A Woman's Guide to Asking for a Pay Rise

Woman standing in front of a glass lobby

According to research by Mintel, women are 50% less confident about asking for a pay rise than men. While 42% of men say they feel confident about asking for a rise, just 22% of women say the same. Rocki Howard, Client Services Director, shares her insights into how you can ask for a raise with confidence.

Even when we feel we deserve a promotion, a pay rise, or a better starting package, not everyone finds it easy to ask. This can be especially true of women, who continue to struggle with being confident in the benefits we bring to an organisation. As a result, we consistently under-value our contribution.

Here are a few steps you can you take immediately to improve your chances of a positive outcome when having conversations about money at work:

Ask yourself: “What’s the worst that can happen?”
Nervousness about talking money can have many causes – a lack of self-esteem, reluctance to break cultural norms, fear of being seen as greedy or fear of rejection. No one should think less of you for advocating for yourself. Any employer worth their salt will respect your confidence and ambition. If they don’t, that reflects the organisation’s character, not yours. The worst thing is they can say no. Who would you rather be – someone who tried, or someone who didn’t dare ask?

Over-prepare for the conversation
Start by looking back over your performance for the past year. Quoting where you’ve met expectations is not good enough. That is what you get paid to do.

Identify where you have over-achieved. Look at your job description. Where have you added value, or expanded your contribution? Think about when you have performed over and above that. What projects have you been involved in that have been real successes? Have you positively impacted revenue? Have any of your direct reports been promoted under your leadership? List the impact you’ve had – on your team, the business and the bottom line.

Quite often your manager may simply not be aware of – or may not recall – all the things that you’ve achieved, and how you’ve contributed. Think back to positive feedback from appraisals, testimonials from co-workers, and positive feedback from clients or other parts of the business. Keep a brag folder in your email. When a compliment is sent to you, file the feedback to ease your prep work.

Be objective
You need to go to the meeting with a good idea of what you’re worth. Don’t negotiate for the sake of it, just to prove you can. Be objective when you are gathering information. The Robert Walters Group Salary Survey can be very useful here. You can also benchmark your pay by reviewing comparable job postings on sites like Glassdoor. It’s a good idea to speak to a recruiter you trust. Recruiters deal with salary negotiations on a day-to-day basis and can give you guidance on what to ask for.

While it’s important to benchmark your pay accurately, don’t target a specific co-worker’s pay. It’s dangerous to get into direct comparisons with colleagues. That sort of approach is likely be counterproductive and viewed as immature. This conversation is about your contributions, value and worth, no one else’s.

Practise with someone you trust
Women, especially, must learn to use the right language in negotiations. It is important to be confident and direct. So, practise until if feels comfortable. Be assertive in a polite, balanced way, and not apologetic for, or excessively grateful for, receiving something which you know you’ve earned. Discuss what you’ll say with a partner or a trusted friend. Weed out all those expressions like ‘I’m terribly sorry’ and ‘I’m so grateful’. Find a mentor who can give you support and guidance.

Don’t make it personal
This is a business conversation. The organisation doesn’t care that your personal financial situation has changed. Approach the conversation from the eyes of your leader or the company CEO. What are the organisation’s strategic objectives? What are the objectives of the leadership team? What makes one person more valuable? How much is that value realistically worth?

I often tell people when negotiating salary with new hires: ‘if I paid everyone what they were worth personally, everyone would make a million dollars a year’. But this isn’t about personal value, it is about professional value. Remember that each role in an organisation has a maximum for which they are willing to pay. Negotiate from a professional value perspective to keep emotions from rising. 

Keep it focused
Don’t try to combine your pay issue with another discussion. Call a specific meeting about your pay – don’t tack it on to a meeting about anything else. It’s very important that things keep to the point and don’t digress.

Be negotiation-ready
You don’t have to be a master negotiator to close the deal, but knowing the basics can help you a great deal:

  • Be an active listener: Active listening shows respect and builds trust. Repeating their points back to them shows that you appreciate their perspective and that you’re taking what they are saying seriously.

  • Acknowledge objections: An objection such as “we just don’t have the budget” is often used to try and bring the negotiation to an end. But you can keep the conversation going by acknowledging the objection, repeating it back to your manager, and asking additional questions until a compromise or an alternative solution might emerge. These additional questions might include: “Do you know when budget might be made available for this?” or “What are your plans for growing and developing the team?”

  • Get comfortable with the silence: Don’t feel the need to fill the silence with chatter and white noise – ask your question and wait for the answer. Women often find this harder to do than men. This is a classic sales technique that’s often very powerful.

  • Expand the pie: A negotiation isn’t about bulldozing a perceived opponent into giving you everything you want. It’s about compromise. If the final figure on the table isn’t quite aligned with what you had in mind, you may be able to negotiate something else that works for you.

  • Think it over: Even if you’re happy with the proposal, always give yourself a night’s sleep to think things over. It’s important not to let the emotion of the moment influence your decision.

Consider your options
If you don’t get exactly what you want from the conversation, stay calm and give yourself time to decide on your response. Never issue an ultimatum if you don’t get what you want. It will be perceived as emotional or petty. Stay calm and professional, and take some time to reflect. Say, ‘I’d like to think about that and come back to you’.

Always end positively. Regardless of the outcome, make sure you finish the meeting on a constructive note and show your appreciation for the time you’ve been given.

Upon reflection, if you’re still not happy with the outcome of your negotiation, of course, it may be time to think about looking for another job where you feel the pay is closer to what you deserve.


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