helpful to know. What is a standard now in terms of the number of days of office if it’s a hybrid job?

Kimberly: Two to three. And then I’m also hearing three to four.

Jenni: Doesn’t sound very hybrid anymore.

Kimberly: One big VC that was completely remote now is hiring around their HQs and really want people in office. There are tech companies that are completely remote that I haven’t heard that changing, But even Meta over here in New York is asking people to get in a bit more often.

How should you think about negotiating cash versus equity? (11:40)

Jenni: When you’re negotiating how should you think, think about cash versus equity?

Kimberly: So, this is very individualized. I think at a certain point in my life, I could have wanted all equity and taken a very low base and just believed that the equity was going to pay off. And now I have two kids. I would never take the equity. I need the base.

I would talk to your financial advisor, your accountant, and really figure out where can you flex and where you can’t.  What does this look like in a long term? Really understanding what the upside is. I think a lot of people have this idea that, “Oh, equity, equity, equity!”  But you know what? Billion times zero is zero. We all have learned that and the equity piece has really hurt a lot of people in these past years. So just understand the benefits and the risks and make a decision that’s right for you.

Get advice. Athletes have trainers for five days a week. We all are professionals and need a lot of resource and support. So that’s why there are a lot of professionals out there that can help us.

Jenni:  When it comes to equity and cash, would it be true to say that there’s usually more flexibility to negotiate on the equity side or is that not true?

Kimberly: I think there is especially for senior roles.

How do you negotiate while sounding grateful at the same time? (13:40)

Jenni: What do you actually say when negotiating? How do you even enter this conversation? You don’t want to piss off the people that you’re talking to, right? And you want to be respectful. How would you advise to even approach this conversation? Like what would be the script?

Kimberly: So always be very thankful of the offer. When you get the offer, be very thankful and just say “this is a big decision for me. Please give me some time I’ll come back to you with my thoughts.” Set it up that way so you buy yourself some time.

If you have an offer like $200k and and you really want $225, then you can ask for more. I’ve seen people ask for like $275k from an offer of $200k and get $250k that blew my mind. $275k is far away from $200k, but everything was clear up front and people ask for a lot. That’s why I say shoot for the stars without turning them off.

It’s nice to have recruiters do it because we know how to have these middle people conversations. But if you’re doing on your own, I would just say something like, “I would absolutely take this at $275k. How does that feel for you? I don’t want to make this feel unfair or I’m ungrateful, but now I’m really having to run all the numbers considering the benefits on where I’m at and where I’ll be, etc.”

You can make a nice play for it and then see where they come. In terms of vacation, I think four weeks for executives is minimum now. Most companies also have Christmas to New Year’s off or some other offers like summer Fridays.

The equity piece and like the vesting piece I’ve seen for some be at zero. But for those on the tech side like engineers money got really funny for them. Those offers were huge and there was nowhere to go except to show them their vesting schedule.

What else? Yeah, I would just put it all together in a nice note without making it feel like you’re being really greedy and just say, “how does this feel to you? Let me know. We can talk live”. Then there’s usually some negotiation. They’re going to meet you somewhere.

If they’re not going to move anything, then ask, “can we write in a three month review tied to salary?” That way if you’re crushing it in three months with some measurable pieces, you agree on a 10%-20% increase. It’s usually something they would need to write in and you might have to chase it down in three months if it’s not something they’re set up for.

Jenni: That’s a good idea though. It’s an out of the box idea to try to make something happen.

Kimberly: Every situation is so different. So yes, there is a script, but like each one is just so different especially for executive roles.
Jenni: How does negotiation differs for somebody who’s five years out in their career versus somebody whose got 15 years of experience versus somebody who is at the most senior levels of VP and above?  
Kimberly: I think there is less negotiation when you’re very senior because those packages are just huge. I think like there is more back and forth in the first two stages. Because once you’re very senior, they give you like a big package.

I once placed a CMO at Gap and there was no negotiation. I think maybe just for something small like relocation cost that they asked for which was another 10k and it was find because there’s just a lot of money.

Kimberly: But at your first, when you’re first negotiating, When negotiate at the director level there is a lot of back and forth, but I think that’s just part of it. You learn how to communicate, how to manage up, how to ask for what you want, figure out a way to get it and like really use your network.

How do you negotiate in a current job? (19:07)

Jenni: What about negotiating in a current job? So let’s say you are working and are okay with your job. But you find out through back channels that your colleague is getting paid 20% or significantly more.  How would you approach an internal negotiation?

Kimberly: Well you have to figure out what your (review) schedule is inside. Figure that out and make sure you’re asking at the right time without like coming about it out of left field. There is usually two times a year in a company when we review salaries.

Then make your case with case studies or examples of your work and check in with your manager or whoever is tracking your work to make sure that you can point to all these things. You don’t want to come after something if you’re not in good standing because it really puts a spotlight on you.

So make sure that you’re ready to if you’re asking for money, but they’re going to go straight to your work and that’s that’s where that leads to. I think you should just say “I believe that we are equitable workplace and this is where I want to be and I know that others are at this level. How can we get there and when can we get there?”

It’s just as easy as that. You really have to use their corporate jargon on them and hopefully it will be fair. But if it’s not, then you would have to talk to HR and move it from there and make a case for yourself.

Jenni: I love that too. I think the way you said it feels fair and reasonable because you’re asking them what do I have to do to get there since it’s an equitable work place? And it kind of puts the onus to have this conversation. And then if you deliver, they also need to deliver.

If I was a manager and someone said this to me, I’d be like, okay, this is actually a pro both ways, right? They get more out of you and you get more out of them.

Kimberly: Right.

How is negotiation different in public versus private companies? (21:48)

Jenni: How is negotiation different, if at all in public versus private companies?

Kimberly: In public companies there can be a lot of resources and cash. In private and non profit, there’s no wiggle room on the salary ranges and they’re so honest.

So I’ve told my non-profits, “actually don’t put the real range! You got to leave some room. You don’t want the people to know the exact actual range.” But they’re just so equitable and want to tell people this is where it is.

So there is not going to be any movement above the top salary range that is posted in a private company. If they’re a private very equitable company, they’re never going to offer you the top of the range because they want you to have room to grow if you are in this role for a year or two.

So it’s a bit shocking for candidates because they’re used to having a lot of room on the money on the salary range in public companies. Those ranges are just probably all over the place and they just don’t want to lose people and they throw money at people to keep them.

In private, they really stick to them. In public you have the the equity piece and you’re not going to have that in private. Maybe there is something else like a bonus pool. There are a lot of levers in public and they’ll have big benefit packages such as covering your transportation, some food, and a home office. In private you’re not going to get that usually, but you never know unless you ask.

How can you use multiple offers to your advantage? (24:12)

Jenni: What do you do if you’ve received multiple offers? How can you use that for your advantage?

Kimberly: From the start of your interviewing process at each company, you absolutely say that you’re actively interviewing. So this tracks to them that they may have to pivot or react if things heat up on your other roles. This should definitely be communicated. It actually is it looks bad and is taken a bit offensive if you and say, “I already have another offer” and they are left surprised where they could have staggered all this and set this up better for you.

The more open that you can be with communication about where you are with interviewing upfront is very helpful. If you end up getting multiple offers all at one time, congratulations, you’re a rock star. I would tell everybody when you have the offers. It just depends on timing if you can really put them all side by side.

So really start thinking through the offers as you get them, communicate to other places that you have the offers, and then really look at them and think, “What’s important to you?”

Is it a few more grand? Is it quality of life? Is it flexibility? Do you want to be managing people? You just have to take all the pieces and go back to what was important to you at the start of your search and see where they all fill in. Sometimes it can just be so easy as like, I want to take the highest offer. Or maybe it’s more valuable to me not to have to go to the office.

Maybe negotiate all of them, and don’t feel bad about it. Just lean into it because if three companies want you, you obviously have a lot of negotiation power. Just do it with humility and grace and that will go the longest way. Humble empowerment.

How can you best returning to work after an extended break? (26:56)

Jenni:  I often will work with folks who have non-conventional career paths, taking extended career breaks or time off to care for family. So let’s say you’re talking to somebody who worked for 15 years and then took five years off. How would you you suggest they begin?

Kimberly: I don’t think that they should feel bad about being away or feel like on the back foot because a lot of things happen in life. I think that whoever is going to hire you should understand this. And if someone is judging you for it, then that’s not the environment for you, first of all.

I would try to get back in it mentally.  You don’t want to go back into it and be like, “oh my family and my kids…” You have to be able to get back into that work mode. Yes, you should be able to talk about your family and your kids but probably not in like the first interview and within your first ten questions ask about how you need to do pick up at 2:30. Like let’s get to the offer and then you put that in.

So make sure you’re prepared mentally to be there. Remember how it is going back into a full time job. Is that really what you want? And if it is, then get back into that frame of mind, especially when you’re searching. Really thinking about, “What am I good at? Where do I want to do this? What can I commit to? What feels right? Maybe do a little bit of professional coaching.

Get your hype people in your life and make sure that they’re helping you. Feel ready for it and pumped to be there. You do not have to go too much into explaining why you took your time off. If someone’s going to ask you too much about it, you don’t have to explain it. That’s like your info.

It doesn’t take away the 15 years of experience that you’ve had, but I would just like get back into the industry by reading, podcasts, and talking to people.

Jenni: Yeah, I have a friend who is going through this, and is unsure if they want to go back to the same field. A lot of the struggle of folks who have left for a while is they’re not even sure what they want to do.

Kimberly:  I think then you should do some professional coaching because these people are really trained to figure out what’s important. I do a little bit in recruiting, but mostly people are on a path. But I have worked with people that are getting back into the workforce as well and it’s thinking about, “As a mom, you’re a project manager, you’re a logistical expert, and you can do all of these things. But do you want to do that outside of your family?”

I would really think about what are you passionate about? What are you good at? Where do you think you can add value? Because you really want to be adding value wherever you go. I think the more senior that we get, we want to make sure that we’re making an impact, and that our work means something. We’re leaving some sort of legacy behind in our professional lives.

So really thinking about where that might work. If you’re a mom coming back to work and you are coming out of this expertise of being a young parent, you can go into something like the Honest Company. There’s so many companies that hire experts in the childcare industry so there’s lots of jobs.

I have lots of moms that’ll ask me, “Hey, do you work with this company? It’s something like Melissa & Doug and I can help with that. . There are lots of ways to discover companies or opportunities that might exist that you didn’t know about.

How can an executive recruiter help? (31:22)

Jenni: Can you talk a little about like what you do? What kind of resources are out there to help folks in this negotiation job finding process?

Kimberly:  So I’m an executive recruiter at the core. I get paid by companies to be a external recruiter expert that comes in and helps them on senior roles where their current recruiters don’t have the expertise in marketing, communication, or product, or they are overworked so I come in and help. So I carried a network constantly of in those three areas and a little bit beyond.

Working with talent, you end up being like a coach or a confidant. So I will always make sure when I talk to people, I always get to know them at the core of who they are because it’s sometimes the little things that people mention that makes an impact. There was someone that just loved urban farming and then I found a marketing role at an urban farm, so sometimes wild stuff happens. I just want to know all those things, because like mixing passions with your professional experiences is real magic.

I get to know people so well that they often call me, “Hey, Kimberly, I have this job offer. I know it’s not through you, but can you coach me through it?” And I will do that. I have a flat fee where I’ll charge to go through the offer stage with someone. It usually entails three calls.

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So I get called when the offer is received or close to being received. And I do an exercise to see where the person is financially? What’s important to you? We do that whole like very detailed exercise. Then I will help them get to a point of going back and recommend they ask for this. We talk about how you can ask for it. Sometimes I’ll even write it and they can edit and then they’ll come back to me for up to three calls.

It’s a very nominal fee of $250 and you can make tens of thousands more. So it’s just one of those things that you just need an expert to weigh in on. I’ll lean on my network of other recruiters and executives that have Intel that we can use to get that offer up.

Jenni: That’s a great resource. It’s like hugely valuable.

Kimberly: it is. It is. I wish I had it.

Jenni: Thank you, Kimberly, so much. I didn’t know there were people like you who could help in negotiations. So I’ve been referring you to clients and I’m realizing how this is so important. It’s very valuable to have an objective person who knows marketing, product, and communications.

Kimberly: I’m very happy to help with negotiations and just answer questions. I’ve heard so many times from underrepresented candidates, “no one ever told me this before” and “Oh my Gosh, you doubled my salary.” You need representation at the top and that’s what I’m here to make an impact as much as I can.