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Making a case for a pay increase – start with a clear reason

For many people, asking for a pay rise is up there with the most awkward conversations to have with your manager. Women can be particularly reticent about asking for more money, with just one in five likely to ask for an increase, versus one in three men, according to a recent survey by comparison site, Finder.

And while Australia’s gender pay gap is at its lowest in 20 years, the bad news is that a significant disparity remains between men and women’s earnings. The gap is currently hovering around 14.6 per cent, based on the latest figures from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), and is particularly pronounced at senior management levels.  

Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg puts much of the onus on women to pursue workforce equality for themselves in her book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. While some have criticised her stance, I would argue that this perspective can be highly empowering. There’s no doubt that much remains to be done at the organisational level to correct the disparity – starting with routine pay equity audits – but it’s empowering to think that women can have a significant impact on their remuneration by knowing when and how to ask for a pay rise.   

For some, it isn’t the awkwardness of the conversation itself that deters them from asking for a pay rise. It’s more a case of not knowing how to go about it. A participant in one of my leadership workshops, Karina, a financial services executive, put it succinctly by saying that her problem wasn’t asking for the increase, but rather, not knowing how to ask to ensure a positive outcome.

To that, I say, it’s important to start with a clear reason why you should be paid more. Time and tenor will never cut it today. To even raise that as a reason is naïve and positions you as out of touch with business realities. Rather, you need to present a compelling case as to why you’re worth it.

For example, you may have taken on a considerable new responsibility that was not in your original job description, such as an additional leadership role. In this situation, have the pay rise conversation as soon as possible. The longer you perform these extra duties without recognition, the more likely that they will simply become expected of you.

You don’t need to be a hard-nosed negotiator with the brash confidence of Jerry Maguire to close the deal. I liken the process of asking for a pay rise to presenting a business case. It’s not personal, and as such, it frees us up to present the business facts and build an argument. Think about ways that you’ve saved the company money or helped them generate new revenue. One thing that senior decision makers see clearly is a dollars and sense rationale.

Be selective in the time of the meeting and location to ensure you’ll feel your most calm and confident. If you think it will help, rehearse your responses to the questions you anticipate, as you would for a job interview. Identify specific examples of key achievements over the year, how they have contributed to your company’s success, and the qualities you have that will serve the firm in the future.

Finally, after receiving a pay rise, don’t rest on your laurels for too long. Make a point of assessing your responsibilities and performance at least once a year, analysing whether your pay is truly in-step with your industry, and the contribution you are making.