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Women and money: How to get the confidence to get over the financial cringe

This post was originally published by Women's Agenda.

Money – it’s not an easy topic of conversation. Talking about our salaries and finances can feel awkward in a social context, and extremely uncomfortable in the workplace. In fact, it can even feel a bit rude to ask questions about wages, benefits and superannuation with a manager.

But could this cultural cringe towards being financially assertive be directly impacting how much you earn, and how you’re valued professionally?

It’s a fact that in Australia, women currently earn on average 17.6% less than men, and occupy significantly less leadership and executive positions. As at 2012, only 12 of the top 500 public companies in Australia (ASX 500), had female CEOs and only 13 had female board chairs . Worryingly, despite comprising 45.7% of the workforce, women hold only 35% of manager roles .

The gender wage gap and the discrepancy in leadership positions can be attributed to numerous social and cultural issues, including access to affordable child-care, the lack of available flexible working arrangements, and the distribution of men and women to particular industries of work. However, a lack of confidence in women when it comes to negotiating for better financial outcomes in the workplace is also a significant contributing factor.

Clare Buttner, Communications Manager at the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) says that research indicates women on average suffer from a lack of financial assertiveness.

“When it comes to negotiations, research shows women tend to be less successful than men. When they do negotiate for themselves, they ask for less and are more likely to accept an initial offer rather than attempt to negotiate it to be more in their favour.'”

Part of this reluctance to push for better financial outcomes is due to a fear of negative backlash, as a result of gender stereotypes about negotiating behavior.

“For example,” Buttner says, “a woman who negotiates might be viewed as difficult, whereas a man using the same techniques would be viewed as assertive. It’s therefore little wonder women are reluctant to negotiate when they are penalised more than men for doing so.”

It’s true that the social attitudes towards women and men in the workplace can colour our behavior when it comes to seeking better outcomes for ourselves. Feeling as if you’re being ‘pushy’ or ‘aggressive’ when negotiating a pay rise or attempting to access benefits you’re entitled to can be a huge deterrent, especially in an uncertain economic climate where job security is already tenuous.

Ultimately, it’s important that women actively pursue better financial outcomes in the workplace, especially when it comes to promotions, salary rises and superannuation – not only is it critical that we access the benefits we’re entitled to, but by not pursuing conditions that correlate to our actual worth as employees, we’re doing ourselves a significant disservice in the long term.

Buttner offers her top three tips for being financially assertive in the workplace:

Know your rights

Part of the problem when it comes to being proactive about your finances are the complex arrangements in place on a state and federal level regarding workplace rights and conditions. As well as ensuring you are aware of your rights when it comes to pay, superannuation, pregnancy, parental leave, flexibility and returning to work, Buttner suggests doing comprehensive research before taking on a new role.

“Many employers, especially larger ones, now see gender equality as a key business issue. Ask about entitlements and policies during the interview process to try to establish how ‘female friendly’ they are.”

Know your value

Being aware of what you’re worth is key to having a successful outcome from financial negotiations. Women are more likely to settle for an offer below what they are entitled to than men – having a solid idea of how much you are worth in terms of salary rates for your level of experience and expertise, leave entitlements based on your contract and retention rate, and other benefits is integral to being both financially assertive, and confident in your negotiations.

If you are concerned about a condition in your contract, or are unsure of your specific entitlements, contact your relevant union, or consider approaching the Fair Work Ombudsman. You can ask questions anonymously, and having professional advice can help you strategise for the best outcomes.

Put yourself out there

‘Negotiating and asking for your entitlements can make you feel uncomfortable but if you don’t look after yourself, nobody else will.’ Buttner says.

Make a time to meet with your supervisor, and prepare what you want to ask for ahead of time. Consider having a practice negotiation with a friend or family member, and make sure to have a very clear idea of what you’re entitled to, or why you deserve a salary raise before your meeting.

Be prepared to talk candidly about your excellent qualities as an employee – self-confidence does not have to be a sign of arrogance.

It might never feel entirely comfortable to openly ask for better financial outcomes in the workplace, but valuing yourself and knowing your rights are the first steps to being financially assertive, and ultimately securing your economic future.

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