Join our community
of mission driven women for only £9.99/month
By Clare Considine
n the UK talking about money does not always come naturally. There are whole generations who file “salary” neatly under “it’s just not something I like to discuss”.
This culture can be particularly problematic for women: we are statistically more likely to be at the thinner end of the wedge when it comes to pay. Obligatory gender pay gap reporting found that, as of September 2020, nine out of 10 women in the UK work for a company that pays them less than men.
If you are wondering whether it is time to start a conversation about your salary, Claire Barnett, Executive Director of UN Women UK, suggests that you: “Benchmark, benchmark, benchmark! Use Glassdoor, speak to your friends, follow Instagram accounts where women and marginalised people speak openly about their pay.
“The Office for National Statistics has published earnings data, which you can use to know what is reasonable, and recruitment websites often release information on salaries and wages for different industries.”
Once you are armed with data, Sarika Sabherwal, Lead Facilitator and Executive Coach at Personal Communications Academy PCA Global, recommends you “start by trying to assume good intent on the part of your employer...This will help you approach the conversation with openness”.
And then it’s time to negotiate.
‘Negotiators who make precise first offers are assumed to be more informed than negotiators who make round first offers.’
Dream big and be precise
Sabherwal suggests that you start by “gaining clarity over your desired outcome”, before approaching anybody. “Start with the end in mind – where do you [want to] get to in this conversation?”
Stefanie Sword-Williams, author of F-ck Being Humble: Why Self-Promotion Isn’t a Dirty Word, suggests thinking laterally: “Try to avoid basing what you think you deserve on what other people [in the company] earn because you could be underselling yourself.”
Instead, she argues that it is best to focus on your self-worth. From your benchmarking research, it should be clear what kind of pay rise you can reasonably ask for and expect – this will help you come up with a figure which feels appropriate for both you and your company.
According to a study into the most successful habits employed by business negotiators, conducted by researchers at Columbia Business School, “negotiators who make precise first offers are assumed to be more informed than negotiators who make round first offers”.
A simple trick to show you are ready to level up is asking for an off-beat number. Think £68,950, rather than £65,000.
Find out what it takes to level up
Next, arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible.
“Before raising the issue with your manager, ask them for the job specification for your current level and the level above,” suggests Sword-Williams. “That way, you can tick off all the things you’re doing and use it as part of your justification for a pay increase.”
Invite the right stakeholders to the table
This will depend on your company and its structures – you can only speak to your HR department if you have one – but Abadesi Osunsade, VP of Global Community and Belonging at Brandwatch, and CEO of careers development platform Hustle Crew, suggests: “The first person to start with is your line manager, they should have your back. If they can't help, turn to your HR business partner or a mentor for support.”
From here, clarity is key. Both Sabherwal and Sword-Williams agree that this is not a case for ambush.
“Suggest a meeting with your boss via email or in person and state the reason for the discussion,” says Sword-Williams.
“Booking a meeting to 'have a salary discussion' is direct and open, even if it feels scary,” adds Sabherwal.
Most people wait until it is pay review time to request a raise but being proactive and meeting with your manager a few weeks (or even months) in advance of that time allows them enough time to escalate the request to those who are in charge of budgets.
‘Booking a meeting to ‘have a salary discussion’ is direct and open, even if it feels scary.’
Build a case
Once you know there is a discussion in the pipeline you can get into persuasion mode – you want to be fully prepared for your opening statements.
“Put all your thoughts in a document, along with the evidence to justify your excellent performance,” says Osunsade. “You can share that doc with your line manager and work with them to build a case about why you need a pay rise”.
Specifics are key. “You need to be prepared to state your case based on your achievements and your value in the market,” says Sabherwal.
Use your benchmarking research here to show that you understand the current market.
“Then arm yourself with your success stories,” says Sabherwal. “Use STAR: regale them with situation, task, action and result. This is used to best effect when you have a sentence for each of the four elements and stats for your result. The action that you specifically took, and the result of that action are key parts here.”
Ultimately, Barnett is excited about what these kinds of conversations can achieve.
“This is a really good thing for changing norms, because so often women feel the need to change jobs as their only way to earn more money. Don't forget that you can advocate for yourself internally first,” she says.
Language is power
When you are face to face with your higher-up, you can feel centred and in control by preparing how you choose to communicate.
“Research shows that women succeed when we take a collaborative not combative approach – mainly due to likeability bias,” says Osunsade. “Approach the conversation like a collaboration with those stakeholders who are responsible for your productivity and retention.”
She suggests using phrases such as: “I know you want me to succeed, and this is why I came to you with this request.”
For Sabherwal, questions are your greatest tool to place you in the driving seat.
“Being curious rather than assuming any negative intent will allow for a dialogue to happen. You want to avoid anything that will raise defences and close communication lines,” she says.
If you are dealing with a worst-case scenario where you are being underpaid due to discrimination, she says: “Open questions will allow for gathering information. You will want to learn all you can about their position on your salary.”
What if they say no?
Stay calm and be open. Perhaps the company doesn’t have the budgets to fulfil your request yet but that doesn’t mean it won’t in the future. Diarise another meeting for six months’ time and ask your manager to set up a list of goals that you should aim to achieve in that period of time, with a view to reopening the discussion if these goals are met.
If you felt discimination was a factor…
…Share what you’ve learnt from the experience with colleagues.
“Rallying together is important in this – make sure that not only you but the people around you have adequate support,” says Barnett.
“Explore joining a trade union if you're not part of one already. And think big… We need to be looking at shaking up the wider systems around our work, not just tweaking around the edges. Be bold for change and support each other.
“Once you've achieved what you were looking for, don't forget to reach out a hand to those in more junior roles than you and help them climb the ladder too.”
Lead image by: Teo Lannie / Alamy Stock Photo
Renegotiating your salary can seem daunting, especially if you’ve been with a company for a long time. But rather than leave your job to get a pay rise, focus on openness and having a clear strategy.
By Clare Considine