Australian women are financially falling behind their male counterparts because of their reluctance to negotiate pay rises at work.
Nearly 20 per cent of men have attained a better wage through negotiation, compared to just 12 per cent of women, new data from the Fair Work Commission’s Australian Workplace Relations Study (AWRS) shows.
One-third of women haven’t attempted to attain a better salary at their current employer, compared to only one-fifth of men.
Experts say this reluctance financially disadvantages women, who end up earning less for the same jobs as men and retiring with smaller superannuation.
Melbourne University management professor Mara Olekalns says women are discouraged from negotiating because of gender stereotypes, which make them seem “pushy” in negotiations.
“All of the kinds of behaviours that are typically associated with being an effective negotiator are male stereotyped behaviours,” Dr Olekalns says.
“Just by virtue of initiating a negotiation, women are perceived as being really pushy and really aggressive and someone other people don’t want to work with.
“They’ve gone from being nice and likeable to tough and assertive. When they violate that stereotype they experience backlash.”
Women also have lower expectations for what they think is possible to achieve, so they ask for less and settle for less, Dr Olekalns says.
The AWRS report found women earned only 81 cents in the dollar when pay was negotiated, compared to an industry award rate, where it was 91 cents in the dollar.
While this reluctance doesn’t solely contribute to the gender pay gap, Workplace Gender Equality Agency spokesperson Clare Buttner says it is certainly a contributing factor.
“The impact of this adds up in terms of less financial security for women. They’re more likely to retire with a lot less super, so it really does, over the long term, have an accumulative effect that sees women disadvantaged,” Ms Buttner says.
In 2006, the average superannuation balance for women was $35,520, compared to $69,050 for men, an Australian Human Rights Commission report on the gender gap in retirement savings found.
Dr Olekalns says the gender gap between superannuation and salary widens as men and women near the end of their career.
“Because men aspire to more, they’re also on a steeper trajectory in terms of the increases that they get,” she says.
Ms Buttner says it’s important for women financially to learn how to negotiate, even if it makes them uncomfortable.
“We know that women are more than two-and-a-half times more likely than men to live in poverty in their old age, so it’s really important that women do learn to negotiate.”
How to negotiate your salary
Both Ms Buttner and Dr Olekalns stress the importance of gathering as much information as you can about wages for someone with your skills and experience.
Dr Olekalns says to expand your network and speak to male colleagues, while Ms Buttner says demonstrating your value to the organisation will help you argue your case.
Flag a time with your boss to catch up and mention that you want to discuss some concerns so the negotiation doesn’t come as an unpleasant surprise, too.
While it’s a good idea to list your achievements, research shows women are more successful in negotiation when they begin by expressing their warmth, Dr Olekalns says.
Talk about why you’re a good person to have in the organisation and remind them that you’re friendly and that they like you, she says.
“Once you’ve established that impression, it actually buffers the introduction of this information about your competence.”
Think about things other than money
Negotiation doesn’t just have to be about salary either. Think about the things that would help you achieve what you want in your career, and come up with a list beforehand.
Dr Olekalns says things like access to additional resources, training opportunities, mentorship and higher duties will all ultimately help you get into higher paying positions.
“As women are preparing to negotiate, a good question to ask is ‘what will help me do my job better?’ That’s a really important question to ask.”