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How to say 'my pay's not OK.'

Updated: Mar 10, 2023

Performance Review Series: What to say

Today marks the day when women stop earning relative to men. Women are paid 13% less on average than their male counterparts. Coincidentally, the last quarter of the year tends to be when performance reviews take place. This presents a perfect opportunity not only to discuss performance but progression and pay.

This is one of those conversations, where you want to be confidently in control. It’s an obligatory conversation that feels awkward to many but being brave brings benefits. As the author of ‘Cringeworthy’, Melissa Dahl, says: ‘Having the awkward conversation you’re dreading is often the most worthwhile.’

So - to help prepare what you say, in a professional way, even when challenging pay - here are my five top tips for getting more out of your performance review.

1. Purpose

Remind yourself of your organisation’s purpose and vision. Your review is an assessment of your performance against business objectives so it’s a great idea to understand what your organisation’s ultimate goals are. Look at the big-ticket contributions you’ve made and be sure to talk your boss through how they’ve helped progress your organisation’s big picture aspirations.

2. Feedback

This isn’t the time to be shy about talking about the value you add. Ahead of your review ask your key stakeholders for 360-degree feedback and use this as evidence to reinforce your achievements. During your review ask your boss open-ended questions to understand their thoughts on your performance. Listen, really listen, to their words rather than react to them. One person’s view is simply their experience of you. No one person has a complete picture of your value – not even your boss. You can evaluate everything you’ve heard after your review, when you’ve got time to put things into perspective and think through how you best respond.

3. Development

Talk openly with your boss about those critical aspects of your work that haven’t gone so well but don’t dwell on or let a few negatives outweigh the overwhelming positive contribution you’ve made. Share what you’ve learned and what you’d do differently next time. Identify any skills gaps and set out development areas that would help you do your job better going forwards.

4. Aspirations

Your boss isn’t clairvoyant so talk about your career aspirations with them. Share your thoughts for your goals for the next 12 months, how you’ll measure them and what value they’ll add to progressing your organisation towards its ultimate vision.

Ask about any stretch projects, development or promotional opportunities that will help you towards your ultimate career goals.

5. Pay

Having established your strong contribution for the last 12 months and agreed the scope of your work for the year ahead, ask for a raise. As the saying goes ‘don’t ask, don’t get’. While you aren’t guaranteed a raise by asking, Harvard Business Review research shows it results in success for women 15% of the time – 20% for men.

That 5% discrepancy may not sound much but by the time women reach their 50s they are paid on average 28% less than men – that’s worth around £12,500 [Rest less gender pay gap research]. So professional women, if you ask for a raise and get turned down, persevere. Go prepared to share evidence with your boss from a credible outfit like the Fawcett Society to discuss the gender pay gap. Ask your boss ‘is my pay really OK when we compare it to others doing similar work?’ And, if a raise still isn’t forthcoming, agree what you need to do to secure one next year.

Susan Room was writing in support of #EqualPayDay on Thursday 14th November 2019.

Susan Room is a former corporate leader, turned professional coach. She’s one of the rare few qualified to provide voice and executive coaching, her unique blend of experience now sees her helping others feel, look and sound confident – positively improving their professional performance and happiness at work.

Images: Women meeting by Christina Morillo / Minature people by Hyejin Kang

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