Working mums: negotiating a payrise

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In her new book, Gill South found mothers made great employees but often sold themselves short. Here she looks at how they can get what they deserve.

It's a known fact that women would rather walk naked through the main street than ask for a raise or more flexibility at work.

As I say in my book Because We're Worth It: A "Where to From Here" for Today's Working Mother, we working mothers are popular employees. We are focused, conscientious, won't stop a job until it's finished and we don't put our hands up for more money nearly as much as men.

Why is this? Do we fear being rebuffed, being told we're not worth it? Why are our attitudes towards negotiation so, frankly, wimpy?

"We think they should know we deserve a raise," a senior media executive said to me (with perfect female logic) recently.

For those working mothers who want a more flexible working situation, they can feel their negotiating powers are weaker than others.

Unfortunately for us, bosses – like most partners – do not read our minds and these people who pay our salaries are rarely going to volunteer a raise either for a man or a woman.

For those working mothers who want a more flexible working situation, they can feel their negotiating powers are weaker than others.

The co-founder of executive talent consultancy Hattonneale, Jane Neale, is trying to educate employers about the value to be had from senior, experienced women who only want to work two or three days a week.

While Australian employers still come to terms with this idea, she sees women shoehorning full-time jobs into part-time ones, effectively giving themselves a pay cut so they can have the so-called flexibility they crave.

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"They manage to do it part-time by being super efficient," Neale says. "They are just grateful to have the opportunity to work part-time."

Of course, there are women out there who have the self-confidence to demand a salary that values their skills appropriately – not all of us are shy wallflowers.

But Neale still sees men going for jobs that are well beyond their capability and women applying for those well beneath their capability.

One woman I interviewed in Because We're Worth It, Sandy Burgham, gave me hope that things are changing. The marketing director of the Max fashion chain knew she was a catch for the company and when negotiating with her boss, she asked for exactly what she wanted. As the mother of two puts it: "I take a shitload of holidays."

Burgham has not only negotiated a package she's happy with at Max, she is also a believer in taking stakes in companies she's involved with.

Burgham earns more than her husband, as do increasing amounts of women. The head of executive search company H2R, Jane Walker, says being the main breadwinner can make women more assertive about pay. "It makes them protective of the family unit," she says.

But the position of strength has long been the bastion of the male, thus female candidates still frequently undersell themselves, says the senior manager at recruitment agency Robert Half, Megan Alexander.

"Because they don't go in and ask and don't self-promote – they tend to hang back – that's when they don't get recognition," she says.

Working mothers often think they need to take a pay cut if they want flexibility. But if they have the right skill set, Alexander asserts, that should not be the case.

"If you don't ask, you don't get," she adds.

As for negotiating yourself a better deal at home, working mothers have a way to go there as well. As many women commented in my book, no matter how busy their careers, they like to do the "mothering". They are the ones who largely still organise the family, from setting up childcare in the school holidays to making the school lunches.

My argument is that women have to become better at delegating some of these tasks either to their partners, family or outside help.

The former head of the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA), Anna McPhee, said to me last year that when women return to work, the costs of her return – childcare, takeaway meals, etc – all tend to come out of the woman's salary and sometimes the decision is made that her return is not financially worth it. She says the finances should be looked at from the family's balance sheet, not each partner's separate income.

Leading family therapist Diane Levy adds: "Think about whether your relationship can take the financial stresses."

She also warns: "Don't overexpect the support you will get from a husband who is in full career flight and has been used to having you keep the show running at home. They may promise to help ... but in real life, may not be able to deliver."

Article supplied by My Career.

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