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How women can overcome salary negotiation anxiety

Shot of a group of businesspeople sitting together in a meeting salary
Normalising confidently asking for a salary raise may go some way to reducing the pay gap. Photo: Getty (PeopleImages via Getty Images)

Even if you know you deserve more money for the work you do — and have the results to prove it — it can be challenging to negotiate a higher salary.

Research shows that women are more likely to feel anxious about asking for a pay rise, with one in five fearing that negotiating their salary will damage their careers.

From women’s overrepresentation in low-paying sectors such as care to the unequal division of caring responsibilities, various structural problems underpin the gender pay gap.

However, normalising confidently asking for a salary raise may go some way to reducing the pay gap.

Syndio, the workplace equity platform, recently released new UK data revealing how the "confidence gap" still deters pay equity between men and women. The fear of being rejected was the most common concern voiced by women, followed by a lack of confidence and being seen as pushy.

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Conversely, men were twice as likely to ask for higher pay and said they were confident the move wouldn’t affect their career. On average, men who negotiated a pay rise requested a 7.5% increase, while women asked for 6.8%.

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“It's likely if a woman is feeling anxious, she’s overthinking the salary negotiation — or not feeling confident enough in herself to ask for it,” says Soma Ghosh, a career advisor.

“If she has been used to earning a lower amount of money, this could be something that is potentially out of her comfort zone. Staying in that comfort zone is sometimes easier than having to ask for something, even if you know you want more and are worthy of more.”

Ghosh adds that the stereotyping of women as "aggressive" — for just doing their jobs — can lead to women accepting less than they deserve.

“Some women may feel it's arrogant to ask for more and may worry what other work colleagues or their boss may think of them,” she says.

So what can you do to manage anxiety around asking for more pay?

Whether you’re starting a new job and negotiating your starting salary or asking for a pay increase in an existing job, there are several steps to make the process easier.

Arm yourself with information

Before speaking to your employer, it’s important to do your research.

Find out what the average salary is for your role and what you could potentially earn at a similarly-sized company. There are a number of ways to do this, including looking on job websites such as Glassdoor or connecting with people in your field on LinkedIn.

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Once you have this information, you can work out what to ask for — while keeping in mind your skills and the individual value you add to the business.

Have a salary range in mind

Going into a pay negotiation with a single, set figure can lead to disappointment if your employer doesn’t agree to it. Having a range in mind — including a minimum salary you would accept — is a better option.

Go into the meeting with clear, concise reasons why you should be paid above your minimum threshold. If you plan to highlight your past successes at the company or in a previous role, it can help to bring evidence and data with you.

Prepare to haggle

Ghosh says it helps to be mindful that you might get a ‘no’ — and know that you may have to haggle to get what you want. Having your first offer rejected doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t get a pay rise.

Ultimately, it’s important to be flexible.

“Make sure you negotiate and collaborate in a way where you are both happy,” Ghosh says.

Remember your value

Whether you’re asking for a pay rise at your current job, or asking for a higher starting salary at a new role, it’s essential to remember your value. You may want to emphasise your key, niche set of skills and outline how they are valuable to your employer. It might also be helpful to highlight your experience and qualifications too.

“It’s important to have a strategy. Think about the value you add and be clear as to why you should be given that salary,” says Ghosh.

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“Explain this whilst negotiating and say why you feel this is justified, emphasising if you have a specialist qualification or being employed in a specialist role. Add why your skills and experience mean you should get more.”

Write it down

Anxiety can get the better of us in a stressful, high stakes situation — and you may forget all your well-rehearsed, key points. Writing what you want to say down can help you remember all the important information in a meeting.

“Asking for more money isn't just about the money,” says Ghosh. “It's also about your personal value and what you bring to the workplace. Don't let a fear of rejection stop you asking.”

Watch: Why do we still have a gender pay gap?

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