Lately, there has been a lot of discussion about how disparity in pay rates is impacting professional women. Attention is being paid to the consequences of pay gaps between men and women. Whether it’s framed as women working for free one day a fortnight or losing hundreds of thousands of dollars over their working lives, it’s obvious that the problem is impacting in very real ways.
What practical steps can we take to address this issue? After all, it’s not a new problem. I’ve coached hundreds of female clients who have been baffled by how to negotiate a fair deal. Many of these women needed to start with the basics: upgrading their negotiation skill.
Megan (not her real name) was a classic example. She came for job interview coaching, ready to walk out of a job she loved. Why? Because she just found out that a male colleague, employed at the same level, was being paid $20,000 a year more than her. Angry and insulted, Megan was in full-on flight mode. As we discussed her situation, it became obvious she didn’t really want to leave her current employer. She found her work fulfilling, she enjoyed working in her team and she was a key player in a major project. This project was not only bringing in big profits for the business, it was adding significantly to Megan’s skill development. She wanted to see it through to completion.
I asked Megan how she would like her situation to be different. She said she’d love to stay, if only she was paid fairly. Megan wasn’t very different to many women in the corporate world today. We set to work figuring out how to make up that $20,000 gap. Tenacious and creative, Megan developed a plan that got exactly the result she desired. So, how did she build that plan?
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Step one: shifting out of passive mode and into active mode. This involved Megan reframing her perception of the situation. Instead of seeing herself as a victim, Megan needed to frame her situation as a business problem. Rather than blaming her boss for underpaying her, she needed to shift into assertive negotiation mode. This meant accepting that the past couldn’t be changed, but there was a lot Megan could do to influence her future. Instead of seeing her situation as either stay or go, she was able to come up with a range of options, which were both career-savvy and negotiation-savvy. I helped Megan develop a backup plan, or BATNA which helped her feel empowered rather than distressed. Yes, that plan did include the option of walking away, but it also included several other possibilities.
Step two: designing a solid business case for justifying her $20,000 increase. Instead of whingeing or complaining, Megan needed to show her worth to the organisation. This meant gathering firm facts and data. Megan started by doing a robust benchmarking exercise. Instead of just comparing herself with one male colleague within her team, she scoped out pay scales within her industry. This meant she had a much greater sense of true value and was able to pinpoint her target salary more accurately. As part of her benchmarking exercise, Megan also gathered information about how where her skill-set and experience situated her in the job market. Thus, she was able to prepare a convincing argument for her $20,000 raise.
Step three: putting the strategy into action. First, Megan primed her boss to respond positively to her the argument for a pay raise. In other words, Megan developed a strategy for showcasing her contribution, experience and skills well in advance of broaching the salary discussion. Over three months, she completed briefing presentations designed to highlight the contribution she was making to the business. Not only did this subtly underscore her value, over time it also earned her the feedback and attention she had not previously received for her efforts.
Step four: creating an action plan for the negotiation conversation itself. This included a strategy for when and how to raise the issue. It also covered a map of the needs and concerns her boss and human resources were likely to bring to the table. Given that the business was going through a downturn, Megan needed to be flexible in the approach she was taking to her negotiation. She developed a series of proposals and concessions, which she could draw upon during the negotiation.
We rehearsed ways Megan could present her proposals during a series of roleplays. While Megan hated roleplays (who doesn’t?) she later said that these had made the difference between success and failure during her real-life negotiation. Apparently, I had role-played exactly the questions HR raised in the real-life scenario. The rehearsal meant Megan was prepared to respond to those questions assertively – just like a savvy negotiator.
I’m pleased to report that her story has a happy ending. Megan got exactly the result she wanted: a $20,000 raise over twelve months. She was achieved this by taking a flexible approach to negotiation. Rather than demanding $20,000 in one hit, she proposed a staged approach and co-designed a process based on performance targets being rewarded with regular pay increases over a year.
Megan’s story vividly highlights the importance of staging the process in negotiation. Women who don’t know how to do this need training or coaching in the basis of negotiation.
About the author of this tip sheet
This tip sheet was created for you by Australian coach and trainer, Eleanor Shakiba. Eleanor consults to a range of sectors – including higher education, health, finance and local government – in the development of social and emotional intelligence at work. Eleanor has been running training and coaching sessions for people in high intellect professions since 1994. She is qualified in Social Anthropology, Applied Psychology, Adult Education and Neuro Linguistic Programming.