Senegalese ALA alumna Fatoumata Fall ‘08 has made the 2021 Forbes 30 under 30 List due to her transformative work with Ralph, a US-based career agency she co-founded with friend Brian Liou. She has been listed (along with Brian) under the social impact category. We chat to her about what drives this work, what inspired it, and where she hopes to see the company grow.
“I give people the courage to ask for what they deserve,” says Fatoumata Fall, co-founder of Ralph. The US-based career agency helps talent navigate tough conversations such as negotiations, salary increases, signing bonuses and more. “That’s what we do everyday – convincing people, especially women and underrepresented minorities in the US, that they deserve the salaries they are negotiating for and that, while it’s uncomfortable and scary to ask for it, we are here for them and they should go for it.”
This crucial work, led by Fatoumata, Brian, and two other colleagues, has helped 150 clients increase their salaries by a cumulative $5 million dollars, a win that goes far beyond the numbers. “That kind of money can now go from shareholders to the community,” says Fatoumata. “It can go to paying for your mom that you couldn’t put into your budget before but now you have the means to. Or it can help you invest in a cause you believe in. This money that people don’t think they deserve? They actually do, and it can go so far and support other people.”
Perhaps critical to Ralph’s success so far is the fact that it is guided by leaders who understand what their clients are going through. Fatoumata, who graduated from Harvard in 2014 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Applied Mathematics, has managed to build an extensive and impressive career – meaning she has had her fair share of negotiation talks. “My most successful negotiation in my career was all because I received expert advice from someone who could help me see through the justifications I made that were rooted in social conditioning,” she says.
This social conditioning is precisely what Fatoumata and Brian’s organization seeks to dismantle, as this, according to Fatoumata, is what continues to contribute to the gender pay gap. “It’s true that some companies intimidate candidates in some ways, but I would say 70% of the issue is an internal fear that’s related to conditioning, taboos and a huge level of discomfort around asking. So to think half of the world’s population is making far below the other half because of this social condition is absolutely crazy to me. The more I do this work, the more I realise that I can’t believe this is the driver.”
So what is the long-term solution? Fatoumata believes that we can be the generation that sees the closing of this pay gap. “I really believe if everyone has access to a representative – someone who can negotiate for you just like how companies have recruiters- we could solve the pay gap in our lifetime. It could take maybe two decades but it would be solved because people would be able to access the expertise.”
That’s where Ralph wants to be in the next few years: contributing to a movement that helps people feel comfortable with having career agents who can represent their best interests in negotiations. “So we’ve brought back 5 million back into the community, I see this number ballooning, and seeing this increased transfer of power. In the next decade we want to see thousands of career agents helping candidates, so that they don’t have to play catch up with their salaries throughout their careers.”
Finally, more than anything, Fatoumata wants to continue to remind people that they matter. “It’s easy to settle. But you need to remember that your skills took years to develop and that it’s something to respect, celebrate, and make sure is valued. If you don’t have access to something like Ralph yet, the best thing you can do is have a mentor and friends who can remind you of how important you are, especially in the moments when you need that reminder most.”
Ralph is currently assisting engineers and scientists in North America, with a focus on graduate students. The company is working on expanding to other industries and locations. Visit the website here.
Want to connect with Fatoumata Fall? Reach out to her on LinkedIn.