Equal Pay Day: How to ask for a pay raise

Women still don’t ask for a pay raise as much as men. This Equal Pay Day, The Big Issue can help you successfully negotiate 
Photo by: katrinaelsi

Today is Equal Pay Day, the day in the year that women effectively stop earning. In comparison to the average man on a full-time salary, the average woman will work the rest of the year for free.

Every year, leading gender equality campaigning charity the Fawcett Society uses government data to calculate when exactly Equal Pay Day will fall in the calendar as a way to emphasise the continuing gender pay gap in the UK. The gap between now and the end of the year represents the percentage gap between the average women’s salary and the average man’s. 

“It’s important because it’s a real focal point in the year when we really comprehend the challenge ahead,” said Fawcett Society chief executive Sam Smethers.

The Fawcett Society points to a range of reasons for continuing pay inequality. Pay discrimination, the unequal division of labour in the home, the under-valuing of traditionally female-dominated professions and the failure of employers to promote women.

But there is another pernicious problem. Women aren’t as likely to ask for a pay raise, studies find, and even if they do, they’re less likely to get one. In 2019, a UK study by Good Money Week found 41 per cent of men had raised the issue with their manager in the last six months, whereas just a third of women had. Many women said they found the conversation “awkward”.

A 2018 American study by the Harvard Business Review found nearly equal numbers of men and women asked for raises in the US. But even then, men were more likely to be successful. Women who asked for a raise were successful 15 per cent of the time, while men had a 20 per cent success rate.

To help you buck these trends this Equal Pay Day, The Big Issue brought together three careers experts to equip you for pay raise success.

Here are their tips for asking for a pay raise – even during Covid.

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Should you ask for a raise during Covid-19?

The short answer: it depends where you work. 

“A lot of businesses are really struggling and for a lot of people keeping your job is the main issue and pay rises might come later,” said Hilary Ellis, a founding partner of Career Garden, a company dedicated to helping women reach their potential in the workplace. . “But even during Covid there are some companies who have been doing very well, so there’s always context.”

If your employer can’t offer a raise right now, they might be able to offer you other benefits, added Natalie Hall, an experienced executive and life coach for women, and the founder of coaching service Elevate Her

“Even if, from an affordability perspective, your company can’t give you a salary increase right now, it might be able to help you in other ways in the short and medium term until things improve,” she said. “Maybe some paid time off, and more learning and development support. Perhaps the opportunity to access a mentor. And that will put you in good stead for the conversation again next year.”

Woman working
Woman at work credit jseliger2
Credit: jseliger2

How do you start a conversation for a raise?

Our experts agreed that it’s best not to surprise your boss with the conversation. 

“Don’t blindside people,” said Hall. “Let them know that this is the kind of thing you want to talk about. If you feel uncomfortable saying ‘I want to talk about a pay rise’, you could frame it differently. 

“For example, ‘I want to talk about my overall career progression and my contribution this year.’ You’re probably going to get a much better reaction that way, if you’re able to give them a little bit of warning and they can think it through.”

They may be your boss but they’re still an individual with their own pressures, worries and goals, both professional and personal. They’ll appreciate the heads up and it may well work in your favour instead of catching them off guard. 

How do you prove you deserve a raise?

The first step is to check the going rate for your job.

“Do your research in advance so you can communicate typical salaries of your role elsewhere in the market,” said Hannah Salton, a respected career coach and consultant.. “You can use sites like Glassdoor, Wiki jobs or general job boards to find salaries of equivalent roles. Explain to your manager that it’s important for your experience and value to be aligned with market rates, so that you feel valued.”

Once you’re armed with external information, it’s time to focus on your own performance. 

“Know and own your track record, because we all do a lot better than we give ourselves credit for,” said Ellis. “Give relevant past achievements as proof of what you can do: what was the challenge you were facing and what did you personally do, what was the outcome and the impact.”

Hall advises her coaching clients that they should be collecting their successes all the time. 

“One tip that I give a lot of my clients is to have an email folder called ‘praise’ and every time someone sends you a nice email, or thanks you for something that you’ve done, file it away,” she said. “It will help you accumulate evidence and it’s good for a confidence boost any time.”

And remember, the conversation shouldn’t be a list of demands. 

“Be clear and specific of the value you have added to them as a manager, as well as the wider organisation,” said Salton. “Avoid making it all about you and your wants – your boss might not be that interested that your rent has sky-rocketed in the last year, but they will be interested in the value and experience you add to their team.”

Power pose by Amy Cuddy at PopTech 2011 Credit Erik Hersman
Amy Cuddy power posing at PopTech 2011 Credit: Erik Hersman

How can you be confident when asking for a raise?

This is the issue that many women struggle with, said Ellis. But it’s not insurmountable.

“I’ve been working with various professional women’s networks and running workshops for women for many years, both here and abroad, and it’s always the same story. There’s a reluctance to ask [for a raise] amongst women and it’s a slight lack of self-confidence. That Gremlin that that saps your confidence,” she said.

“A lot of the work we do with women is helping them overcome those self-limiting beliefs. And you can overcome it, you know. It’s not something that you have to endure forever.”

The key is in the legwork you do before the meeting, she added: “Being prepared gives you confidence. Practice some opening sentences with a good friend, or run them through what you’ve prepared. It’s a bit like when we watch Strictly – those dancers can’t go out on the dance floor without having prepared and practised.”

You can even bring in a few written bullet points as a back-up, according to Salton. “Don’t be afraid to bring along a few notes to the conversation to use as prompts if you get stuck in the conversation – this will make you seem committed and prepared,” she said.

Once you’ve rehearsed and got your key points down in writing, it’s time to think about how you carry yourself. “Sometimes when people are nervous, they can come off a bit brusque, so it’s important to think about your body language,” said Hall.

Luckily, there’s a very simple way you can make a better impression. “When you walk into the room, smile,” said Ellis. “A smile is an indication: it says, I’m friendly and approachable. I’m positive. Even if you’re on doing it on Zoom, you can still smile and lean in slightly to show you’re engaged. If you smile and lean in slightly, it actually does change how you feel.”

Ellis also recommends following some of the teachings of American social psychologist Amy Cuddy, who’s known for her belief in “power posing”. The idea is to stand in a posture that you mentally associate with being powerful, in the hope of feeling and behaving more assertively.

“We say to our clients, before you go into an important meeting nip into the loo and stand and throw your arms in the air. Think of yourself as having just won a great race,” she said. “I like thinking about an oak tree, which is really rooted in the ground and it’s got great big branches. Just stand like that for a couple of minutes in that position of strength. It really can actually help, it sounds odd but it really does.”

What do you do if a raise is denied?

Even with the best preparation and the most confident delivery, you should be prepared for the possibility that the answer might still be no. It might be an emotional moment, but you should try to be calm, said Hall.

“Take some deep breaths, and then come away,” she added. “What you really want to do is try and get some feedback, to understand the reasoning for it. That will allow you to formulate your request again in the future.

“It might be that there you’ve got some development points that you need to work on. You’ll want to get your employer engaged with helping you address those.”

Salton agreed that you shouldn’t assume that a no now means a no forever. 

“Ask for guidance as to what needs to happen for it to be a yes at a later date,” she said. “Try and get any future offers in writing, so you can refer to this at a later date. Be persistent and proactive but maintain a positive and collaborative attitude – avoid moaning!”

The Fawcett Society’s Sam Smethers also cautioned that women should be aware of the society they’re operating in. You shouldn’t feel that you have to fix huge structural problems on your own.

“That’s often where the conversation goes to: how can we make her more confident, more assertive, more employable?” she said. “A lot of the solution is focused around fixing the women and this issue is a much more systemic thing.”

Though she encouraged readers to continue supporting the broader campaign for equal pay, she said we can all get better at advocating for ourselves too. “I think, culturally, we’re all a bit conditioned to think, I don’t want to talk about pay,” she added. “But when you’ve done it once it actually gets easier.

“For a lot of employers, it may just be an oversight, they haven’t even realised that there is a difference [between male and female pay]. So making it visible is the first step.”

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