When Jen* graduated from university she was thrilled to get her first 'proper' job. She loved her new role and everything about it - until she found out that a male colleague with the same qualifications as her, and who had started around the same time as her, was being paid $7000 more than her.
"I felt like a fool," she says. "But when I'd taken the role I'd just been stoked to have a job – unemployment was really high at that time (1999)".
Jen, who is now 40, stayed with the company, worked hard and received a promotion.
Then when she eventually left to take up a position at a new company she did exactly the same as before and happily accepted the salary that was offered, no questions asked!
"I would like to say I learned from it but the truth is that I have never felt comfortable negotiating my salary when starting a job. I did so, successfully, only once. The reason I was able to do so is that the first offer was so low I was genuinely not interested! All other times I've taken on a new role I've been so swept up in wanting the job that I haven't negotiated."
If you think Jen is simply a product of her generation I also know a millennial who had the same thing happen. Her male colleague, the same age with a similar skill set and level of experience, earned $10,000 more than her. Like Jen, she had also not thought to question the salary that was offered.
This happens to women across all generations. We typically earn, on average, only 84 cents for every dollar that a man earns. We are not good at advocating for ourselves financially and we need to get better at it.
Vic Jack, who is the founder of Maslow Limited, a People and Culture Company, has her theories as to why women don't negotiate for what they're worth.
In the following paragraphs she is going to tell you how to successfully negotiate your salary but first, her theories:
Jack says, "Historically, women have generally not been the breadwinners. People have grown up with mothers who have not held the purse strings, so to speak, it's been the father - and so they've looked on negotiating over money as 'that's what guys do'. You don't negotiate for anything, you just be grateful for what you've got."
Women also lose confidence when they've dipped out of the work force to raise children, she says. The longer you're not working, the more your confidence dwindles.
"With that comes incredible vulnerability," Jack says. "So when someone's in a vulnerable situation it impacts the way they approach a new job or opportunity."
Jack encourages women to map out their careers and financial futures from the outset and then not forfeit their financial independence.
"Once women are in a relationship and/or planning a family there needs to be a very clear conversation around careers and finances right there. They need to discuss what are they going to do around each other's prospective careers once a new member of family comes along. They need to be having these discussions with their employers too.
"I actually believe there needs to be a fundamental shift in how women and men perceive their role into family - to that of an equal contributor, both emotionally and financially."
After having children women "tend to end up just doing the job they know that fits in around family life," Jack continues.
"It's not necessarily the job that fills them with purpose or that they've been trained to do. And they just end up getting paid money and that ends up negating their value because your value is based on how much you earn. That's where things start to fall away."
Jack believes younger women are better at advocating for themselves, and a Harvard Business Review study that's just come out backs this.
The study involved questioning 4600 randomly selected employees in Australia and researchers were surprised to learn that women were just as likely as men to ask for a pay rise, but women were less likely to get one.
The study authors put the reason down to 'negotiating behaviour' - how we ask - beginning to change because when they delved further they learned that younger women were indistinguishable from younger men in being successful in getting a raise.
They said, "The younger women in the labor market appear statistically indistinguishable — even in "getting" — from the younger men. Hence it could be that negotiating behavior through the years has begun to change. Future research may be able to decide whether true changes are going on in the modern labor market. Perhaps the world really is beginning to transform."
When you take on a new role or re-enter the workforce, don't settle on the first figure that's offered, Vic Jack encourages.
"Be prepared, be brave, be quiet," she says. Here are Vic Jack's top tips on how to successfully negotiate your salary:
In the same way you'd approach a job interview, do your research.
"If you've got all your facts in place then you're in a better position to negotiate. You can say with some conviction that you know what you're worth," advises Jack.
Research the company and find out what the salary band is for your role. Speak to men and women who are doing the same sort of role or who are already in that company and ask them where they're sitting in terms of salary. They may not tell you exactly how much they earn but they might give you a ball park.
Ask "out in the network" - through LinkedIn contacts, for example - what would be a fair rate of pay for what you'll be doing.
Also look at pay scale reports by HR companies and recruiters.
Be confident in your strengths
Write down all the things that you bring to a role - not just your experience and hard skills but all the additional things - the soft skills (interpersonal skills), interests and passions - your ability to help other people reach their potential, the fact you would bring a new dynamism with some new ideas - things that can't be discounted.
Be sure of what you want
Getting what you're worth is not just about the figure you earn. "If we look at the word 'value' it's about what's valuable to you," says Jack.
You might value being able to work a four-day week over an extra $5000, for example.
Jack points out that you also need to take into consideration the size of the company and what it can offer.
"If you're taking a job with a multi-national or big corporate they'll have a lot more money and you'll get a lot of added benefits attached to the package. You might have health insurance paid for or a gym membership.
"If you work for a smaller company or a start-up you're not going to get the same salary but there are other ways you can negotiate for your worth. Instead of money, it might be equity in the business [having shares or being an equity partner] or being able to have a four-day week or shorter days or extra leave."
Be something other than 'thankful'
When women are offered jobs they're often just "thankful to have a job".
"Yet the business should be thankful that we're considering working for them," Jack says.
"Women have got to change that mindset because here's the thing: your employees are your most valuable commodities in the business and without them you have nothing.
"When you're going for a job it's also about working out whether, culturally, this job is going to be right for you."
"Don't come across desperate, come across brave." says Jack. "If you've done your homework you should be fine.
"Don't say things like 'I know the economy is bad at the moment, times are tough', that sort of thing. Don't worry about that, or about being rejected. You just have to have the courage and self belief to actually front up.
"You can justify your salary. Remember what are you bringing that someone else isn't going to bring."
If you're filling out an online application, don't fill out what your desired salary is.
And when you're offered a role and told the salary amount, say nothing.
"Silence is golden," Jack says.
"Just pause. When you pause it sends a very clear message that there's room for negotiation. There are so many women I've spoken to who've just accepted as soon as they put it on the table - only to be told later by other people in the business they had another $15K that they could have given them. But they were so desperate to take the role.
"Just be quiet. Take it on board, pause. And then say, 'Okay, let me have a think about that. Is there some room for negotiation? I was thinking more like…'
"In a lot of cases the employer will reject that first request but don't let that deter you. Just push back gently."
When you start a new role find out when you're going to have a performance review and find out what KPIs you're going to be measured on.
You need to be able to document your progress along the way so that when you get back into negotiation you can say, 'This is what I've achieved and this is what I think I've brought in terms of value. Now I'd like to discuss with you where I see this value acknowledged in terms of my remuneration.'
And finally, a story like this needs to end on a note of hope and I can give you that. In the 'success story' below, Emma* shares how she went about asking for a pay rise.
As nervous as she felt about it, the end result gave her an extraordinary sense of empowerment.
- Not their real names