I recently ran a peer coaching session with a number of female engineers about difficult conversations. The purpose of the session was to share ideas on how to tackle these conversations. We started talking about salary negotiations, which according to many of the women present, is one of the most difficult conversations to have.
Most of the women in the session hadn’t had a salary conversation in many years, mainly because remuneration no longer forms part of the annual appraisal in many organisations. Why is it so difficult to ask for a salary increase? A conversation about this can be difficult because it touches our identity as a competent person. At work, most of us like to believe we are competent. A conversation about your salary is ultimately a conversation about your professional worth. Your manager could decline, which could mean that you are not competent enough to deserve a pay increase.
It could help to consider yourself a business. You are an enterprise, negotiating the value of a project with another company. By rationalising the situation, you can remove the emotions, including your sense of competency, from the conversation.
Remember too, not asking means not getting. Rarely will employers spontaneously offer a salary increase these days. I wonder if some of the gender pay gap is due to women not asking quite as often as men. You owe it to yourself to regularly assess your market value. If you are not certain whether you deserve a pay increase, speak to people outside your company and compare the market. A recruiter or headhunter can help. They usually have a very good idea of your market value.
When asking for a pay increase, come prepared. List your achievements over the last period, and explain why that deserves a higher salary. This is not bragging, as one of the women in the session pointed out. Especially in large organisations, you have to be your own sponsor. If you don’t publicise your own achievements, they might get lost. Don’t threaten that you will leave if you don’t receive the pay increase. No one likes to be blackmailed. Emphasize the positive aspects of your company instead. Highlight that you really love your work and the organisation, and that you can continue to add value. The message will be just as clear.
I encourage all women engineers to discuss their salary annually. That doesn’t mean you’ll get an increase every year, but at least you will be much closer to your real market value. Because you are worth it…