Taking the gender pay gap into your own hands: how to negotiate a pay rise

The gender pay gap. That insurmountable cavity that refuses to narrow, no matter the pressure, publicity or D&I programmes. The statistics speak for themselves, currently sitting at just over 18 per cent. In 2015, professional women working full time earned on average 22 percent less than their male colleagues in exactly the same job, meaning that women were effectively working an extra hour and 39 minutes every day for free based on a 37.4 working week. And if you’re a BAME woman the pay gap is even greater: Pakistani and Bangladeshi women see the largest gender gap, at 26% compared to white British men, while black African women experience a gender gap of 19.6%. But the elephant in the room is about to get a lot more visible. The BBC’s very public gender pay gap shaming is likely to form part of a trend as new legislation rules that employers with more than 250 staff will be required to publish data on the gender pay gap. Even so, progress is likely to be slow.

So is there anything we can do to redress the balance right now? Arguably, no. The gender pay gap is ingrained from a pretty early stage and becomes worse the further up the food chain you go. According to a McKinsey report in 2016, men are 30% more likely than women to be promoted from an entry-level role to a manager role. By the time you get to senior vice president level, women hold just 20% of line roles and have significantly less access to senior management, accounting for the lack of women at C-suite level. So, the odds are stacked against women from the start. What about taking action and asking for a pay rise then?

Well, here we come to the crux of it. There is a school of thought that says women have been socialised to shy away from self-promotion and gratification (two fears which need to be countered when talking salaries), and this is reflected in the way women are received when they do ask. As a result, women are less likely to negotiate for a pay rise and when they do they are significantly less likely to get it. So, how do you negotiate a pay rise? Here are our top ten tips.

1. Do your research

Go into the negotiation confident that you know your market rate. Research competitors, speak to recruiters and use salary calculators to gauge the market average and where you fit into that scale. This will help to define your “bare minimum” versus your “nice to have”.

2. Pick your poison

It’s important to go into the meeting knowing exactly what you’re hoping to get out of it. Your push point doesn’t necessarily have to be financial, either. Consider your entire employee benefits package (and if possible rank this against market rates). Some managers can be hamstrung by HR when it comes to negotiating salaries, but there may be more leeway for benefits such as flexible working hours, company car allowance etc. Figure out where you’re willing to compromise and where you’re not, and stick to it.

3. Know your worth

It might sound like a tedious exercise, but it’s important to have it straight in your mind what you’re worth and why you’re asking for it, so pick up a pen and paper. Draft out your key achievements and compare your job specification to what you currently do to determine how you’ve added value outside of intended scope. If possible, attach numbers to these achievements to concretise your point – it’s difficult to argue against proven facts, figures, cost savings and timelines. Write it all down and pull out three key themes around which to centre your argument. This will appear more considered and less abstract as well as helping to firm up your reasons for negotiating in your mind.

4. Find the right opportunity

Hint: it’s not over email, before or immediately after annual leave or during your mid-morning tea run. Schedule time in with your manager just after a piece of work has been successfully completed and everyone is still basking in the warmth of a job well done. Timing is key: you want to ensure that your manager is not stressed or overworked to the point that they have no time to consider your proposal. By the same token, steer clear of lulls in workload where your value may not be immediately obvious. If you can time your meeting with a formal performance or payment review, even better, but don’t feel like you need to wait eleven months to broach the subject.

5. Don't apologise

Want to weaken your argument? Start off by apologising for asking the question. Prefacing your request for an increase with ‘sorry’ triggers the idea that you’re asking for something you shouldn’t be or that you don’t think you deserve. It also suggests that you’re in some way inconveniencing your manager or that your question consequently is an unreasonable one. According to research, part of the reason why women struggle to obtain the much needed pay rise is because they downplay their own achievements, for instance using “we” over “I”. Confidence goes a long way in negotiations.

6. Don't get personal and don't get emotional

Pulling heart strings is unlikely to work in an environment as direct and fiscally-driven as asking for a raise. Neither is pointing fingers or being melodramatic. Your argument should be logical and reasonable and – to an extent – detached. Talking about struggling to pay the bills will suggest that you’re asking because you need, not because you deserve, and if it’s granted will leave the impression of receiving charity. By the same token, dragging other people into the negotiation, especially comparing salaries between colleagues, is a major no-no.

7. Don't make threats

Leading on from the above, don’t threaten to leave in a rage (especially if it’s a hollow promise). It won’t earn respect and will damage your reputation if you do stick it out. You’ll be known as a flight risk and it may be even harder to negotiate if you need to next time.

8. Focus on the future as well as the past

Your arsenal should include not only anecdotes and facts from the past, but also areas for growth and what you bring to the business on a day to day business. Identify areas within the business where there are gaps and demonstrate how your skills and experience could be used to fulfil this need (without biting off more than you can chew – this is a pay rise you’re asking for, not a promotion). Prove yourself as instrumental to the business and it will a lot harder to say no.

9. Let is simmer

Don’t feel like a decision needs to be made there and then. Putting pressure on your manager to give a ‘yes or no’ answer off the bat will only leave you frustrated. Instead, voice your thoughts and your expectations and then say that you’re happy to let them think about it. Any final decision will need to be rubber stamped by the powers that be and leaving the conversation open a little longer will ensure that proper thought is given. Likewise, when the response comes back, don’t feel the need to accept straight away. Remember that this is a negotiation, not a favour. It comes back to knowing your worth.

10. Leave it positive

Whatever the outcome, make sure that you leave the conversation positively. If the answer is a categorical “no”, thank your manager anyway and continue to explore your options. If it’s positive, the same applies – a thank you – and keep it professional. Stamping out the elephant in the room means business.

Bryony Kelly headshot

Bryony Kelly

Bid and Content Executive