How To Ask For A Pay Rise

It's possibly the most difficult conversation you'll have at work. With these 6 tips you'll handle it like a pro.

By Lara Robertson


It's possibly the most difficult conversation you'll have at work. With these 6 tips you'll handle it like a pro.

By Lara Robertson

For women especially, money can be a bit of a dirty word that isn’t usually brought up in polite conversation. Even so, it’s a topic that must be confronted, particularly when starting a new job, or if you’re in a job but you feel like you’re worth more. According to the Human Rights Commission, the average Australian woman has to work an extra 56 days a year in order to earn as much as a man doing the same job. One factor contributing to this issue is that women are less likely than men to ask for a pay rise, or to negotiate a higher starting salary. A study published in Linda Babcock’s book Women Don’t Ask found only 7 per cent of women will try and negotiate a salary when applying for a new job, compared to 57 per cent of men. Once they’re working, less than one in five women ask for a pay rise without prompting, compared to one in three men. But this isn’t just a confidence issue. Bias also comes into play here. One Australian study found that when women asked for pay rises, they were 25 per cent less likely to get them than men.

In our Future Women with Jamila Rizvi podcast, we spoke to author, speaker and president of Negotiating Women Carol Frohlinger, founding director of RedBalloon and Shark Tank judge Naomi Simson and Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions Sally McManus to get their best tips for negotiating starting salaries and pay rises.  


Do Your Research

Don’t just waltz into your boss’ office and demand whatever amount you feel you’re worth. You have to research how your business sets pay rates. “Every business is different with how they set pay,” Naomi Simson said. “Some have quite an in-depth process using an external data source and research, others wing it with what they can get away with, and of course there are other enterprises which have workplace agreements of which a salary is set externally from the business. So it really depends on the sort of business that you’re in terms of how the enterprise is going to set your pay.”


Arm Yourself With Information

It’s important to prepare beforehand so you are able to back your case for a pay rise if you’re pressed by your boss. Find out as much as you can about changes in your industry, market conditions, and even your own workload or qualifications. Find out what your colleagues are getting paid and what the salaries are for people in similar positions in other companies.


Focus On Outcomes: Not Personal Goals

Instead of forming your approach in terms of why you want a pay rise, you’re much more likely to get a pay rise if you think about what your boss and company needs, framing your argument in terms of how it will benefit them.

“I suggest that if you are considering asking for a pay rise, put yourself in the role of your manager, leader or boss you’re about to ask,” Simson said. “Understand what it is that’s going to make them successful in their business, understand what’s going to make them successful in the eyes of their superior, because if you add value to that, you’ll have a different sort of conversation.”


Find A Sponsor

When it comes to navigating unconscious bias and sexism during the salary negotiation process, finding someone who can vouch for you and your work is critical.

“There’s recent research [that shows] women are way over-mentored and way under-sponsored,” Carol Frohlinger said. “A mentor is someone who you can go to for advice, but a sponsor is someone who, within your company, is going to actively promote your career. But you can’t just expect that people will do that, you have to actually negotiate for sponsorship. I’m not saying you need to go to somebody and say ‘Let’s sit down, I want you to be my sponsor, let’s negotiate.’ It’s a lot more subtle than that but the principles apply.”


Negotiate With A Group

Salary negotiations don’t always have to be sorted out one-on-one. Working together with your colleagues can lead to better outcomes for everyone in the organisation, and you’re much more likely to get a good result.

“Whenever you’re negotiating with someone who has more power than you, it’s always better to negotiate with a group, because it evens out a power imbalance,” Sally McManus said. “So an employer can just say no to one person, but they can’t really say no to everyone or a large group of people in their workplace.”


If It Doesn't Work Out the First Time, Ask Again Later

Simson said that if you’re negotiating with your boss and it isn’t going well, the best thing to do is to gather yourself and try again at a later time.

“If you’re sitting in a negotiation and you know you want to say something, but you don’t and you’re sitting on your hands – you know that horrible moment where you’ve had a spout with somebody and you leave the conversation and you can think of five things you wanted to say but didn’t. My suggestion if you are in that moment and you want to say something, but don’t feel you’re able to for whatever reason, is that you simply say ‘There’s things I want to say right now, but I don’t feel I’m able to say them. Let’s regroup.’”

Don’t forget to check out episode four ‘Please Sir, Can I Have Some More’ of our weekly podcast, hosted by Jamila Rizvi. While you’re at it, take a look at our other episodes where you’ll meet inspiring guests, discover more about gender equity, hear real-life stories of working women and learn clever, practical tips to help you get ahead.

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