Q: Recently I've been given more responsibilities - work previously done by someone who retired and has not been replaced. But, although I then had a positive appraisal, I haven't had a pay increase since joining the company. However, I know that a male colleague at the same level as me earns more than I do.
A: Asking for a pay rise must rank as one of the most disliked tasks for any employee, matched only by asking for a promotion. Received wisdom is that women are particularly bad at it and are unduly apologetic and timid in their demands when they do get around to it. Men, apparently, are more prepared to brazen it out and ask for increases in salary or status earlier than they merit them.
The fear of rejection is strong, sometimes married to a worry that not only will our request be declined but that some failure on our part will be cited as the reason for it. And if the organisation has been going through a hard time, we don't want to appear insensitive or greedy when others are tightening their belts.
However, there are several good reasons why you deserve more pay. You have managed to absorb the tasks of a colleague, thereby saving a salary and all the other costs of that person's employment. For another, you seem to be making a good job of your increased responsibilities and, just as significantly, you are paid less than a male counterpart. So there are good grounds for your request. Now what you have to do is to find the right occasion and tone for this discussion.
It's a shame you let two good opportunities go by. The first was when you were asked to take on the new responsibilities. The second was during your favourable appraisal, when it would have been reasonable to say that while you're pleased your hard work has been recognised, you would like a more tangible sign of appreciation.
I suggest that next time you are being briefed on a new project or praised for a successfully completed one, ask for 15 minutes of your boss's time. In preparation for the meeting, collect some evidence of your recent achievements in case your boss doesn't have them front of mind. Especially if your role doesn't have an easily measurable financial component, it will be important to show your contribution, not just in fulfilling the demands of your job description but in adding value - for example, through developing relationships with outside parties or improving internal morale. The general rule in negotiations is to focus on achievements rather than needs: you may want a bigger salary so you can move to a larger house to accommodate your growing family, but that's not going to cut much ice with your boss or the FD.
There's another bit of preparation that's important: in these cash-strapped times it's easy for managers to justify a refusal to increase pay, even when they agree it is merited, by saying there is no budget for it or there is a pay freeze, and often this may be true. If this should happen in your case, it will be very useful for you to have already worked out what's on your wish list of things that may be within your manager's gift but don't show up on the salary bill. Examples could include having extra paid holiday or working at home some days of the week. However, if you are forced to go this route, make it clear that as soon as the financial picture brightens, you will be expecting an increase, especially as you know from benchmarking others in similar roles that you are not being paid equally.
Of course, you could mention this unfair (and probably illegal) pay disparity, but I fear this would be seen as threatening, and a reason to terminate your employment at some future time rather than enhance your remuneration. Besides, instead of being tied in to parity with your male colleague, I presume that eventually you would like to surpass him financially on grounds of merit.
Your tone of voice is also important in making a successful bid for a higher salary. Practise what you're going to say. You need to sound confident and competent, not aggressive or aggrieved. Then you will create an expectation that you are a reasonable person who's justified in asking for a raise. Most bosses don't particularly enjoy pay negotiations either, so it's important to make the interaction as pleasant as possible so as to encourage engagement, rather than defensiveness.
Miranda Kennett is an independent coach.
If you have a problem you'd like her to tackle, email: firstname.lastname@example.org