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A few years ago, I went to see a financial adviser for the first time and he gave me a valuable piece of advice.
“You’re not being paid enough,” was his blunt assessment of my finances.
I scored highly for making extra contributions into my pension. Yet, as he pointed out, getting a pay rise would automatically boost the value of the company contribution too.
So I resolved to channel my inner beast and ask for a raise.
I phrase it like that, as I’ve always found that pay negotiations require a certain amount of aggression. I’m not talking about banging fists on the table — although I know many women who feel that way when they look at their company’s gender pay gap statistics.
I’m not going to debate why the gap exists in this column. I want to concentrate on some practical steps that women can take to close it — and by extension, what companies can do to make the process more equitable.
Step one — change your mindset
“Women are too grateful,” is how Lindsay Cook, the FT’s Money Mentor columnist, puts it. As an employer, her experience was that men were much more likely to ask for a pay rise than women, who tended to wait until one was offered. The same went for promotion.
But she specifically singles out the plight of part-time workers. “If women are working flexibly, they tend to keep their heads down,” she says.
This could be because they are far too busy doing their before-kids job of five days a week within four days whilst being paid 20 per cent less and still feeling beholden to respond to emails on their days off. Either way, if this describes you, you should stop feeling grateful and start asking if your contribution is being fully recognised, regardless of the hours you work. More on this later.
Jayne-Anne Gadhia, chief executive of Virgin Money UK, spoke about the gender bonus gap at the FT’s Women at the Top conference in 2016, remarking that when told how much their annual bonus is going to be, women are more likely to say “thank you” whereas men are more likely to say “that’s not enough”.
Her point was that men treat the process as a negotiation — whereas women tend to think it’s a fait accompli.
The simple answer is that women should ask for more, too. But companies do not have unlimited salary budgets. Professor Lynda Gratton of the London Business School argues a new approach is needed.
“It’s not fair to rely on personal negotiation to get higher pay, or for firms to think about flexible working as something specifically for mothers rather than for parents,” she says. In her view, the furore over the gender pay gap provides the perfect opportunity for women to challenge the corporate mindset and get senior managers to listen.
“This is a moment when corporations are vulnerable, so it’s a very good time to band together and get them to change by making concrete suggestions,” she says.
Step two — consider your next move
If you think you are badly paid, the obvious thing to do is test the market rate for similar jobs. Job adverts, head hunters, talking to colleagues, friends and joining relevant industry networking groups are all ways of getting data. The gender pay gap disclosures have added considerably to this.
If a rival firm has a narrower gender pay gap, the board of the company you work for should be asking why. Are they better at retaining and recruiting senior women — and if so, what are they doing differently?
You, on the other hand, may be asking if you would be better off working for that company instead. In my experience, “job hoppers” who move from one company to another tend to come in on higher salaries.
However, women who have negotiated a flexible working arrangement with their employer can end up being trapped if they cannot find another quality part-time role, says Jemima Olchawski, head of policy and insight at the Fawcett Society.
“Even though the majority of employers say they offer flexible working, research by Timewise shows that only 10 per cent of jobs with a salary of £20,000 or more a year are advertised as being suitable for part-time or flexible working,” she says.
Just as women should stop being grateful, we should stop being subservient. Why not apply for the job anyway? Impress them at the job interview and when they’ve decided you are the candidate they want, you are in a strong position to negotiate the working hours.
This approach won’t suit everyone but it recently happened to a friend of mine. She was able to replicate her current flexibility and secure a large raise to boot. And trust me, her new employer is lucky to have her.
Step three — take action
Conversations about pay invariably involve discussion about performance and your future role within an organisation. If they agree to pay you more, will you be a worthwhile investment?
If you want to stay with your current employer, what promotion or future career path do you have your eye on? If you don’t know, don’t expect someone to think of one for you — make a plan. When you have a plan, tell people about it.
The first conversation should be with your line manager. It is possible that they were not the person who hired you — when I get a new boss, I always make a point of giving them an up-to-date copy of my CV so they know what skills I have to offer to them (or indeed another employer).
Be prepared to give chapter and verse on your achievements, go armed with any metrics you have to demonstrate these and have a story to tell about what you want to do next. Follow it up. Be prepared to repeat this step with your boss’s boss.
They might not immediately be able to offer you higher pay but they could offer a pathway to promotion, management training, mentoring (though I worry that this tends to be a women-only activity) or other ways of pushing you forward in your career.
Prompted by my financial adviser, I found I was able to negotiate a raise. If you’re not happy with the outcome, then maybe it’s time for you to consider pushing off.
Claer Barrett is the editor of FT Money
firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @Claerb