Twenty years I’ve been in the workforce. That’s 20 years of deadlines, jumping on planes, working late into the night and, ultimately, furthering the fortunes of companies and proprietors who are decent enough – sorry, lucky enough – to have me.

During those two decades, how many times do you reckon I’ve asked for a pay rise? Most years? Biannually? Nope. Just once.

Not a savvy thing to admit, but a quick ask around friends and colleagues reveals the same: Women don’t ask for pay rises.

Each year, figures illuminating the gender pay gap are trotted out (last year, it topped 18 per cent, the highest since 1994) and the government valiantly reacts with strategies such as the Fair Work Act to put an end to discrimination. 

But how can we expect to earn parity with men if we don’t ask? We can flick our freshly shampooed hair and claim ‘we’re worth it’, but unless we get our Manolos down mahogany row and pitch for a raise, then more fool us.

The one time I did ask was after reading an interview with a highly respected retiring editor, in which he pointed out that not once had a woman come to him requesting a pay rise. Men, on the other hand, asked all the time – on the golf course, at the pub, on the sub-editor’s bench after he’d guffawed over a particularly witty headline and even, he revealed, at the urinal.

Fired by indignation, I asked to see my boss, which was cheek in itself considering this indomitable Fleet Street editor only communicated with young staff exclusively through written warnings and herograms.

“What do you want to see him about?” asked his PA. I told her it was a private matter, because – and this is daft – I didn’t want her to think I was full of myself.

Rocking up to the meeting in my best ‘take me seriously’ suit, I rattled off my spiel. As the heat crept up my neck, he interrupted: “I’ll give you a pay rise, Mollard. And thank you for your efforts.” And that was it. Ask. Get.

So why, when the worst possible outcome is a no, do so few of us demand more? Why do we tell a boss, “It’s not about the money,” when, quite frankly, it should be? And this one: “Pay me what you think I’m worth,” which is tantamount to saying, “I have no self-worth.”

Women have long complained about the glass ceiling, but we’re equally compromised by the sticky floor. As a CEO friend told me, “Men often see themselves in their next role a year before they’re ready, while women leave it a year too late. Ditto, their pay cheques.”

Witness the hoopla recently when Larry Emdur negotiated himself a reported $800,000 deal with the Seven Network. Immediately, his female colleagues were said to be upset. But Mel, Nat and Kylie are smart chicks – I’m betting they’ll use this as leverage.

What’s heartening is that Gen-Yers seem to exhibit none of this ridiculous self-limiting behaviour. They’ve barely graduated off the coffee round before they’re angling to be the boss. As one ingénue told my magazine editor friend, “I didn’t spend six years at high school so I could do photocopying.”

Another friend runs a PR company and recently headhunted a promising junior. After a successful interview, she emailed the would-be recruit with a job offer and a generous $20,000 pay rise. A day later, she received a response: “Double the salary, make me associate director and I’ll come.”

Audacious? Yes. Successful? Not this time.

Catch Angela Mollard on Weekend Today, Sundays at 7am on the Nine Network. Email angelamollard@sundaymagazine.com.au.

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19 comments

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    • Sam says:

      09:31am | 20/02/11

      Maybe a more revealing question to ask should be: How many payrises have you received? I’ve never asked for a payrise. The reason? Probably because I have received them without asking on many ocassions.

    • Bitten says:

      09:55am | 20/02/11

      Sure, ask for the payrise. But also be prepared to justify your request. You don’t get payrises for just being you. You get them when you can demonstrate your positive contribution to the company’s bottom line. And yes, I’m a female and I have never joined the ‘wah-ing - I’m not paid enough and I should be paid more just because I turn up and I’m a girl’ club. Get with the program ladies. Be great at your job, make your company more successful and put your hand out with confidence. Be deluded, think that you deserve more because you simply occupy space in the office, the answer won’t be yes.

    • Zac de Spudnut says:

      11:00am | 20/02/11

      Yes men are the problem. So how about the feminists follow in the footsteps of past victories “Hiring Women (feminist) Australia Says NO”.

    • marley says:

      11:41am | 20/02/11

      Umm.  She’s not saying men are the problem.  She’s saying women who adopt self-limiting behaviour, like not asking for a raise they think they’ve earned, are the problem.  In other words, if women want to get the raise, they have to be like men and ask for it.  What’s the big deal?  She is in fact telling women not to rely on some sort of equal pay legislation, but to take the matter into their own hands.  Maybe they’ll get that raise, maybe they won’t.  But “nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

    • CL Angus says:

      11:45am | 20/02/11

      Nice article. My female flatmate was having a crisis moment a few weeks back because of this very issue.

      She apparently had never asked for one before, and was panicking over what they would do to her if she asked. I shared my experiences with her and made it clear that, as she had taken on additional responsibilities for a while and had been doing a good job, that there was no harm in giving it a go. The next day she went over to her boss to ask, and although did not receive one was told that she would definitely get one at the next pay review.

      Easy!

      At the end of the day women (and anyone else who hasn’t had a pay rise and wants one) have to show some initiative and ask away. I’ve never heard of anyone being sacked for asking the question - the worst response is a no!

    • Jugg says:

      02:58pm | 20/02/11

      Yes and allegedly, Kylie is so outraged she demands a gift from ‘Tiffany’s’.  Outraged.  Any respect for Larry Emdur’s wife making these demands?  Asking another wife’s husband to buy jewellery for her?  Yay the feminist cause!

    • PeteQ says:

      04:14pm | 20/02/11

      As a male boss, I found fellow menfolk seemed to have no problem asking for a pay rise, whereas women were far less likely to have a go. I was always amenable to a good pay rise argument from whomever asked and was willing to redress any gender-imbalances while I was at it.
      So…women, be confident and just ask! Of course, come prepared to justify and be a realist about your contributions. If you get told ‘no’, hold your head high and accept it until the chance arises again (there or at another employer).  You win yourself alot of points for accepting the umpire’s decision in these situations.

      If nothing else, asking for a rise gets you on the ‘pay review radar’ which never hurts at pay review time.

    • BK says:

      08:40pm | 20/02/11

      Isthere any hard evidence for this, or is it all just based upon stereotyping about women being more humble? Women are perfectly capable of being as arrogant and selfish as men.

    • Lisa H. says:

      11:33pm | 20/02/11

      Is there any evidence that ‘women are perfectly capable of being as arrogant’, BK, or are you just making it up as you go along? smile
      Anecdotes really seem the stock in trade in this kind of conversation.
      PeteQ just said his experience as a boss was that women didn’t ask for pay rises as often.

      My own experience as an employee, employer and as wife is that men seem much more comfortable talking themselves up, taking the advantage, taking the lead (rather than following a woman) or at least claiming the credit…
      Interesting subject for university research.

      But I think we agree, BK. I’m sure that cultural conditioning is a pretty important reason why women don’t push forward. Perhaps the experience of mothering (herding cats) beats the last competitive streak from women.

      As a mother, who depends on my husband’s income, perhaps it’s better for me that women competing with my man ‘know their place’ anyway.

    • Brian says:

      07:54am | 21/02/11

      Partly it may be cultural, Lisa H, but partially it’s likely to be related to one simple fact: Men tend to take more risks then women. We drive faster and more dangerously, go skydiving more, have a tendency to be more violent and drink to excess more. We also tend to take more sisks in the financial sphere - leading to some men being better paid, and some bankrupt.

      Of course, these are all generalisations and it’s quite possible to get a mild-mannered, shy man and a violent, hard-drinking female race car driver, but they’re the exceptions.

    • Jacqui says:

      04:36pm | 21/02/11

      There have indeed been studies on this subject.  To get an idea of the results, check out Salary, Gender and the Social Cost of Haggling at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/29/AR2007072900827.html

      Basically, women don’t negotiate for a higher salary because they quite accurately predict that they’ll be perceived negatively as a result.  In Western (and indeed many) societies, women are still socialised to be polite, accepting and not encouraged to rock the boat, so stepping outside those behaviours can be met with disapproval.

      It’s all very well to tell women that it’s their own fault for not negotiating harder, but they’re operating in a much larger social construct so while it’s within your control to go ahead and ask for a bigger paycheque, how the person making the decision consciously or unconsciously reacts is another matter.

    • Sara says:

      09:04am | 21/02/11

      The few times I’ve asked for a payrise, the response has always been “We can always find someone to do your job for less. If you don’t like it, leave”.

    • Markus says:

      10:04am | 21/02/11

      If you are still at that same job after being told that, either you aren’t as good as you think you are, or you don’t truly believe you are as valuable as you claimed in your payrise request (otherwise you would have risked going elsewhere to get what you think you deserve).
      Either way, that is nobody’s problem but your own.

    • Sara says:

      11:16am | 21/02/11

      On the contrary, I’m now in a job where they pay me more than average and keep increasing it without my having to ask. However, I wouldn’t be here today were it not for the experience I gained from roles with arrogant, patronising employers, who were happy to negotiate with my older colleagues but figured my 20-year-old self would just put up and shut up.

    • Markus says:

      03:47pm | 21/02/11

      In that case, congratulations.
      Always good to hear someone taking control of their own future, rather than expecting the government to change the system just to suit them.

    • Fantine says:

      09:13am | 17/10/11

      Articles like these put the cosnmuer in the driver seat-very important.

    • Micheal says:

      10:43am | 17/10/11

      Unparalleled acucarcy, unequivocal clarity, and undeniable importance!

    • Billy says:

      06:05am | 08/02/12

      I wluodn't say I see the situation from a man's perspective. I'm analytical, so I just look at things from all sides to understand what may motivate certain patterns of thinking and behavior - but that doesn't mean I agree with all of the positions I recognize and analyze. I think people may get the wrong idea of my position, though, based on the limited portion quoted. I don't believe we've achieved gender equality in society. I've never gone Dutch on a date - and actually, I've never been asked to because I've never dated a man who's very integrated into American culture, so they have traditional views on chivalry. However, I think that women who are going to date American men should know how certain ones think. If they are going to date men with those ideas, then they should realize that there are techniques that work and others that don't. Nearly any man will eagerly take care of a woman who embraces her femininity. A successful woman can still emit femininity and evoke a man's natural instincts to care for her. It just requires wisdom - especially in a society like the U.S. where roles have become uncertain.

    • Reynante says:

      01:56pm | 10/02/12

      Sounds like I need to be in Asia raspberry The epic fail state of ditnag/chivalry in the US is so not to my taste.  I hate it all!

 

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