How to have better conversations about your salary.

Updated: Jul 3, 2019

Four top tips to overcome gender bias that are helpful even if you are not a woman.

This blog is part of a week-long series that looked at the identification of the problem on Monday, tried to understand it in context on Tuesday and will today look at addressing it. Thursday will look at what managers who have noticed this challenge in their teams can do.

If you are paid less than your colleague and you are both on equal footing regarding skills and qualifications; it might be time for a conversation about your salary. I have put together my top four tips; some are designed to overcome specific gender issues; some are general; all are potentially helpful no matter who you are.

It is incredibly important to remember that discrepancy in salaries is rarely malicious. Its usually people not noticing how subtle nuances have affected their thinking. Therefore the better we can prepare for those nuances the more chance we have of achieving the outcome we desire.


Challenge. Sometimes when asked to account for a discrepancy, a manager might reveal concerns about your capabilities that might not have been raised before. It is not necessarily a malicious move; your manager may have forgotten to mention it or even thought that they were protecting you by keeping it hidden.

Action. Prepare yourself for this eventuality. Consider anything that could be levied against you. Then evidence how this was either not your responsibility or you how you have worked (or will work) to improve your skill set since the incident. Remind your manager everyone fails, its what we learn that important.

Silver lining. The ability to reflect and learn from that reflection is genuinely one of the most powerful skills we can learn. I find the more I practice reflection, the better I can handle both criticism and failure.


Challenge. It's common for people to judge men on where they are going and women on what they have done. Resulting in women needing to provide evidence of capability before they are even considered as a candidate, while men just need to look the part.

Action. Have that evidence ready, and take into account how your manager best responds to information. If that might mean recording the productivity of your subcontractors, the number of retained clients of case studies of your successful projects. Pay attention to both the style of information that works for your manager, and the targets you are expected to meet.

Silver lining. You will develop skills that help you notice how people disseminate information as well as building a portfolio of your work.

Create an image.

Challenge. As above, people can struggle to see where women are going if they are busy looking at their past.

Action. Create a picture for them. Demonstrate what you are aiming to achieve, the opportunities you need to be given to get there, the reasons you can achieve this and when you are looking to achieve this by. Be clear and do not assume managers will be aware of what you want. A word to the wise, you need to make sure the picture you paint aligns with the agenda of the manager in question. It would be dangerous to tell someone you want their job if they have no intention of leaving it.

Silver lining. Having to outline your ambitions to others is an excellent way of ensuring you are clear about what you want to achieve. Be kind to yourself, though, especially if you don't get there as quick as you wanted. Remember, success looks different to everyone. Even our own idea of success can vary at different stages of life. Worry less about what you think you should achieve and more about what works for you.

Negatives to positives.

Challenge. Questions toward women tend to be framed more negatively than those posed to male candidates "why did you fail to achieve the target", as opposed to "how will you achieve the target next year"*.

Action. Reframe the answer. This can be done in a variety of ways, but I like first to address the question, explain what I have learnt, then demonstrate how I will apply it. It's useful to end on a positive. For example, The targets were missed due to lack of resources; a process has been put in place that will enable early identification in the future. The new method should improve the budget by an additional 10%."

Silver lining. Paying more attention to how questions are framed and how you respond to those questions, can develop a skill set that will help with many negotiations, including winning tenders and achieving promotions.

As ever there is a lot to consider, but you don't need to know it all at once. Focus on a one area and practice improving. Remember what looks like an obstacle now could very well turn out to be an advantage later.

This blog assumes a whole host of things, including that you work for a company where you feel it is safe to have a conversation like this. Make sure you understand the environment you are going into fully before you request a meeting. The questions answered in Monday's blog will help you know more about what might need to consider.

* I really want to credit the person who was telling me about this but I cant for the life of me remember who it was - sorry - can I blame the baby still? Please let me know if it was you.

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