Unlocking 'The Woman Code': 4 tips to know your value

Tapping into the woman code
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Story highlights

  • Kelly Wallace says the topic of equal pay for equal work has become a hot item
  • Author Sophia Nelson says women need to love themselves before pushing for a raise or a promotion

Kelly Wallace is CNN's digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.

(CNN)There's been plenty of talk of late -- welcome discussion, in my humble opinion -- about equal pay for equal work.

Patricia Arquette sparked an online conversation and debate with her call for pay equality after accepting the award for best supporting actress at this year's Oscars.
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And, this month, the embattled and now ex-co-chairwoman of Sony Pictures, Amy Pascal, whipped up another firestorm by putting the onus on women. If women want to eliminate pay disparities in Hollywood, they need to demand more money.
    "What women have to do is not work for less money," she said, according to CNN Money. "They have to walk away."
    That is certainly easier said than done for most women in America, who can't afford to turn their backs on their jobs when they are helping to support families or doing it all on their own. But there is something all women can do no matter their income level or background -- and it's something that could dramatically alter the course of their lives, according to bestselling new book "The Woman Code."
    Sophia Nelson's newest book is "The Woman Code."
    Author Sophia Nelson -- a motivational speaker, lawyer and former White House reporter who has more energy pulsing from her petite frame than most of us could ever imagine -- says that before any woman can push for a raise or a promotion, she's got to put her attention on one and only one person: herself.
    "You've got to love you," Nelson said during a recent visit to CNN's studios. "You've got to like you, and so many of us in the 21st century do not as women like and value ourselves."
    It may sound too simplistic to you or more psychobabble than actionable advice, but think about it. Why have books like "The Confidence Code," about how women lack the same confidence as men, struck such a chord; or ads such as #LikeAGirl, about how our girls lose confidence post-puberty, gone viral and been prominently featured during the Super Bowl?
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    For a host of reasons, many women grow up not truly appreciating what we can do and what we can be, says Nelson, whose book is broken down into 20 codes or keys that can help women "unlock" their true potential.
    Code No. 1, she says, is for women to know their own value, and we're talking value beyond what they earn or believe they should earn.
    Tip No. 1: Your past does not define you
    "So many women are defined by hurts that happened to them, the family they grew up in," said Nelson, "and they never really move past the definitions that their families gave them."
    We've got these tapes that we play in our heads, she says. So, if you were constantly told supportive things, such as "you can do anything," which I heard at home and at school, that can push you to overcome challenges.
    If you were repeatedly told negative things, such as "you are too shy, not ambitious enough, not good enough," those words can stay with you -- but only if you let them, says Nelson, who frequently appears on television and radio as a political and cultural commentator.
    "If you were given negative tapes, you have to make peace with that," she said. "And you have to decide I'm not going to be defined by that. I'm going to be the definer of me. And that's what I really want women to get out of this. Everything you need to win at life is inside of you. It's already there. Greatness is there, so it doesn't matter how you start. It matters how you finish."
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    Love. That. Quote.
    Tip No. 2: Teach people how to treat you
    Another key to knowing your value, says Nelson, is teaching people how to treat you.
    "If you don't speak up for yourself, no one else ever will," she said.
    "That code was hard for me because when somebody does something not nice to us ... we're thinking, 'Well, they're a jerk,' but guess what? If you didn't raise your voice, if you didn't say that wasn't acceptable, people are going to treat you any old way."
    Good advice, but not the easiest to execute, I said, especially when women who speak up are too often called the b-word or receive the "Who does she think she is?" reaction.
    "That's exactly true," said Nelson. "However, if we want to shift it for your daughter, my nieces, the younger women coming up, then that means we have to do a culture shift. And part of living by a code and knowing your value and teaching people how to treat you is you establish a boundary.
    "You are not a 'B' because you say 'that wasn't polite' or 'I didn't like it'; you are asserting yourself. Men do it all the time. And I think when we teach our sons and our nephews and the men in our lives that it's OK for us to assert ourselves ... we're being a human being. We are saying what we don't like. We have to make it OK for women and girls to speak up."
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    Tip No. 3: Being accountable for yourself
    We are too often taught to put everyone else before us, says Nelson: kids, husband, partner, job, you name it. I, for one, am guilty of that, and I bet many of you reading this are in the same category. But we end up not only hurting ourselves by this approach; we hurt everything around us as well.
    "When you are accountable for you, you say if I'm a happy me, if I'm making good choices, if I'm taking care of me, everybody else is going to benefit from that."
    Tip No. 4: Guarding your heart
    Being accountable for you and taking care of your needs doesn't mean you become your own island. It means you find a way to put your priorities near the top of the list. It also means you guard your own heart, says Nelson.
    "Guarding your heart doesn't mean gating your heart," she said. "It means when you get hurt, you're resilient. You get back up. You love again. It means you choose the right people, not the wrong people. And when you come across the wrong people, you honor you and say, 'Now, wait a minute.' "
    It means letting go of the toxic personal and professional relationships and knowing when it's time to move on from a job, make a career change or choose a new personal path.
    "Everything you need to win is inside you. You just got to push it out."
    I don't really believe in New Year's resolutions but I did start 2015 with a motto: Let's do this thing. It means seize the moment, go for what you want, take chances, take risks.
    I was reminded of that as I read "The Woman Code."
    Let's do this thing, women. Let's do it now.
    Do you feel the issue of "knowing your value" has ever held you back in your personal or professional lives? Share your thoughts with Kelly Wallace on Twitter or CNN Living on Facebook.