Women often struggle to value themselves – and the work they do - properly. This shows up in so many ways; in how we talk about our roles, how we ask for money and in how we negotiate for what we’re worth in a situation. I learned the importance of this at an early stage in my career. I realised that I was working twice as hard (and several times more effectively!) than some of my male colleagues. Yet they were earning more than me.
I marshalled the evidence, asked for a meeting with my boss and then went in and told him that I believed I was underpaid, and why. He agreed with me. Unfortunately, he went on to say he couldn’t pay me any more because ‘word would get out’ and this would upset others in the team. I changed jobs soon after that.
Looking back, I’m pleased that I had the confidence to try to improve my financial position, and when that failed, to change the situation. In my role as a business coach I see so many people, and women in particular, who feel undervalued in their work, but lack the confidence to assert their right to being paid fairly.
For some, the issue is even deeper rooted. They find it hard to assess what ‘fair” pay is for the work in question. They frequently justify why they should be paid less than others or why they are ‘not worth it’. Others may have jumped that hurdle, and have a sense of their financial worth, but then they fall down at the next stage – negotiating to ensure they are paid what they are worth.
I was fortunate that in my corporate career I received negotiation skills training. This was designed for negotiating deals with clients, but the skills of negotiation are the same when applied to our personal circumstances. So unwittingly my employer equipped me to negotiate on my remuneration package and my role.
Learning to negotiate effectively is a really powerful tool in our personal toolbox. It gives us confidence to ask for what we want and to stand our ground when rebuffed. We develop alternative approaches to getting a mutually beneficial outcome.
I’ve also learned that knowing my financial worth, and asking confidently for what I’m worth, generates confidence in others. When we price our work too cheaply it often leads others to undervalue us. Now that I run my own business as a coach, helping other small business owners, I find those who know their financial worth are more successful than those with lower prices.
We value a designer item of clothing more than one from a discount fashion store. We feel good when we wear it, and look after it better. Exactly the same principle applies to our work. When we demonstrate the value we bring to the table and demand to be paid what we are worth, our employers, colleagues, clients or customers react accordingly, treating us with more respect.
When my coaching clients are struggling to articulate their financial worth I ask them this question: Could an 18-year-old school leaver do what you do? If not, why not? What skills, strengths, experience and life learning do you have that makes you good at what you do?
Amanda Cullen is the founder of Business Made Simpler, helping small business owners to grow their business and run it better with jargon-free coaching and workshops in London and Surrey. businessmadesimpler.co.uk