I think maybe it’s time we all had a chat about money. Specifically, asking for money. No, I don’t need a loan – yet, it’s something else. It’s about you. Asking for money, for yourself.
There has been a lot of talk recently about how men get paid more than women because men are better at negotiating. Women ought, said some people, to learn to do it better, then they’d be paid the same.
Lesson? The pay gap is our own fault.
Then the backlash came. Hang on – why should women be paid less than men because, overall, they are possibly more likely to find those conversations difficult and uncomfortable?
I totally agree with this latter statement. Why should I be paid less for doing the same job as a man, (or another woman, frankly), because when it comes to money I find I don’t have the words to talk about it? I don’t work in finance. I’m not especially competitive. I don’t do a job that requires that particular skill. So why penalise me financially because I can’t?!
Unfortunately, the world isn’t like that yet. There seem to me to be wild discrepancies between salaries all over the place. It’s just not fair – literally.
So until it is, let’s have a go at being more upfront about money. Because it actually might be more straightforward than you think it is.
I met a senior media executive the other night, who is a woman and didn’t want to be named, who said emphatically that we need to be more masculine about all this. That we need to present our case for more money clearly and without emotion. And although I liked her and thought she was brilliant and captivating I thought, well… the thing is, if it was that easy – we’d do it.
Personally, I think the trick is to find your words, your language, that you feel alright with using when it comes to money. Find euphemisms if you want to – talk about “value” and “recognition” rather than saying “more money”. My problem in the past when it came to talking about money was that I literally didn’t know where to pitch it. I thought being “more masculine” meant being rude and brutal, when maybe it doesn’t work like that. And anyway, I don’t want to be like a man. I want to be like a woman who can talk about money.
I had a message the other day from a reader who wanted advice on how much to ask for a writing project. She said “I don’t want to price myself out of it.”
That struck me as a killer line – the fear that by asking for “too much” you will end things. That comes from a place where we mostly live in a world where things have a fixed price and you either pay it or go away. But salaries and freelance fees, I think we have all learnt over the last 18 months, have some flexibility.
It’s not about being paid absurdly over the odds for the work that you do, it’s about being paid that absolute maximum that the company’s budget allows for you and on that basis deciding whether or not you are prepared to get out of bed for it.
I dislike the idea that we all ought to want to be superwomen, that the endgame is Joanna Coles, that we ought to want to be kicking ass in a boardroom and earning £3m per year. I don’t want to do that, either – I want to do the job that I do and I want to be paid appropriately for it.
It’s just about not being treated like a punk.
So bear in mind that when you are negotiating over money, it is very unlikely that you will ask for a sum of money that will make the other party say “Forget it, bye.”
You are not a shop. They will not silently look at the price tag and then scuttle out. That’s why it’s called a negotiation – it’s like a conversation, but slightly different – and the people who like doing it, love doing it.
If you can get your head round even maybe even slightly thinking that it’s fun, you will be unstoppable.
I mean, it’s not like I’m Gordon Gekko, but I’m rather aware that there are some people out there who don’t even do basic bargaining.
Anyway I don’t think it’s too much to give away if I reveal how most of my fee negotiations go.
Them: So what are your rates/would you expect to be paid for this.
Me: I really like the sound of this project!! So, so keen. My fee would be £XXX.
Them: We haven’t got that.
Me: Oh right, well what have you got then?
Them: We’ve got XXX
Me: Alright well call it XXX + 10% and you’ve got a deal
You may be worried that someone will think you are “up yourself” if you ask for a robust fee and that may very occasionally be the case, but they are just wrong; you’re only asking, that is not being “up yourself” it’s just good sense.
Other times the negotiation goes like this:
Them: For this project we can offer £X
Them: Sorry, we know it’s not very much but it will be very good exposure.
Me: How about £X + 5
Them: Sorry we don’t have it
Me: That’s a shame but for the time and work involved in this, £X doesn’t make financial sense.
Sometimes, on really good days, it goes like this.
Them: We’d like 500 words for £XXX
Me: Amazing!! Thanks.
Of course, this is not just about us. This is about our children – and when I say children I mean daughters. I see it happening with my own kids even now; no-one has taught Sam to just demand and demand and demand and shriek and shriek until he gets what he wants. He negotiates hard, counting out on his fingers, simply not scared of being told no.
Kitty, on the other hand, while she’s not scared of stuff, (and we have no “little girls ought to be nice” BS thing in our house), I feel like it doesn’t cross her mind to ask, it doesn’t cross her mind that she might want something more than she doesn’t want to be told no. It doesn’t occur to her, unlike Sam, to sidle up to me and say something like “So, if I do this and this and this – and remember Sam got that – can I have another LOL Surprise?”
We spend our lives teaching our kids things – both on purpose by also by setting an example; change your own attitude towards money and you will pass it on.
Anyway enough about me – how about you? Are you a kick-ass negotiator? Or have you literally never asked for a pay rise. Please use the handy comment box below.
For further reading on this, the weekend papers just gone had a great piece from Dame Helena Morrissey about negotiating pay at the back of Style; Sunday Times Magazine had a brilliant – although slightly tangential to this subject – piece by Christine Armstrong about how top exec women with kids are not giving us the complete picture about how hard it is/how much help they have/how much they drink. It was fascinating! Christine will be on The Spike answering my searching questions such as what she’s having for dinner and her favourite shoes very soon.
This is such an important issue. Thank you for bringing it up.
Another angle to this is that being able to negotiate is vital for anyone looking for flexible working. I hate asking for more money, and the thought of being a sales person makes my teeth hurt. But I work in PR which is essentially sales in a nice coat from Whistles so I have to do it.
Last year I was approached about a new job. Which was pitched to me as full time. ‘I want to do 4 days a week school hours only and have the school holidays off’. Quite punchy (but then it’s easy to be punchy on the phone). Their response? ‘How about we meet you half way and you do one day a week in the office and one from home during the holidays?’
Answer. If you don’t ask you don’t get. And as my very wise dad told me ‘if you are no worse off if the answer is No than you would have been not asking then ask the question.
Many years ago I worked for a luxury goods company as their PR girl. On my watch, their coverage was up something insane like 200% in 10 months. … not, to be fair, wholly down to me; they had started to make younger, cooler stuff at exactly the time I started working for them, but still, there I was too. At my yearly review I felt it was only fair to tell them I would be leaving – in my naïvity I wanted to give them plenty of notice to recruit someone else – and was informed that the possible bonus which had been dangled before me “was not for people who left”. This was only my second job, but somehow I took a deep, deep breath, kept my voice level, and pointed out that this bonus surely reflected the work I had already done. “I’ll have to check that with the MD” said my (female) boss.
I did get the bonus, in addition to that startling insight into the world of real work, but only because I was sufficiently surprised to actually say something. Mind you, I had already had to explain to said boss how press coverage could be more than 100% and then put my figures into a bar chart so she could actually ‘see’ them …
Great post, Esther. So important that we ladies get our heads around this. In my first job, after a year or so, I was petrified of asking for a raise and worked myself up into a right lather over it. almost felt sick. Then, I raised it, practically on the verge of tears at the thought of being told ‘no’, and my boss said that he had already been thinking about this, and what about XYZ – which was higher than I had dared allowed myself to ask for. Worked brilliantly. Agree with you about focussing on ‘value’ etc: if you are demonstrably able to deliver what they need, they will recognise that and want to pay for it, rather than have you amble off all disgruntled and be kick-arse at some competitor.
Agree with the negotiating – however this does leave out the follow-up study that shows that when women DO negotiate, they are penalised socially for it in a way that men aren’t. Sometimes the mental calculus makes the trade off not worth it. It’s a tough situation to navigate. Also, when women DO ask they’re still less likely to get than their male colleagues. It sounds like the tide is turning, but slowly.
Anyway, that aside, I’ve been doing freelance writing for a few years now and you HAVE to not undersell yourself. It’s all down to projecting that air of confidence and that you know what you’re doing… eventually you will. I make it a point now to not drop my rates unless I absolutely have to or there are clear advantages, such as paying upfront for ten articles.
It’s a bit like dating, clients want you to be a bit hard to get and in demand. Good clients looking for professionals don’t WANT to pay bottom of the barrel prices, and they’ll assume you are not professional if that’s what you charge.
Highly, highly recommend Alison’s blog Ask A Manager (http://www.askamanager.org) for pay negotiating scripts. Also because the blog is hilarious.
Thanks I’ll look it up
Great post, thank you Esther.
I’m a freelancer genuinely petrified of negotiating my rate. It makes me feel ill. Even before, as an employee it never dawned on me to negotiate the starting salary. I’m still, 15 years into my career, astounded anyone will give me a job, let alone pay me well for it. Perhaps not the ideal negotiating position 😉
Your point about the fear of pricing yourself out of the job is really, really spot on. My husband (who works in the finance sector) cannot fathom my fear of asking for ‘too much’. But in my head, I’m doing a calcus that goes ‘in my industry, consultants are cluttering up the place and it’s not a high paying sector, and I know these guys so…’. I often feel I just have to take what’s offered.
I have found it helpful to have some benchmark to point to when negotiating. So, for my last round of consultancy negotiations, I worked out my last annual salary, broke that down into a day rate and internally knew I wouldn’t go below that. And *crucially* I knew I would be confident and comfortable asking for that as the minimum. That made it a case of ‘it’s not me being greedy, it’s just the going salary/ rate for this kind of job’.
I agree with your point about daughters. However, I think it’s worth pointing out the role of personality as well. I have two daughters and a sister. One daughter pushes and pushes and the other is awkward about asking. I’m awkward about asking and my sister is amazing and just won’t take no for an answer from employers (or our mother when she was a kid 😉! )
This is so important and it’s so hard sometimes to ever realise you are acting in a certain way due to the internalised misogyny bulshit.
I had a difficult situation where I had received a fairly decent pay rise and was quite pleased with it only to discover a male colleague who I had trained was on a higher base salary. When I did raise it with my (male) manager he lied. It’s a very difficult situation, someone actually said to me that they had probably started his base salary at a higher rate because he had children and I did not. Finding the words and. Learning how to advocate for yourself is so hard.
Jess when you’re actually being lied to by some motherfucker, it’s very difficult to know what to do
The other point in this discussion is to do your homework first, and ensure you’re speaking to the right person when asking for a pay rise. This isn’t always your direct line manager. And all requests for pay increases will eventually need to be approved by a CFO or equivalent. Find out how the process works in your company. I’ve seen many women work up the courage to ask for a pay rise only to be told the person they speak to has no authority to request or recommend it internally.
A few years ago, me and a male counterpart where doing exactly the same job, but i’d been doing it for 3 months more. I trained him. When our annual review came round, I marked myself quite harshly but fairly, not wanting to seem big headed. He marked himself top for all categories. My boss agreed with both our marks, despite me consistently out performing him. This resulted in him getting more opportunities and being paid more than me. When I called my (female) boss out on it, she asked me why I thought she would give me higher marks than I myself thought I deserved.
Anyway, it’s stuck with me. I don’t know where its come from because I certainly wasn’t raised in a ‘little girls should be nice’ sort of family but I guess as women we think (hope) if we work hard, someone will recognise us and shouting out for more isn’t the done thing. But it just means we get less than what we deserve.
This is so the kind of thing I would do I feel really ill on your behalf
It’s also so tied up with the way women think. There was a study a few years ago which looked at attitudes to job applications/promotions, whcich found that (by and large) women will not go for a role, especially if it is more senior, unless they are already sure they can do the job, whereas men don’t really even consider IF they are qualified, they just go in all guns blazing assuming it’ll all work out … this sounds just like Mills’s experience.
So timely! I asked my boss for a pay rise last week. I psyched myself up in the car and went through everything I wanted to say before hand. While I wasn’t rubbish once I got going I very nearly burst into tears just asking for it! Why? Why? Why? I should say I work for a charity. My job was on the line in July but we’ve just got another five years of lottery funding for the next stage of my project (having successfully delivered the first part) I’m worth it. I am! No …really I think I am but err….
you ARE. a man would hear there was more funding and go “YAY MORE MONEY FOR ME”
I am just so angry that this is STILL happening……a hundred years ago (well, alright it was probably 1974 but that feels like a lifetime ago) I was offered a management trainee role with a major shoe retailer. I’d been working there all through Uni and was really really good at selling but also the stuff everyone else hated like stock checking. Then I found out that female management trainees were paid less than men from the off ….I told them where to stick it but I was young and had all the confidence of total ignorance about life etc. I hope I’d be able to do the same now if I was a recent graduate desperately looking for a job, a start on the ladder but I don’t know.
Sharon in Scotland says
I work in the public sector and I’m at the top of my band. A trained giraffe would get the same as me if they were on the same banding. If I wanted a pay rise I would have to apply for a new job or they would have to re-band my job, (that isn’t going to happen).
I’m not sure how I would handle asking for a pay rise, probably very badly.
I think I’m lucky, but that could be a double-edged sword
well… as long as you’re getting as much as the equivalent man is, I’d say that yes you’re probably in a reasonably relaxing situation …
Similar to this, I work in higher education where there are fixed pay grades. But (according to a colleague) there is hidden inequality in the pay scale: people in jobs that were once female-dominated, like marketing and library staff, are on lower grades than people in traditionally male jobs (like IT) with the same level of skill and responsibility.
I don’t know how true that is, but it made more aware that there might be inequality lurking around every corner…
Sharon in Scotland says
The vast majority of people in my profession are women. We had a land-mark decision a few years ago that brought our pay in line with educational psychologists, (mostly women). I see what you mean, a male dominated profession may well drive pay levels up.
This is striking chords everywhere with me Esther. I’m a freelance editor and have quite a lot of experience in my subject area, but still feel sick about negotiating a fee. It’s much easier when they tell ME and I can work it out from there. I’ve even begun to ask for more when I’m approaching budget and still have more work to do, generally with positive results. BUT I recently quoted for a job and I made it quite high because it was an unknown author and I hadn’t seen any sample manuscript so I was covering all bases. I fell over myself to say it might not really but that much, I’d have to see the manuscript first sorry sorry if it’s too much and please like me, and then they went with another editor she’d worked with before. I felt it was entirely my fault because I’d asked for too much money, and it still makes me churny to think about it. Grrr.
Rachel I wonder why you automatically think it’s because you asked for too much – rather than she went with an editor she’d worked for before? Writers as you well know are weird and superstitious and OBVIOUSLY she’s going to go with an editor she’s worked for before… honestly it’s not because you quoted too high.
Thank you and I think I know this IN THEORY (especially the bit about all writers being weird!) but I found it interesting that so often our default position is to blame ourselves. It actually annoys me.
Five years ago, high on Lean In, I rode into my (very good) annual review and complained that my slight raise/bonus was not high enough; it was less than my contract indicated and did not reflect that I had been doing my boss’s job in addition to my own ever since she had left months previously. My (male) boss was appalled, said no one had ever complained to him about a raise before, and made me redundant a month later (before waiting a month or so to hire someone in my place). I was well shot of the place and I wasn’t the best fit at the company but it was a shock to my youthful feminist idealism.
fuck! this is a terrible story! but god, yes quite right to see it as a lucky escape from a hellpit
Great post Esther. Have been mulling over returning to work freelance so good to get suggestions on those conversations. Read Christine Armstrong’s excellent article + found it fascinating/ terrifying. Can’t wait to see her with you here. There seems to be no work/life balance available for women. Love the site revamp!
I am currently in such a rut about this. I had to leave a job where I was being bullied and take a job a band lower – where they could have matched my money but refused saying I hadn’t done exactly the same job before. They matched other people’s previous wages in my department. Eight months down the line it is very clear I had all the relevant experience for this job and do work above the band they are paying me. They could up my increment but they refuse, won’t even hear it. I work for the NHS so it’s not like I have freelance flexibility. But I used to work at this band i’m on previously a few years ago – if i’d stayed in that job and not tried to progress i’d be on more money than i’m on now! it’s so unfair I wake up in a rage at half past one every night. help.
Freya Koepping says
I’ve done all of it – got the money I asked for, got priced out of a job, got told it was more than they could pay, but they could do some extra. It’s certainly true that women are poor negotiators, but it’s also true that motherhood comes with a massive pay penalty. It’s the time off, not the gender, that is the issue there though. If fathers took the time off instead of mothers, they would also end up taking a massive pay cut after three years out of the workforce. As soon as it becomes socially acceptable for fathers to be the main carers, the gender pay gap will be a thing of the past – I’m not sure it ever will be though.
hello, just wanted to update cos I’m going through a negotiation for a piece of consultancy (I’m freelance). I kept this post in mind while negotiating. I’ve deliberately squashed my ‘oh gee i’m so grateful to be considered’ tendencies. I got a clear handle on the money with a formula to back it up (rather than a fuzzy rough idea and feeling too nervous to think it through). And I got my husband to talk me through it. He’s completely mercenary when it comes to pay negotiations, despite being fairly mild mannered and obliging to a fault. I have an ideal position, a back up position and rate I won’t go lower than. It’s a job I’d like, but, y’know, I’m worth it. Wish me luck 🙂
good luck!!!!! so lucky to have a killah husband (or sister, or brother, or cousin or friend) in these situations – you can absorb their certainty and confidence about pay and sort of channel it