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Women and Wages: Why You Should Ask For More

The phone rings and you answer with a sweaty palm and pounding heart.

The words blur into a meaningless hum, but one sentence stands out: “We’d like to offer you the job”. A grin tugs at the corners of your mouth and you respond that you absolutely will take it, head fervently nodding in agreement at all the details that follow. You hang up and victory dance around the house, ignoring the neighbours’ curious glances.

You’ve got the job!

But a few hours later, when you’ve told your family, friends, and all 972 people on Facebook, your mind wanders and dares to think, “Is that the salary I really want? Is it the one I really deserve?’.

 We’ve all been there. Weeks, months, of depressing job applications followed by a series of nerve-wracking interviews. The huge amount of pressure and confidence knocks along the way often mean that, by the time we meet our match and get the magical ‘you’re hired’ phone call, we feel grateful that anyone thinks we’re worth hiring at all and agree to everything – including the salary – with barely a second thought.

Kate went on to tell me that no matter what salary I was offered, I must ask for more. I must ask for more because I am confident in my abilities and, more importantly, because my male counterparts will ask for more. Every time, no hesitation.

A few years ago, I was sat at home anxiously awaiting the phone call to tell me if I’d got the job. Thanks to my imminently ending contract role as a marketing assistant at a global telecoms company, my colleagues were fully aware of my situation and had even sent me a few good luck emails. I was working from home, eyes darting between a spreadsheet and my phone screen, willing it to ring. Finally, the screen lit up with an unknown number. Adrenalin pumping, I answered and was hit with a wave of anticlimactic confusion when I heard, “Sophia? Hi, it’s Kate* here”.

It was the global marketing director at my current company. Why oh why was someone of her seniority, with a team of over fifty people, calling me on the same day I was waiting to hear about a new job? What task could possibly be important enough to detract from the life-defining phone call that awaited me?

I’ll ruin the story a bit here – I got the job. But that wasn’t the most important phone call I had that day. Kate’s call contained words that I have no doubt will outlive the memories of the job interviews that inevitably await me.

Once she’d established that I was indeed still awaiting the all-important phone call, Kate went on to tell me that no matter what salary I was offered, I must ask for more. I must ask for more because I am confident in my abilities and, more importantly, because my male counterparts will ask for more. Every time, no hesitation. My future employers will always ask what my current salary is, and any pay rises from my current employers will be based on my existing salary. This is my one opportunity to set the standard and freely negotiate; to play the game on my terms.

Kate had left a meeting to call me. Sure, she had been impressed with my work ethic and enthusiasm, but I won’t pretend that her need to tell me this was from a personal angle. Rather, she was ringing as a highly successful woman working in a male-dominated industry who consistently saw men being paid thousands more than their (often more capable) female colleagues. But Kate’s tone wasn’t embittered; it was empowered. She knew that as a young female starting her career, I was perfectly placed to begin to challenge the wage gap still so rife in the workplace today.

We have the power to change the way our superiors view us as women at work. Whether an assistant, a teacher, or a director, it starts with us. If women continue to happily accept the first salary offered while men demand more, how can we ever expect our employer to view us as equal? How can we ever expect to view ourselves as equal?

Following my conversation with Kate, I hung up the phone and seconds later (seriously, seconds; my nerves were shot), the phone rang again. This time, it was the recruiter uttering those magic words. While whizzing through her tick-box list of the role, she stated the proposed salary, barely pausing for breath as she said, “Are you happy with that”. You may note the lack of question mark – it’s deliberate. It wasn’t a question.

Negotiating your salary is not a big deal… You’re setting the precedent that the employer has hired the right person, who isn’t afraid to go after what they want and knows that they are a worthy investment.

With a deep breath, I challenged it. Channelling the strong independent woman vibe of the female protagonist in (admittedly sexist) Hollywood movies, I told her I was thrilled but that I was hoping for more. Surprised, she responded that she’d go back to the team and let me know. Hanging up, I felt sick and slightly embarrassed.

In need of reassurance, I called Kate back and told her, expecting a congratulatory response. Instead, while she congratulated me on the role, she seemed almost disappointed that I had requested only a marginally increased salary. At the time I felt disheartened – nervous that I’d pushed for more and frustrated that I perhaps still hadn’t been bold enough.

With hindsight, I realise that Kate’s lack of reaction is entirely the point – negotiating your salary is not a big deal. It should be viewed as an essential part of the recruitment process, as normal as the pounding heart and insistent email checking. You’re setting the precedent that the employer has hired the right person, who isn’t afraid to go after what they want and knows that they are a worthy investment.

After hanging up, a toxic cocktail of nerves and emotions flooding through my body, I realised I had a voicemail. The recruiter’s chirpy voice chatted away, confirming further details: that the new requested salary was agreed and that they looked forward to seeing me on Monday. I listened to it twice in disbelief that it had been so casually achieved.

And then I victory danced again.

Written by:

A writing enthusiast and general book geek, Sophia dreams of one day writing a novel. When not furiously typing away on her laptop, she enjoys discovering tasty gluten-free food, googling pictures of baby elephants, and dragging herself to the gym.

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