To pay rise or not to pay rise, that is the question

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s blog post about women on boards, and the frankly ridiculous things a few people appointing – or rather not appointing –  women onto boards said, I wanted to touch on the issue of gender pay.

This has clearly been a hot topic recently with the Government’s introduction of mandatory gender pay reporting, although post some high profile media coverage – which seemed to focus on a few big companies and criticism of the ways the reporting has been structured – it feels a bit like its fallen away.

I have been very fortunate to formally and informally mentor a few exceptional women in recent years and consistently, unsurprisingly, navigating promotions and pay arise as constant themes. Regardless of gender, it is clearly something that comes up again and again whilst working.

A lot has been written about gender differences in pay. The survey my charity Young Women’s Trust did of 800 HR professionals actually found that the majority (67%) didn’t think there was a difference between men and women in relation to ambition, though 25% did think men were more ambitious. In relation to asking for pay rises though, the number who thought gender didn’t make a difference dropped to 51%, with 39% saying male employees were more likely to speak up.

Some light Google-based research shows that the actual evidence about gender-based differences in approaches to pay is more of a mixed bag. A study by the University of Wisconsin, Warwick and the Cass Business School found no difference in the likelihood of asking for a pay rise between genders, but you can also find articles citing studies, like one from global market research firm Mintel published earlier this year, which found that women report being half as confident as men at asking for more pay.

Anecdotally though, its something I hear from women time and time again. And to be fair, regardless of your gender, we are all quite right to want to ensure we are being paid fairly and properly for our work.

It’s tough though. If you have been in the same company for a long time, your increases can be incremental, sometimes capped by a % increase the company feels is fair. There’s the experience that you need to be seen as a flight risk, or even put another offer on the table, in order to get a big jump. A friend of mine has just been offered a staggering increase by a panicked boss who realised she was being head hunted by another firm. That’s great, but there is no way she would have been given anything like that amount of money if she had just carried on happily working away. She’s not taking on any additional responsibility, it’s for doing the same role, to make her stay put, but the scale of the increase must have made her wonder if her peers have been getting paid a lot more all along. That’s one of the reasons why personally I love the idea of traditionally contract-bound services going commitment free. It forces you to up your game every step of the customer lifecycle to keep their business.

Pay is also a really tricky subject to discuss. I’m sure its not just down to our Britishness that we don’t like to disclose how much we are paid, and getting reliable data on how much you ‘should’ be paid isn’t easy. And, whilst helpful and always sensible, I don’t think the more generic guides to negotiating a pay rise are ever going to be quite capable of giving you a personal confidence boost or specific action plan.

I do think this is where mentoring can massively help. When they tell me their salaries, I can often give my mentors a sense of where they rank and what they should be aiming for. This is becoming an over-used phrase of mine, but a mentor can also help call bullsh*t on some of the excuses they may have been given for why a pay rise might not be possible at that time. My experience is clearly mine alone and different companies, sectors, and employees will be very different. But I do believe where there is a will, there’s always a way. Picking a great boss is clearly a bonus here, but unfortunately that’s not always within our control.

My first boss and mentor, now many years later still my dearest friend, has done many amazing things for me but one of the best was teaching me how to ask for a pay rise. I would have been about 15 or 16 years old at the time, an inexperienced intern, but she took time out of the day to role play with me asking for an increase, giving me feedback for improvement, and then when I’d finally nailed it, giving me said pay rise. It has stayed with me and all these years later I think its a gift to be able to pass it on. Having a trusted confident to help you prepare goes a long way, and its one of the reasons I advocate mentoring to everyone I meet (well, when appropriate. I’ve found it gets a little awkward if I start strong-arming strangers on the tube).

So, some of my thoughts on negotiating pay. Back-dating is a great thing, and something that was once unexpectedly gifted on me, but I often recommend it especially if you are really out of sync with company pay rise cycles (year end pinch anyone) or making a move into a completely new field. I’ve moved about a lot in my career, into areas where I have no ‘proven’ experience, and whilst some might call me soft for this, I don’t object to not getting an immediate pay rise, even though I am well aware that someone else getting the job, with the CV, skills and experience to match, will likely be paid more from the get go. That said, once you’ve proven you can do it, and you’re doing the job, I think you should be compensated for the work you do. Staggered pay rises is another, especially if its a big jump you’re after. A chunk at the start and then another bump say 6 months in, especially if you’re willing to set out and agree some performance criteria. Start the conversation earlier as you approach year end review so your boss knows they need to ear-mark you for a rise. And also trust your gut. There’s a very divided opinion about whether those who don’t ask won’t get, versus the view that I’m doing a good job so I just need to carry on plugging away, because surely they will reward me. I suspect it varies from place to place, and person to person. I’m so fortunate to have worked for just some of the best people and at every point when I have pointed out an issue with my pay, it has worked out in the end. But you must point it out.

DduccmLVAAAxt8mOne final point on pay. Whilst the official stats and studies show a mixed picture, it is absolutely true that different careers and professions have different pay (that’s what an old colleague of mine would call a No Sh*t Sherlock moment). So we should be very worried about sectors that are really lacking female representation; I think it was Government stats from last year that said there are 25 men starting an engineering apprenticeship for every women, and from the start they pay significantly more than the sectors women are dominating. You can dismiss gender pay differences by saying pay is affected by things like type of job – but what that actually means is we should be helping to make sure that women, and other under-represented groups, are getting a fair shot at getting the jobs that pay.

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