WAGER is narrowing the wage and information gap by pairing professionals to have open and transparent compensation conversations. Hear from Founder + CEO Cynthia Carson about starting WAGER and what she hopes it can offer for those in the freelancer space and beyond.
Tell us a bit about where you came from:
That’s easy and complicated. I was born in Massachusetts to Puerto Rican parents. I group up in both places and since college, move around a bit. At this point have lived most of my life in New York, SF and abroad. “Home is where the heart is” resonates with me.
What were some influences starting out that you see steered you towards starting WAGER?
Fairly quickly after pivoting away from my policy background and into talent, I became a top tech/startup recruiter. However, being in the private sector didn’t stop me from wanting what I did to have good governance practices. I was always wondering, “Does this decision create a win-win for everyone?” Sitting across the table from candidates and holding all of the salary information while they made bad guesses about their future just felt wrong and gross. So I started giving candidates the correct salary ranges for the job and their abilities. The lack of transparency felt like a little kids game. If we are adults, let’s have adult conversations about pay and benefits. If you can’t afford someone, let them make the determination themselves.
Share a bit about your work history:
I have always wanted to work in government. I remember saying that out loud in a school auditorium at age 12 and not thinking that was weird. I studied public policy at Georgetown and Harvard and served in Peace Corps Nicaragua teaching women how to start small businesses. After 9/11 I lead anti-terrorism policy in Latin America for the U.S. Treasury and even worked on anti-money laundering compliance at JPMorgan. But then I had children. And I knew I was ready for a new path. That’s when I started hiring (and eventually firing) on behalf of my friends and their startups which all led to a wonderful trajectory working as a recruiter for large and small clients. I also knew or hoped that down the road, I had a startup in me. But I’ve seen people do startups without knowing what that really meant. I promised myself I would only launch a company if it was something the world needed. And the world needs to have conversations about money. Women and women of color need this especially.
Why did you decide to start WAGER?
I started WAGER because I had a distinct and strong business proposition in a space I knew a lot about. I was accumulating a lot of anecdotal data around how people related to money. Who asked for it, who didn’t ask, how did they ask and who was the most successful at asking. I also saw that those who had most access to information knew how to get what they wanted. These were all important pieces that I took together to form WAGER, a salary negotiation and transparency company helping individuals and companies talk about money.
What do you hope WAGER can do for people?
I’m looking at two prong approach. One is for the individual. The minute a person has a WAGER, a salary conversation with someone else in their industry, the lightbulb goes on and within a few minutes into the chat, the money taboo disappears and the pairs quickly turn their focus on information sharing. No baggage, just helpful information. We see this with our workshops too. However for companies, we are strong advocates of pay transparency. The more you share, the better informed we are as individuals and the more trust you create in your workplace. We bring these conversations to the companies. I firmly believe if we had more pay transparency, we would be able to end the wage gap in within a few years.
What are some things you wish you would have known when you started out?
I kind of like the ride I’m on, warts and all. I know a lot of entrepreneurs and I was never ready to be one. Maybe because I’m older and have had many successes, I don’t have the pressure of what this needs to be. So as of right now, I’m ok in my ignorance and am really enjoying the organic growth.
Can you share a small win in your process of building WAGER?
I think a crazy early win was a workshop we gave to 40 female engineers at Google Women. It was a 2 hour workshop on Courageous Compensation Conversations. What was striking (besides the fun food) was that, no matter who you are, your education, place of business, you still have the same insecurities that everyone else has about money. You will be angry and resentful if you don’t figure it out sooner rather than later.
What is one thing you’d like for everyone you work with to take away?
You need to find a North Star and go after it. It may be a person you want to emulate, a salary figure you want to have, or a better work-life balance. Find your North Star and focus. For me, my North Star is feeling that every minute of my day matters. So I make sure that every moment I’m alive I am true to myself and my values. It was harder when I was younger. We are asked to bring it in a notch or two, especially of you are a women. But it’s not hard anymore.
Do you have any favorite books/podcasts/movies that inspire you?
YES! I hate being that person that says, “You have to listen to this podcast!” But…You have to listen to “How I Built This” which lots of my friends do. I was late to the podcast game.I especially like the interview with the founder of Headspace. And, for a more fascinating true crime series, check out The Clearing by Josh Dean. Listened to 8 episodes in one weekend. Totally ignored my family for 3 days.
Can you describe the services that WAGER provides?
For individuals, we do 1:1 salary negotiations and career development. For groups I do public speaking and workshops and for companies, we focus on workshops and salary transparency consulting. I think the conversations around salaries should fall on the employers as much as on the shoulders of individuals.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us about your story?
That I have two beautiful boys that I’m raising to be seriously cool kids. I want them to be better than me. And that I could not have done any of this if my husband didn’t push me to believe in myself the way he saw me. I was the last one to see me for what I could be.