6 Very Practical Steps For Successfully Negotiating Salary – For A New Job Or A Hike!

In an unequal world with fewer women in the workforce, and facing gender pay gaps everywhere, negotiating salary can be an essential skill.

The thought of negotiating salary can be daunting, especially for women. Here are the six steps to achieve favourable outcomes from salary negotiations.

*Names changed on request to protect privacy.

I stared at the offer letter. The company had offered me a 20% increase over my current compensation – the lower end of the range I had conveyed after two gruelling interview rounds. There was a further devil in the details; they had included gratuity in the compensation offered, whereas I had not considered this component in my take-home calculations.

After much deliberation on “how will I come across in negotiating salary,” I communicated my views to them. Two days later, I received a revised offer that increased my take-home pay, which I happily accepted.

A week after joining the company, however, I felt short-changed after discovering that my male colleague, a year my junior who used to do the role I was now hired for, was drawing 30% more salary than me. The pay disparity between us kept widening as we grew in the organisation.

That was more than a decade ago. While many things have changed since then, some things have still remained the same. The gender pay disparity for one.

According to an Oxfam India 2019 report, women in India are paid 34% less than men for the same job, making it the widest gender pay gap in Asia. This gulf spans organised industries in the corporate sector like IT and manufacturing to caregiving sectors like healthcare and social sectors—which employ more women— before widening further in unorganised sectors like agriculture. Even the entertainment sector isn’t immune, with female actors being paid less than their male counterparts.

Ask for a raise, or you might never get one

While the prevalence of gender pay disparity is widely known, a lesser-known fact is that more men ask for a raise and negotiate their salaries than women. A study on negotiating salaries reveals that one-third of women never ask for a pay rise at their workplace compared to one-fifth of men. Another LinkedIn study shows that 90% of women professionals hesitate to ask for a raise at work.

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This lack of negotiation is the first mistake many women make in negotiating salary or pay hikes. Megha*, vice-president at a leading financial services company in India, says, “When I first became a team leader, it was a shock to see how many men asked for a raise or promotion. Neither I nor the women I supervised asked for those things.”

Reasons for women being less willing to negotiate salary vary from not wanting to be seen as pushy to fear of their jobs being revoked when asked for a raise.

“I always felt that my salary was less compared to the responsibilities I handled for my company,” says Kritika*, a content writer cum trainer, about her role in an educational institute two years ago. “But I didn’t want to come across as demanding or bossy in asking for a raise. Eventually, I got a better-paying job at another organisation, and when during my exit discussions, I told my seniors that low pay was the primary reason for my job switch, they said I would have got a raise had I asked. It was an eye-opener.”

Both women and men who ask for a raise are more likely to get one than those who don’t speak up. And women have more reasons to ask for a raise since they are already earning less than their male colleagues for the same work; the more they hold back, the more this gap widens.

How to ask for a raise?

The thought of negotiating salary can be especially daunting for women. Here are six steps to take while negotiating salary, especially for women in corporate, to advocate for their careers.

One

Define your ‘enough’ before negotiating salary. Know how much you want to earn and determine your walk-away point. 

How much do you expect to earn in your current organisation or the next job? What’s the limit below which you will walk away? Be clear on what is a make or break for you— base salary, perks, paid leave, or something else.

Knowing your expectations and the walk-away point will help you mentally prepare for salary negotiations.

Two

Prepare in advance to make the best pitch for yourself. Be ready with facts and practice your statements.

Do your research before negotiating salary. Find the average salary range for your role through sites like JobBuzz or Glassdoor, and bring documentation to show that your compensation is less than the industry average if that is the case.

Ask yourself why it is in the company’s interest to increase your salary, and document the answers with evidence to demonstrate that you have taken on a higher workload or next-level responsibilities. Did you organise four successful events in the last quarter or train thirty new joiners? Quantify and put a rupee figure to your achievements to the extent possible.

Rehearse the actual conversation and throw-back questions with a mentor, coach, or trusted colleague to be better equipped to negotiate salary.

Three

Be specific. Put a precise figure to your expectation and don’t show all your hands when negotiating salary.

Be unambiguous about your expectation— state a single absolute figure or percentage hike. Often women, more than men, specify a wide range while negotiating salary and end up with offers at the lower end of the spectrum.

Don’t show desperation about the job or offer; your employer will take advantage of the weaknesses you reveal during the negotiation process. Sumeli*, a senior dietician who switched employment from one private hospital to another in a different city, found this the hard way.

The first offer was a 15% hike on her last CTC figure against her 15-25% ask. When she probed further, HR cited budget constraints and offered to pay her hotel bills in the new city for fourteen days instead of the seven initially offered. A month after moving, she discovered that someone with five years lesser experience than her was earning about a lakh more. “I feel terrible. They negotiated my worth down after sensing my desperation to get a job in another city,” she says.

HRs and hiring firms are incentivised to negotiate hard. That’s why your desperation for a job or role, if any, should not reflect in your body language.

Four

Never settle for the first offer after salary negotiations. Read the fine print and clarify.

Negotiate around the first offer being put on the table; unless you are aware that salary is strictly non-negotiable, the first offer from the company is usually neither the best nor final.

If your initial offer is at the lower end of the range you provided, ask why. Enquire about the increment cycle, travel policies, leave, and other benefits in case of a new job. Do not capitulate too soon, like Sumeli.

Five

Stop apologising for negotiating your salary. Take the ‘No’ as ‘Not Yet’ and be prepared for prolonged negotiations.

Language like “I am so sorry to bother you” or “I know budgets are tight, but … ” makes your negotiation personal and undermines your achievements. Remember, you are not asking for a favour by negotiating your salary; there’s no need to make excuses for your request.

Be comfortable drawing out the conversation — or even postponing it — rather than assuming the matter closed for discussion after hearing No the first time; it’s more than okay to ask again unless the person has specifically mentioned otherwise.

Six

Have a Plan B for when you receive a No. Negotiate on other benefits or schedule a future salary review.

A career is a marathon, not a sprint. No doesn’t mean never.

Be prepared to counter with something other than money in case of a No. Compensation goes beyond salary. Negotiate on paid leaves, flexible time arrangements, or other benefits based on what’s important to you and your lifestyle.

Show your employer that you want to do your job better by asking for feedback after the No. Commit to incorporating the feedback, and make your intent clear about scheduling a salary review after meeting the performance metrics. Your employer will also get the message that you mean business in salary negotiations.

Negotiating salary in careers beyond the corporate space

Care work employment

Women are overwhelmingly employed in care work, including teaching, nursing, facilities management, and domestic staffing. The last two are low-wage demographies employees tend to be easily replaceable. Then there are the semi-skilled,front-desk staff in the hospitality sector, where long hours and low wages are the norms.

As a woman employed in the above sectors, first be aware of your rights — ensure that the salary offered to you is as per The Minimum Wages Act, 1948. Payment below the minimum wage rate amounts to forced labour. Then, prepare for the offer by asking the other men and women in your profession to help you with their salary information. Most people will be happy to help if requested.

Stand up for yourself better during negotiations by providing data on prevailing salary benchmarks. Further, negotiate the other benefits the job offers— working hours, paid leaves, and vacation days also contribute to job satisfaction, and employers would be more open to discussing them.

Govt or armed forces employees

As a government sector employee or an armed forces personnel, you have limited leeway to negotiate the monetary aspect of your pay since the starting compensation and increments are based on pre-decided salary bands. But you might also face challenges in getting equitable roles and responsibilities.

“All the ‘non-glamourous’ departments like cultural affairs, education, women and child development go to women civil servants, while all the finance and ‘glamourous ones’ go to men,” says Renu*, a retired IAS officer. “We are most likely the second choice for important portfolios and departments.”

Do not fear negotiating for the work you deserve. Also, keep yourself abreast of the evolving rights in the workspace, such as the recent Supreme Court ruling on compassionate transfer policies for female employees.

The last word… always keep it professional

Salary negotiation is not an argument where you need to win or the other party has to lose, but about finding an acceptable middle ground for both parties.

Be positive but firm, and keep it professional rather than getting emotional while negotiating salary. Believe in your abilities and what you bring to the table to negotiate from a position of strength. You will get what you deserve while doing your bit to bridge the gender pay gap.

Image source: a still from the film Tumhari Sulu

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About the Author

Smita Das Jain

Smita Das Jain is a writer by passion who writes every day. Samples of her writing are visible in the surroundings around her — her home office, her sunny terrace garden, her husband’s car and read more...

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