Baroness Helena Morrissey DBE is a City ‘superwoman’ who, among other senior roles, ran Newton Investment Management for 15 years while supporting a family of 11. She also founded the 30 Percent Club, which seeks to bring more women on to company boards
Being paid what we’re worth is critical – whether it’s to pay the bills, save and invest, build a pension or position ourselves for the next promotion.
Yet women find it especially tricky to negotiate a pay rise. New research from AJ Bell suggests that just 40pc of British women have ever asked for a raise, compared with almost 60pc of men.
And, even if we do pluck up the courage to ask, our success rate is pitiful – just a third of women get a rise after asking for one, compared with almost half of men.
You may hold out hope that your company will reward people based on contribution, rather than who shouts the loudest, but in my experience that’s often wishful thinking. We really need to get better at asking.
So, what’s the best way to steel yourself to ask for a pay rise – and actually receive one?
Let’s acknowledge it can feel excruciating. I’ve raised the issue of my pay twice; both experiences felt awkward, but the outcomes were positive.
The first time was early in my career. I’d been given a tiny salary increase after a year when I’d taken on more responsibility, performed strongly and made a far greater contribution to the business.
And, while I appreciate many people receive no bonus at all, mine was minuscule, barely up on 12 months before, even though I had been away on maternity leave for several months the previous year.
When my boss told me the numbers he clearly expected me to be pleased. I mumbled “thank you”, but kept the meeting brief. Afterwards, I hid in the loo and cried; money was tight at that point and I felt justified in expecting a much bigger rise.
After calming down, I realised I needed to set out my case – immediately. It was a Friday afternoon, and the impact would be diminished after the weekend.
I wrote down the reasons why I deserved a greater increase, sticking to the facts: the over-performance of the funds I managed, and changes in my role and contribution. I needed those facts right in front of me to stop my emotions taking over. I asked my boss if we could meet urgently to discuss my pay.
I took a deep breath and looked at him squarely, explaining why I was disappointed and the reasons why I had expected more.
He listened and, to my amazement, said, ‘“So what had you in mind?” I doubled both the raise and the bonus. “OK,” he said. “Sorry, you’re right, we looked at last year as the starting point and didn’t think properly about how much your role had changed.”
I thanked him again, this time sincerely – although still professionally, not gushing with gratitude.
My only regret was not asking for an even bigger sum. But that protest stood me in good stead for subsequent years, and I never had to fight my corner with that boss again.
Years later, I was working for a different manager when I needed to stand up for myself on pay again. Out of the blue during a call, he mentioned that a colleague of mine was “very money-focused”.
It was November, and year-end salary reviews were imminent. Suddenly, I realised he was warning me that in a tight year, I shouldn’t expect much, given I had never raised the issue of pay with him. I realised I needed to say something before any rise slipped away.
Speaking calmly, I asked, “Don’t you think that the awards should be based on contribution, not on who is more focused on money?”. There was a long pause. I felt very tempted to break it, but stayed silent. Eventually he replied, “Yes, you’re right, and I’m sorry if I suggested otherwise.” At year-end, I felt very fairly treated.
Whatever the circumstances, you can take a similar approach. Save your request for when you have a strong case, and when you know the raise is affordable. If your company has announced a blanket pay freeze, for example, only ask if you have taken on new responsibilities.
Do ask for a rise, though, if something has changed that means you really need more money. Women sometimes tell me they can’t afford to go back to work after having a baby; I suggest they first outline the financial reality to their manager.
Many companies would much rather increase someone’s pay than lose them – and some bosses are unaware of the cost of childcare. Once they see the maths, they are much more likely to help.
Whatever your reasons, document them as a prompt. Keep it matter-of-fact, not emotional. Speak confidently, sounding as though you believe in your own worth – rehearse if necessary.
Think in advance how you will react if the answer is no – whatever you do, don’t cry or get angry in the meeting, or say something you might regret. See if you can leave the door ajar for a raise later in the year.
But if you’re a woman and you ever discover that you are paid substantially less than a male colleague doing the same job, remember that is illegal. Get secure in the facts, then escalate the matter in writing to HR.
At the same time, now that you know what you should be paid, start looking for a role at another company that will value you properly. No more wishful thinking.
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