You Can Pull People Up The Ladder Behind You

Want to empower women? Be a mentor? Pull people up the ladder behind you. No matter where you are in your career or life, you can use these 10 ideas to help others. I’m sitting in the sunny corner of a coffee shop in Minneapolis, tucking into a late afternoon latte when my friend slides into the seat across from me. She slaps the table with both hands, leans forward and whisper shouts “You will NOT believe what just happened.”

“Tell me everything!” I whisper shout back.

My friend has been going through rough patch in her business. Like a “I don’t know if I can make my half of the mortgage, should I sell these boots on Ebay” sort of rough patch.

She’d been invited to pitch a project to a new client in Los Angeles. She sluethed a bit and discovered that the woman she was pitching was A Big Deal. Yale MBA, started her own company in her twenties, the whole thing.*

Feeling both intimidated and broke, my friend readied herself for the pitch call. After a few minutes of chitchat, my friend explained how she planned to run this project and shared her quote: $7,000.

There was silence on the other end of the line.

And then a sigh.

Firmly but kindly, the Fancy L.A. Lady said, “I’m so tired of women undercharging for their work. We had $40,000 set aside for this project so I want you to rewrite your proposal for that amount and send it through again. I’ll present it to the board along with the recommendation that we hire you. And I want you to promise that you’ll raise your rates.”


When I shared this story, the nearly unanimous response I heard was “Someday I want to be able to do that for someone.”

Friends, we don’t have to wait till we’re millionaires or CEOs to help people. We can start where we are, with what we have, right now. No matter who you are, where you live, or how much you earn, you can pull someone up the ladder behind you. Click To Tweet

10 ways to pull people up the ladder behind you

Mentor someone

When we hear ‘mentor,’ a lot of us imagine something time-consuming and super structured like Big Brothers, Big Sisters or SCORE. You can and should do something like that!

But if you’re not good with kids or can’t commit to a weekly meetup, you can still be a force for good someone’s life. Tell your friend that you’d be happy to talk her to daughter about applying to graduate schools. You could take the intern out for lunch and ask him what his post-college plans are.

You could tell your daughter’s best friend that you were really impressed by her science fair project and if she ever wants to talk about working in a lab, you’d be happy to tell her everything you know.

Related: How to work with an imaginary mentor (yes, really!)

Make introductions

Do you now someone who’s trying to get into the school your best friend graduated from? Introduce them. Your friend is trying to break into x industry and your neighbor has been working in it for ages? Hook ‘em up.

Sidenote: always ask the experienced person if they’re okay being introduced to someone seeking insight. And make sure the seeker is trustworthy and likely to follow up!

Tell people how much you earn and how much you charge

This is especially important if you’re a man and/or white! As we all know, there are huge gender and racial pay gaps. When we share how much we earn, we’re making it easier for other people to negotiate and advocate for themselves.

I know a lot of companies try to discourage this sort of information exchange. Did you know it’s illegal to prevent your employees from talking about how much they earn?

Related: if you’re a woman in the workplace, this book is a must-read.

If someone is amazing, charging below market value, and you’d pay them more, tell them that

I’ve told my hairdresser like five times she should charge more. (Go see Amberlie while she’s still inexplicably charging $35 for amazing haircuts!)

If you regularly get amazing service from someone at a bargain basement rate, it’s totally okay to say “You know, you do an amazing job. I would happily pay more for this and I bet your other customers would, too.”

And if they won’t raise their rates just start giving them huge tips.

Signal boost

If you have a blog or use social media, you have a platform. You can tell your followers – no matter how many – about the electrician you use, the blog post you just read, or the grant you just received.

Many of us would prefer to give our money and clicks to ethical companies or businesses run by women or POC. But if we don’t know about them, we can’t do that. When you find something or someone people should know about, share it.

Literally repeat other people’s ideas and give them credit

We’ve all worked in environments where one person does all the talking and gets all the credit (whether they deserve it or not). Next time someone has a good idea that’s being overlooked or co-opted, use the method Obama’s female staffers used

When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author. This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own.

Hire the (vetted! hard working!) underdog

Most of us have an unconscious bias towards companies and contractors who
a) look just like us
b) have fancy websites
c) boast impressive testimonials from impressive sources

But when we give those people our business and refer our friends, we’re missing opportunities to quite literally change someone’s life.

The $40,000 contract the Fancy L.A. Lady gave my friend was probably chump change to her. She could have given that contract to an agency or someone more established. Instead, she saw an opportunity to give professional guidance and a contract to a newer (but super talented) person.

Without exaggeration, this contract will change my friend’s professional life. She’ll be able to charge more, she’ll feel more confident, and she’ll up-level the caliber of clients she works with. You can do the same thing for someone when you hire slightly outside the norm.

Help people with overwhelming paperwork

Did you know that around $2.9 billion of federal grant money went unclaimed last year? There are tons of programs that will help just about everyone with just about everything, but lots of people don’t know about them or don’t know how to apply.

If you know your kid’s preschool offers financial aid and your mom friend is overwhelmed by the prospect of applying, offer to help her out. If your co-worker qualifies for a loan-forgiveness program but is intimidated by the forms, sit down with him. If your roommate could get a rent stipend but their social anxiety is keeping them from making that phone call, make it for them.

You get the idea!

Use your professional skills outside of work

Are you an HR professional? Help people who are out of work practice their interview skills.

Are you a writer and you know someone’s struggling with their college application essay? Offer to look it over.

Are you a nurse and you know the ins and outs of dealing with medical bills? Help your neighbor navigate the paperwork from her gallbladder surgery.

No matter your skill set, you could use it to help someone advance in their career, schooling, or life.

Offer free childcare

We’ve all seen those heartbreaking news stories of a single parent leaving their kid in a park for an hour to attend a job interview only to be met by CPS when they return.

If you’re a stay-at-home parent and you’re willing to look after a child in a pinch make that known to your friends, neighborhood, or the members of your church.

As Paul Wellstone always said: We all do better when we all do better. Click To Tweet And we can all start where we are, with what we have, today.

But I want to hear from you! Has anybody pulled you up the ladder? Have you done that for anyone?

P.S. 19 tiny ways to make the world a slightly better place

P.P.S. Huge thanks to my own network of friends who pull me up the ladder, The League Of Extraordinary Women. They helped me brainstorm this list and, yes, that’s really what our private Facebook group is called!

*details changed
Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

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  1. Michelle Moirai

    I’d love to learn more about accessing federal grant money. However, everyone who claims to be able to teach you doesn’t want to do it out of kindness. Most, if not all, seem scammy and charge lots of money to teach you how to get grants. I wouldn’t mind paying if I knew it wasn’t just a scam. Do you have any vetted sources for learning how to obtain federal grant money?

  2. Shelley Benson

    I am in training to be a coach (leadership, career, transitions, life), and will offer sample sessions for those who either need it, or are curious about coaching. One session can be life-changing!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      I love this, Shelley! Feel free to leave another comment (or edit the above comment) to include your URL or email address!

  3. Terry Egge

    This is the perfect message for today, the day of love and gratitude for all beings, so thank you.
    I have been practicing many of your tips for decades and have experienced the power of of giving.
    From befriending a lonely security guard at my office building who I learned was a single mother, enrolled in school trying to make a better life for herself, it was easy for me to share my resources and connections. Think of the strangers you pass by each day offering nothing more than a hello can change a life.
    I have befriended a former gang member who wants nothing more than to make something of himself but the chains of his past enslave him and he needs encouragement to keep going, to keep believing. Ujamaa Place in the Twin Cities is a great place to connect with former incarcerated men who want to change their lIves and by so doing, change their children’s lives.
    My career philanthropy and community relations provided me ample opportunities to connect in meaningful ways, but I know the simple acts are the most meaningful and life changing.

  4. NZ Muse

    When I was an editor I commissioned a freelance piece, the dude quoted something insane like 10c a word. I went back and said we can at least pay you 25c a word (not a great rate but a decent rate) and he was stoked. No way could I have on good faith accepted his lowballing himself!

    I’ve had former bosses/seniors encourage me to begotiate and to ask for more. Very grateful for those nudges.

  5. Lorraine

    Also, and this is a big one – unionizing your workplace helps A LOT with these things, particularly pay disparity. When my workplace unionized, the pay gap between men and women literally disappeared because everyone’s contract was negotiated together and our bosses couldn’t take advantage of women not knowing how much they should be paid/not asking for raises/etc. And unionization is semi-permanent, too, so it’s not dependent on individual people doing good things (although that’s great obviously!) It’s like permanently pulling people up the ladder, and it’s something I basically recommend to everyone

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Ohhhh! That’s such a great point! What resources did you use to unionize?

    • Verdant

      Never been happier when I got a job that is union represented.

  6. Lynn

    I love this so much, and also wanted to add that sometimes trying to pull people up the ladder with you can actually boost you higher! I devoted a lot of time to helping my two new teammates succeed–reviewing their work before it went to our boss, promoting their ideas, etc–my boss noticed, and it’s a big factor in me getting promoted to a management position. (Not that this is WHY you should help others, but man was it a nice result!)

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Yes! A great reminder!

  7. Yvonne

    I really enjoyed your article. I generally feel like an outsider because my struggling business is still not making money, but it is the people I serve – newly disabled people. There is a coach that has helped me and is pulling me up the ladder and that is Anne Presuel. I call her my angel since she has really helped me. Since I am on disability and generally cannot afford all the programs I would like to take, I have had several coaches still talk to me and they have given me some really great information. I am also in Rob Goyette’s master mind which I keep getting for free and he has some great information. I am just so very grateful for having so many people help. Thanks for helping me see just how much I have gotten in just the last 2 years. ?
    I try to help others when I find information that I think will benefit them I send it along.

  8. Kamina

    To the point about telling people you would pay more, I’d add actually pay more! We might not be able to raise a fee from $10,000 to $50,000 like Fancy New York Lady. But I’ve done this in situations where I thought a person was undercharging for their services – if I had the spare cash, I just told them the price was too low and paid more. You can do this in the smallest ways but I’m sure it gives people such a huge boost.

    One of my clients is a high-powered entrepreneur who owns a marketing agency (among other things), and in her capacity at the agency she has a personal policy of giving away an hour of her time a month for free to somebody who can’t afford to pay for her marketing services. She gives them tips and points them in the direction of other people who might be able to help them. I love this policy so much that I’ve adopted it for myself, even though I’m by no means in the same league as her. There are always people I can help, and one hour a month is nothing to me but could make a huge difference to somebody who needs something and can’t pay for it.

  9. Lindsi Gish

    I love this so much. I’ve always felt strongly about transparency in income and billing… if we aren’t honest about the realities of this work, we do ourselves and each other a disservice.
    I had a woman (friend) working part-time on contract for me—largely because she’d gone back to school in her early 30s and needed some marketing experience on her resume to give her a leg up for future employers. She told me $10/hr less than I thought was fair to pay her—so I told her, and paid her more. There’s SO much to be said for the Wellstone quote… I try to keep that in mind anytime I’m feeling insecure or comparing myself to my perception of others’ successes. There’s something about an attitude of abundance that creates opportunities for ourselves and others.
    I’m rambling now… Thank you for this post!

  10. Sandra, Italy

    THIS post – and the readers’ comments – is a keeper! ? It reminded me of looking at things from a different perspective and that I, too, can make a difference!

  11. Anouk

    This post is so great!!! Thank you so much Sarah for showing us helping someone can be so easily done.
    Also, thank you for making the internet a better place, a place of selflessness and love. Obtruely think your blog is exceptional.

  12. kristin

    i love this post. it’s a nice reminder to build people up! i also like your point about having open discussions about money. it’s such a taboo topic. i have NO idea what the other people at my work make, even those in the same position as me — but i know it is disparate. why should it be such an uncomfortable conversation?

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