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Many women don’t get a pay rise because they don’t ask for one. Here’s how to change that

Many women don't get a pay rise because they don't ask for one. Here's how to change that

The persistent and fluctuating gender pay gap is one of the most glaring barriers to women’s equity in the workplace and pursuing meaningful and rewarding careers.

Gender stereotypes, unconscious bias, and structural barriers to equal pay have deeply entrenched themselves into most workplaces, industries, and global cultures.

Doing the same job for less money has become so normalised that a recent study by the employment site Indeed revealed that more than half (54 per cent) of Australian women have never asked for a pay rise.

One-third of these respondents, surveyed across 11 countries including Australia, the UK, and the US, hadn’t requested a pay rise because they feared negative consequences.

Only 43 per cent of women in Australia and 44 per cent of women in the UK had ever asked for a pay rise. Women in the United States ranked slightly higher at 51 per cent, and India came out on top, with 65 per cent of women asking for higher pay.

We’ve all heard the saying “the squeaky wheel gets the oil”, so why are so many women still hesitant to speak up and ask for better pay? 

Fear of retribution and lack of confidence

Study respondents said they needed more support and opportunity to start the discussion about salary. They felt a lack of comfort or safety to raise the issue, fearing ramifications if they spoke up.

Despite progress towards more equitable career opportunities, many women are still afraid to advocate strongly for themselves, fearing they will be seen as ungrateful or ‘difficult’. 

Sally McKibbin, career expert at Indeed, explained that our history of undervaluing women’s contributions prevented them from feeling confident and justified in asking for what they deserve.

“Women understand the value of their work and want fair compensation, but sadly, the majority feel disempowered because of a system that has long favoured men with better pay, better roles, and better opportunities,” she said.

“This broken system has told women they are less valued in the workplace, so it’s no wonder many lack the confidence to ask for a raise.”

Personal confidence is an important part of the equation — 43 per cent of study participants who asked for a pay rise received one — but it isn’t the whole picture.

“These efforts alone can’t address the systemic, deep-seated inequality that women continue to face — and the onus shouldn’t be on women,” said McKibbin.

“Rather, organisations need to continue to work towards lasting, meaningful change for women at work and remove these barriers for good.”

Structural problems require system-wide reform

McKibbin said that a multipronged approach to dismantling systemic pay inequity is required to continue making meaningful progress.

“While many organisations are making important steps towards gender equality, the stereotypes, unconscious biases, sexism, and unequal pay and opportunities women still experience in the workplace continue to hold them back,” she said.

Expecting women who have grown up in a sexist and biased world to fearlessly self-advocate is an overly simplistic, unhelpful approach to this issue, which puts vulnerable women in insecure employment or unsupportive workplaces at an unfair disadvantage and at risk of negative consequences.

While Indeed’s research found that many requests for a pay rise had a positive outcome, until larger-scale societal attitudes and norms have shifted, there will always be a chance that salary negotiations can turn sour.

Changing toxic or outdated workplace cultural norms is equally important for creating a safer environment for women to ask for fair compensation. One example is that discussing or comparing remuneration with your colleagues is inappropriate.

“Discussing salaries in the workplace more generally has historically been a taboo topic, which has also contributed to pay disparity,” said McKibbin.

“Encouraging open conversations about compensation can help break down this barrier and create a more transparent environment for women.”

She added that organisations must lead by example to demonstrate their care about pay equity and create a safe space for an open and honest discussion about pay rates.

“Implementing initiatives like regular pay equity audits to identify and address gender pay disparities, increasing opportunities for career advancement, and advocating for pay transparency would go a long way in supporting women to more confidently seek and receive better remuneration.

“We know that when women have access to information about what others in similar positions are earning, it empowers them to negotiate more effectively and demand equitable pay.”

Sally McKibbin, career expert at Indeed

Sally McKibbin, career expert at Indeed.

How to choose your moment to request a pay rise 

Before requesting a pay rise, McKibbin explained how women could get a pulse check on how receptive their workplace might be.

She suggests asking trusted colleagues who have asked for a pay rise what their experience was like and reviewing company policies around pay increases, promotion processes, and gender equity initiatives or statements of commitment.

Broader policies that demonstrate a workplace’s commitment to work-life balance, employee wellbeing, diversity, and inclusion are also valuable indicators of how supportive they may be.

McKibbin also stressed the importance of timing when planning to ask for a pay rise.

“It’s best to avoid discussing a pay rise during layoffs or at the end of a busy work day, for instance,” she said.

“It’s better to wait for a performance review or schedule a meeting specifically for this discussion.

“Having a back-up plan is important, too. If a higher salary isn’t feasible at your workplace at the time of your discussion, come prepared with alternative options to a pay rise — such as additional leave or flexible work hours — that you’re willing to accept instead.”

Self-advocacy tips for asking for a pay rise

Cultural shifts take time; in an ideal world, women wouldn’t have to fight for the compensation they deserve. In the meantime, McKibbin offers advice for women seeking a pay rise.

“Despite widespread apprehension around asking for better pay, women can take comfort in the fact that such requests usually result in a positive outcome — with our research showing that three in four women who’ve asked for a raise were awarded one,” she said.

That said, it’s not enough to walk in and assume you’ll automatically be granted a salary increase. McKibbin recommends doing your due diligence and arriving well-researched and prepared to demonstrate the value you add to the organisation to justify a pay rise.

You could gather evidence of your accomplishments, collate statistics about the revenue or other benefits you’ve brought to your team, and collect testimonials or positive feedback from colleagues, clients, or stakeholders.

You can also research salary benchmarks in your field to illustrate the fairness and reasonableness of the requested pay increase. If you have specific concerns or questions about how to manage a conversation negotiating salary, it’s also helpful to discuss these with a trusted mentor before setting up the meeting with your manager.

Once your research and preparation is done, try to embody confidence, even if you feel nervous. Keep your head up and shoulders back, and avoid minimising or apologetic language. Remember that you have every right to make this request and that the worst they can say is ‘no’.

Most employers should respect your ambition, drive, and dedication to your role and may be grateful that you asked for a pay rise rather than seeking a higher salary elsewhere.

To calm your nerves, rehearsing with someone you feel comfortable with can help. Ultimately, remember that this is a two-way conversation and that overcoming your fear of asking for what you deserve will serve you in many ways, from building resilience and confidence to setting a precedent for your boundaries and expectations around salary.

“If the outcome isn’t a favourable one, scheduling another review or exploring new job opportunities may be your best options,” said McKibbin.

“Ultimately, learning to advocate for fair compensation is important for your career satisfaction and growth.”

Indeed’s insights highlight an opportunity for employers to create more inclusive working environments for women, empowering them to request the compensation they deserve confidently and without fear of repercussions.

Emma Lennon

Emma Lennon

Emma Lennon is a passionate writer, editor and community development professional. With over ten years’ experience in the disability, health and advocacy sectors, Emma is dedicated to creating work that highlights important social issues.