Mind the Gap: How to Increase Your Salary

By Elizabeth Harrin (London)Photo of a young business woman holding currency notes and smili

If you’ve been following the release of various studies into the gender pay gap, you might be wondering what you can personally do to increase your chances of not falling into the chasm between men and women’s pay. In this difficult economic climate – although there are some small signs that things are looking up – can you really get a pay rise?

“It is far easier to fix your own situation on a one-on-one basis than to lead a revolution on behalf of woman everywhere,” says Cy Wakeman, HR expert and President of Cy Wakeman, Inc. “If each woman would step up on an individual basis – the issue would be fixed and we wouldn’t need mandates, audits and programs.”

Not everyone would agree that it’s that easy. You can’t just walk into your boss’s office and demand more money. Well, you could, but you wouldn’t get very far. It’s also difficult to work out how to pitch your request, as ‘John earns more than me’ is unlikely to win you many points in the argument, even if that is your primary reason for wanting to approach the topic of salary increase. Your employer’s first reaction is liable to be ‘How did you find out?’, especially as many companies make use of gagging clauses in contracts – or at the very least make a special point of telling employees not to share salary and bonus data when it comes to pay review time. Therefore it is worth putting together a case for why you deserve a rise, particularly if your compensation package – or lack of it – is a major concern for you at work.

Lauryn Franzoni is Executive Director of ExecuNet, a private network for business leaders, which has done some investigation into pay and motivation. “Our research also found that compensation is the primary reason female executives become dissatisfied with their jobs,” she says. It’s hardly surprising, when you see the constant stream of research into the fact we earn less. ExecuNet’s 2009 Executive Job Market Intelligence Report revealed that while the gender pay gap is narrowing at certain levels of the executive ranks, it remains substantial at the very top of many organisations. “On average, men holding the title of CEO or President earned 14 percent more in total compensation than their female counterparts last year,” Franzoni says. “This pay gap closed to 6 percent among vice presidents and 4 percent for other C-level officers.”

Putting together a case for an increase

“Your gender has nothing to do with whether or not you are worthy of a raise,” says Wakeman. “Your value as an employee is, male or female, dependent on the value you bring to the organisation, the market value of your services, and the ROI you deliver both economically and emotionally, today and into the future. And all these factors are within your control, unlike your gender.”

The first step in creating a case for a salary increase is to critically analyse the value you bring to the company. You can side-step the whole ‘men get paid more’ debate if you focus on having a professional conversation based on your worth. Analyse yourself as if you were your boss or your HR manager in terms of:

  • Your current performance. Does the company get their money’s worth for what they pay you today? If you are just an average performer, then probably not – and they won’t see the value in paying any more.
  • Your value as a resource on the open market. What is the current demand for your skills in your area? Have a look at salary surveys and job adverts – don’t just guess.
  • Your potential for future returns for the company. This is your capability to grow and develop, to play a multitude of positions, to succeed the leaders, and willingness to share information and develop others.
  • Your flight risk. Is it worth the company paying you more to keep you? Again, this is partly due to the competitive situation and whether your skills are in demand. It’s also about how big the impact would be if you left. Don’t use this as an excuse to hoard knowledge and protect your position. Instead, think about the aggregated skills you have, like your technical skills combined with how great you are in relating to people.
  • Your emotional expense to the organisation. Basically, do you whine a lot, or are you seen as low maintenance? “If you are a resilient, personally accountable employee who freely gives your talent and is willing to support the organisational direction without drama, then you are a great deal,” says Wakeman.

Frame your request in business terms, and be prepared to negotiate across several meetings. “The first conversations need to be ones in which you are asking sincerely what can you do to add more value or what you can change in your style and approach to be more high-impact and low-maintenance employee,” says Wakeman. “As you deliver your argument, begin by stating your goal of increasing your compensation package and ask how you can help make that possible.”

What else makes up a compensation package?

You might not be successful in getting your salary increased, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find grounds to negotiate elsewhere. Talk about a ‘compensation package’ and you leave the door open for more flexible working, study leave or tuition fees, car allowances or other benefits.

Most importantly, don’t give up. If your negotiations for a better package don’t end up the way you wanted, smile, thank your managers and plan your new strategy. Never threaten to leave or whine that you didn’t get what you asked for. “The finance industry, particularly at the most senior levels, is an ‘extreme’ industry, requiring marathon hours on the job, and harbours a very testosterone-fuelled culture,” says Dr Sasha Galbraith, a former senior executive in the real estate investment advisory industry who is now a partner at Galbraith Management Consultants, where she focuses on executive women and their progression in corporate hierarchy. “Either the nature of the work has to change to allow more work-life balance for all employees, or the industry will be populated with men who have stay-at-home wives and unmarried, childless women who love the adrenaline rush.”

And nobody wants that.

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