Take charge of your career and get paid exactly what you deserve with these practical tips on how to navigate a workplace negotiation.

Last week, the Australian gender pay gap climbed to 18.8 per cent, the highest level since the Australian Bureau of Statistics started collecting that data in 1994. The average male in full-time work makes $298.10 more per week than their female counterparts.

Throw in the fact that Best Supporting Actress winner Patricia Arquette used her acceptance speech at the Academy Awards to demand wage equality for all, and International Women’s Day coming up this Sunday 8 March, and it’s clear that the time to start closing that gap is now.

We spoke to Margaret Jolly, an expert in the area of workplace relationships, negotiation skills and achieving results, and asked her for some practical advice on how women can ask for and receive higher wages, bonuses and other entitlements in their jobs, no matter the industry.

Her company, Margaret Jolly Consulting, specialises in human resources, people management, coaching and workplace investigations. Bringing over 20 years experience to the interview, Jolly was overflowing with simple yet effective tips and tactics on how women can become savvy and successful negotiators.

“Women in business are at a disadvantage,” she says. “Not because they are less educated, less skilled or even less confident — but because they don’t ask for what they want.

“In the professional arena, negotiating is a given and many men do it exceptionally well. And even if they don’t, most men will at least speak up and ask about what’s possible and view their position and salary as an evolving beast — one that will change over time. Men in general have far less difficulty in demanding attention for their achievements and subsequently, asking for fiscal rewards in return. Women, on the other hand, are far less inclined to point out what they have achieved, preferring to be part of the team and not stand out above the rest.”

The result? It creates a divide between salaries and positions of power. Men typically advance faster and make more money on average than a female, even if they possess the exact same qualifications and experience. This is not new knowledge but it is bewildering and depressing to say the least. As a woman in the workplace, there are expectations for equality and fair treatment that simply seem archaic to even have to discuss.

Of course, you alone are responsible for your life and nothing will change unless you take action. But you must take calculated action, know what is going on and have a plan. Without knowledge of a situation, you have very little bargaining power.

“Exactly,” Jolly agrees. “Charlize Theron showed us that. In the Sony hacking scandal, one of the things that came out of that was the stark difference between what very bankable, Academy Award-winning female stars were being paid compared to their male counterparts. Amy Adams was paid significantly less than her male co-star, and not just the salary, but also the percentage of profits were on a lower scale. Charlize was in the process of locking in her contract for a movie and then found out what she was going to get paid and also what her male co-star was being paid and she demanded that they be paid the same. But the difference for Amy was that she didn’t know she was getting paid less and salary information is often kept secret in organisations and so the companies get away with it.

“And traditionally — and I say this with hesitation as it’s a sweeping generalisation — men are much better at asking for what they want, much better at looking at a job specification and saying, ‘I have half of those skills so I’m going to give it a go’ whereas women say ‘I don’t have 20% of the skills they’re asking for, so I’ll have to wait’. They tend to hold themselves back for lack of confidence. And it starts at graduate level.”

Jolly preaches that women in the workplace need to be more confident, “not only in saying what they think, but in saying what they want. And that would go a long way to changes things. And as a generalisation, men are better at showing off what they’ve achieved. They’re in people’s faces a bit more. Women tend to have this view that ‘if I do a good job and keep my head down and work hard, rewards will come’ and that’s just not how the world works.

“Supervisors are busy people, they need to know that you’re doing a good job. They can see it, but they need to be told it too, especially around review time. And I think that’s the most important thing that women need to start doing. Don’t wait until your salary has been reviewed to go and say ‘I’m not happy with that’. You must have that conversation before salary review time so that your employer knows what you want.”

Jolly believes that something is holding women back, and that something is “a fear of standing out, a fear of failure and a fear of being rejected if they ask for something. Women need to overcome these fundamental fears that they have about how they are being perceived by people. I mean, the worst thing that can happen to someone is that they say no and you are in no worse position. By not saying anything and extrapolating your worth to the organisation, nothing is going to change.”

So what can you do about wage inequality today? What steps can you put in place to increase your salary, add to your bonuses or negotiate better entitlements?

Here are some practical actions you can implement straight away.


Don’t wait until your salary has already been reviewed before asking for what you want. Most companies work on a financial year schedule, and budgeting starts in April/ May, ready to start on the first of July, so you need to have that conversation well ahead of time. Find out when your company makes their budgeting decisions and schedule your meeting at least three to four weeks before that.

Know who the decision maker is

Remember, it might not be your immediate supervisor. Enquire who has influence on salary decisions (usually your supervisor, the CEO, the HR manager or all three) and make sure whoever is involved in the decision making is also included in your meeting. If not in person, be sure to include them in any email correspondence about the discussions. Make sure you are clear about what your expectations are and explain what those are based on (this is where you will need to have done intensive preparation).

“Prepare for that discussion,” Jolly says. “Don’t just go in saying ‘I think I deserve a payrise’. You need to state why and that involves knowing what the market is for the role, what other people in your industry are getting paid and what quotas you need to be meeting.”

Present a valid reason for the payrise

You have to be able to justify the reasons for the payrise, other than the fact that you just want one. Everyone wants more money, more time, more holidays, more entitlements, but why should YOU receive them? Think about your performance and what you’ve done and where you’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty. Have you acquired new skills or completed a new course? Have you exceeded your budget or have you saved money for the company by implementing a new policy or procedure? Have you made a difference or have you contributed to the social fabric of the company in a positive way, perhaps by being part of the social committee? Compile a list of times where you contributed something that is above and beyond what you need to do for your job. If you provide numbers to back this up, it will present as a much stronger argument.

Prepare for any objections

Expect objections and you won’t be caught off guard, but will instead have answers and factually informed responses. Role play with a friend so you can learn to stay calm when being questioned. Have a mental list of everything you have achieved and practise until you can comfortably state them without downplaying them.

Jolly provides an example: “If your organisation says, ‘we can’t do that because we’ve got a set percentage increase that we need to stick to because of the budget’, you could say something like, ‘if some people are not getting a payrise, then that means other people could get more than the allocated percentage’. You need to understand how the business of the organisation works.”

Remember, knowledge is power.

Be patient

Make it clear that you don’t expect an answer that day, and that you would appreciate them taking the time to consider your points and get back to you. This shows that you are committed and are serious about your request, which will make them consider your expectations more seriously. However, if the answer is immediately a ‘no’, then consider immediately requesting a review in three months time. Again, you can accept this current answer but confirm that you will need this reviewed again. This demonstrates that you believe your worth to the company.

Ask for a bonus

What many people don’t consider is asking for a bonus rather than an annual raise. If the budget doesn’t justify a salary review, then think about what other options can be discussed.

“What many people don’t realise is that your salary is a cost to the organisation,” Jolly explains, “so if you are awarded a salary increase then all your sick leave, annual leave and long term leave is paid out at that high rate. So if you’ve achieved certain things, you think you deserve a certain pay rise and you’re told that it’s not possible, I would have no hesitation in asking for a bonus instead. Simply say something like ‘This is what I’ve achieved, I would like you to consider giving me a bonus in lieu of a salary increase’. That’s a good tip that many people don’t think about.”

Offering options increases your chances of a successful outcome. However, if the answer is no to both of those requests and you feel seriously aggrieved and believe you are meeting deadlines, hitting targets, and contributing above and beyond the call of duty, it may be time to move on from that organisation and look for more suitable employment that acknowledges your work.

Ask for extra holidays or shorter working hours

If your initial salary increase was turned down due to budget constraints, this is a very good compromise.

“Employers need to feel like they’ve had a win and that could be by retaining you or by not paying you extra money,” Jolly says. “If working a nine-day fortnight or having a day off a month and retaining the same salary suit you, that’s a good result.”

Think about what you want, research if it is a viable request (for instance, you probably can’t ask to work a three-day week or have two months annual leave), then present this as an option to your organisation.

Practice role-playing

Practice makes perfect so grab a friend and start re-enacting your negotiation meeting. Write down any objections they may have and become comfortable with your replies and explanations. The more you practice, the more at ease you will become, the more confident you will appear and the greater your chance of success. Jolly suggests watching the TED talk with Amy Cuddy titled Your body language shapes who you are. The video examines power poses and the effect these have on the body and mind.

“This has been backed up by science and that’s why I love it,” Jolly enthuses. “Standing for just two minutes with your hands on your hips or your hands above your head before you go into a meeting increases testosterone and decreases cortisol. Amy suggests going into the bathroom or somewhere private and practising your power poses.”

Remember, even if you don’t feel it, act confident, make eye contact, be very clear about what the conversation is about and the result you want to achieve.

“It’s like getting up in front of a crowd,” Jolly says, “you have to practice what you’re going to say. It’s a very stressful event and you need to manage the response of your brain in the moment so you have to practice being confident. As Amy Cuddy says, ‘Don’t fake it ’til you make it, fake it ’til you become it’. Because the other part of that research says that over time, practising these poses actually makes you confident, so you don’t need to pretend anymore.”

Negotiating a salary increase should not be something to avoid. Instead, embrace the challenge and prepare for it. If you work hard and are committed to your company, ask to be acknowledged for this either fiscally, with an increase in your annual income, a bonus or with additional entitlements. Know what you’re worth and then ask for it. Do your research, schedule a meeting at an advantageous time and utilise the eight tips above.

Jolly also suggests reading Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg (the chief operating officer of Facebook) and Wired for Life: Retrain your Brain and Thrive by Susan Pearse.

Of course in an ideal world, women wouldn’t be paid less than men and good work would automatically be appreciated and financially acknowledged. But until that day, it looks like it’s up to you to take control of your career and start asking for what you want.

What do you think about the gender pay gap? Have you ever negotiated a raise? Share your tips in the comments below!