When Women Ask for Raises

Author: Cristi Kempf       

Leadership consultant and PCMA Convening Leaders 2019 speaker Molly Breazeale on what holds women back from advocating for the salaries they deserve.

According to Convene’s most-recent salary survey, among meetings industry professionals — where women outnumber men — men make an average of 17 percent more than their female counterparts. That’s in line with the statistic that’s largely used to illustrate gender pay inequity across all industries: Women are paid 80 cents for every dollar a man receives.

When trying to explain why this gap still exists — 55 years after the Equal Pay Act was passed in the U.S. — many say it’s because women don’t advocate for themselves. The book Women Don’t Ask cites studies that find that men are four times more likely than women to ask for a raise — and when women do broach the subject, they typically ask for 30 percent less than men do.

Why don’t women negotiate more strongly for themselves? In her recent book That’s What She Said: What Men Need to Know (and Women Need to Tell Them) About Working Together, Joanne Lipman writes that, in order “to eliminate the gender gap, we need to recognize the fact, as uncomfortable as it may be, that men and women are wired differently. And in some ways, women are programmed from birth to value their personal contributions less.”

Molly Breazeale would agree. “The mindset that [women] take into those conversations” around asking for a raise, she told Convene, “is so heavily influenced by our experience and what we believe to be true.”

Breazeale is a master facilitator for Fierce Inc., the leadership development and training company led by Susan Scott, author of Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work & in Life, One Conversation at a Time, and a speaker at PCMA Convening Leaders 2019, Jan. 6–9, in Pittsburgh. (Here’s a preview of her presentation.)

“We talk a lot at Fierce about context,” Breazeale said. “My context is what I have experienced in the past, because that feels real to me, and I apply it to this situation I’m in now, and that causes me to project what’s [going to happen] in the future,” she said.

The focus of “fierce” — the leadership training and the book — is on powerful, authentic conversations. And most of our conversations, Breazeale pointed out, are interior, or with ourselves.

“So, let’s take women and earning power,” she said. “If in my experience I’ve never even tried to have a conversation about salary or if … I’ve been coached or otherwise heard that women make less money than men, I might then be applying that same thing to my current situation and saying to myself, ‘I’m nervous about going in to ask because I know women are traditionally paid less than men.’”

In other words, the salary negotiations many women engage in turn out to be self-fulfilling prophecies. “It’s not so much the conversation skills that are lacking,” Breazeale said. “Across generations, across age, it’s the mindset.”

Tips on how to change your mindset during raise-discussion time come from a variety of sources, including Forbes.

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