Here’s How To Ask For More Money – And Get It
First things first: I am not here to bash women. But I am here to tell them how to ask for the money they – you – deserve. It is not easy, and I know this well because I have held myself back by not negotiating for what I was worth. As Liz Truss, chief secretary of the British treasury, said recently that women are often too “squeamish” about money. It felt vulgar to me – greedy and uncouth. I am not alone.
Whether it’s female entrepreneurs seeking funding for businesses, or female employees wanting pay rises, women tend to ask for less than they should, or not ask at all. All too easily, we can become complicit in a system that already underplays our value.
A recent report by the British Business Bank shows female founders are missing out on billions of pounds of investment: for every £1 of venture capital investment, less than a penny goes to all-female teams. So we are hardly starting on an equal footing.
Money is an uncomfortable topic. But asking for what you deserve is far from vulgar.
If you don’t get paid what you’re worth, or ask for less money than you need to run your business, you will fall into a downward spiral. You will show up without the motivation you need to thrive. If you’re worrying about how you’re going to pay the mortgage, you will have less brain space available to focus. If you can’t afford to hire the best team or buy the best materials for your business, you won’t be able to propel it to the success your investors are hoping for.
I realised all this too late myself.
I grew up in a family where money wasn’t discussed. My mother was a social worker, my father was an engineer and the message to us children was: work for love, not money. So when it came to my first salary negotiation, at the law firm I had joined on graduation, it didn’t even cross my mind to ask for more.
The understanding of how this negatively affected not just me, but the company didn’t come until later. That happened when I moved to Asia and began to work for a billion-dollar business. The whole situation felt so alien that I simply asked myself: What would make me get excited? Then I breathed deeply, got over the nausea of asking for so much money, and did it.
They said yes.
The change in me was immediate. I walked into the office each morning with enthusiasm and dedication.
Being paid well led to an upward spiral: I did great work, which benefited the company, and led to them to ask me to do even more exciting things they paid me well for.
Soon, I started coaching women in the art of negotiating their careers and salaries. Now that positive spiral happens for all my clients – employees and entrepreneurs alike.
Take Elina, whom I helped last year. She works in a male-dominated production facility, and is clever and hardworking. When I asked why she was paid so little, she said money didn’t motivate her and she felt uncomfortable talking about it with her boss. She didn’t want anyone to think she was focused on salary, rather than the work itself. After I gave her the strategies to communicate, she stepped up, had the conversation and increased her salary by 35%. Since then, she has got another promotion and another raise.
The lightbulb moment comes the second my clients realise that asking for their worth is not vulgar or greedy.
That it is, in fact, quite the opposite – and the other side wins, too. I once proposed to my company that they donate to a charity that builds libraries in third-world countries. Rather than asking for three libraries, as I had planned, I decided to add a zero to that number. The answer? “Regrettably, we are only able to sponsor 15 libraries.” (That “regrettably” still makes me chuckle.)
It was a lesson in not playing small. Asking for what you want, even if it’s a lot, isn’t difficult.
Think of a number that would inspire you, that would make you feel powerful and strong. (If you don’t feel butterflies in your stomach, go higher.) Now ask for it, knowing in your heart that the world is better off with you playing at a higher level.
That is neither vulgar nor greedy.
Wies Bratby is the founder of Women In Negotiation (womeninnegotiation.org) and fellow of the De Witt Institute for Advanced Negotiation (dewittinstitute.org).