14 April 2021

Your Career: A Woman’s Guide To Salary Negotiation

We’ve been conditioned to think that talking about money is impolite and improper. Vulgar even. But is it really? I mean we talk about our health and sex lives, infertility and even our anxieties and depression so openly. Why is the subject of money still shrouded in so much mystery?

With so many of us struggling financially, crippled by debt and unable to afford to put even one toe on the property ladder, talking about money is critical. I have already spoken extensively about how to manage your finances at home with your partner. Click here to read about how to manage your finances jointly as a couple.

Today however I want to talk about your income and more specifically, your salary. For most of us the main source of income is our salary so being able to talk about what we bring in is important.

I know, I know, this is a bit of a tricky subject. The whole subject of money is touchy to say the least, couple that with the current unstable political climate where businesses feel a tad uncertain, makes asking for a pay increase sound ludicrous. As if that wasn’t enough, there is the whole woman issue. You see, when it comes to salary negotiations, women are faced with a unique set of challenges.

According to Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, (if you haven’t read that book I highly recommend you pick up a copy immediately!) women ask for a pay rise just as often men, unfortunately they simply don’t get it as often. Women only got a pay rise 15% of the time compared to men who got the desired amount 20% of the time. It may not sound like much, but over a lifetime it adds up.

So here’s a quick guide to salary negotiation for the professional woman.

Know your worth

Us women, we tend to undervalue ourselves. I read somewhere that when men and women read a job ad, and they both only match about 40% of the criteria, women tend to think that they are under qualified and don’t apply while men go for it and apply anyway, believing that their current set of skills will make up for the ones they don’t have. We suffer from Imposter Syndrome more often than our male colleagues and we tend to attribute our successes to luck or the right circumstances instead of admitting the truth which is - we worked bloody hard for what we’ve got.

It’s logical really, if you don’t believe it in your core that you’re worth more, how can you possibly convince someone else? So here’s what you should do:

Have an actual figure in mind - Don’t just go in there wanting more money but not really knowing how much more. That just seems like you’re asking for a raise on an impulse. Instead, prepare. 5% increase? 10%? £5k per annum? What is a realistic figure for your current role and something you know your business can afford?

List your accomplishments - Degrees and diplomas, professional accreditations and rewards.

List your accomplishments at the job - Don’t expect people to remember that one time you went above and beyond on a project or you absolutely smashed a deadline. Make a list of all the times you succeeded at work. Maybe there was a really tricky project that you managed to deliver on time and within budget? Maybe you managed to bring a client on board that is worth a lot of money? Maybe you completely transformed an internal process which made your team more efficient? Make a list and bring it in.

Show what else you will bring to the table - When negotiating remuneration, men tend to be judged on their achievements to date while women tend to be judged on future performance. So make sure you list a number of areas where you will improve, improve your team or future projects you will work on. Bosses love it when you talk about how you’d improve a department. It shows commitment to the business and commitment to the job as well.

Work on your confidence

Being confident and assertive in your everyday activities will make a positive impact on your managers. We tend to perceive confident people as more knowledgeable and skilful. After all, doesn’t assertiveness stem from the fact that you know your stuff and you know the right way to do something?

Therefore developing an assertive demeanour is key step to paving the way for your salary negotiation.

Stop apologising - I tend to say ‘sorry’ about a million times a day so now I am actively trying to change. No more ‘sorry to bother you’ when I want to speak to someone. Instead I say ‘Do you have a moment to talk? Is now a good time for a quick word?’. ‘Can you repeat that last part please?’ instead of ‘Sorry, can you say that again’. Trust me, small changes make a big difference.

Own up to mistakes - I am so shocked every time I see grown ass men and women, who are quite high up the career ladder mind you, failing to own up to their mistakes. People who blame others or try to wriggle out of responsibility for a mistake just look untrustworthy and unprofessional. Whenever I make a mistake I am the first one to put my hand up and say, ‘that’s my bad’. Don’t wait for people to point the finger at you, just own it. But that’s not enough, be prepared with a plan of action on how you’d fix it. Everybody makes mistakes, but admitting to them and actively trying to fix them, shows a level of responsibility that people appreciate.

Ask for feedback - Asking for feedback shows your employer readiness and willingness to improve but it also shows that you’re unafraid of criticism. Commit to improving early on and then in your actual salary negotiating meeting make a point of showcasing the progress you’ve made based on their feedback and suggestions.

What if they say no?

Depending on individual circumstances, you may not get what you’re asking for. As I mentioned at the beginning, the success rate is 20% at best (and that’s if you’re a man!). Even with all the preparation, sometimes it just doesn’t happen. Maybe there’s no money in the budget or maybe the time isn’t right. Whatever the reason, being told ‘no’ isn’t the end of it.

Ask for something other than money - You’ve already made your case, and you certainly deserve some kind of compensation. Maybe that can be in the form of something beyond your salary? How about better equipment? You can make the point of how much more efficient you would be with a new laptop. Or maybe you can help the wider team by getting some more training? Whatever it is, be prepared to ask for something that wouldn’t cost your employer as much but it will still leave both of you satisfied with the outcome of the meeting.

Schedule time to revisit the discussion - The worst thing you can do is leave the meeting without a rise and without a plan of action for the future. If your boss says no to a raise, ask what you could do to get there and also scheduled a meeting for a few months in the future to discuss again. Maybe they have some specific suggestions on areas where you could improve your performance. If so, take those on board and schedule a follow up meeting to re-evaluate in 6 months time.

Be honest - Money is no joke and at the end of the day good people leave good business often because they feel undervalued. If so, don’t be afraid to voice that. Be honest with your manager that you will wait for X amount of months and revisit again, but ultimately unless your figure is matched, you will look for other companies. You’re either too good and they would do anything to keep you, or they really don’t think you’re worth more in which case maybe it is time to update your CV and look for a company that will be happy to support your growth and professional development while also being able to pay you the right amount.

I have personally used the above techniques when negotiating my salary and so far my success rate has been quite high. So be prepared, be confident and ask for what you’re worth.

Happy negotiating!

Background pattern