April 4, 2016

It’s stunning, yet true that women in the United States get paid (on average) 77 cents for every dollar a man makes for doing the same job. While new government policies and increased media attention may be edging us closer to pay equality, it’s not going to happen overnight. So what can working women do to ensure they’re getting paid what they’re worth?

If you’re a woman who believes you deserve higher pay, it’s no good hoping your employer will notice the discrepancy and make it right. Similarly, if you’re interviewing for a new job, you can’t assume your prospective employer is offering fair compensation. Women need to take concrete steps to safeguard their financial future. Successfully negotiating what you’re worth at work requires a commitment to unlearning old habits and adopting new ones. The good news? Negotiating salary isn’t rocket science—after all, men have been doing it for years.

Successfully negotiating what you’re worth at work requires a commitment to unlearning old habits and adopting new ones.

Start by being more open about money in general.

    Lots of people are uncomfortable talking about money. Women find it especially difficult, and this is a handicap as they enter the workforce. Getting comfortable discussing money—how much people make, what they spent on a car, how much they contribute to retirement funds—is the first step toward being able to negotiate for more money. Find friends (male and female) you can discuss finances with. It helps to start with people you feel are in (roughly) the same financial shape as you. Have a few open and honest conversations and see what makes you squirm—then, In short, break the silence and banish the belief that discussing money is unseemly.

Know what you deserve to be paid for a particular job.

    It’s not enough to want more money or to just have a hunch you aren’t getting paid what you deserve. You need to support your case with facts. Use the Internet, your network, even professional recruiters to get a handle on the pay range for your job title in your industry. Once you’ve established a salary range, be sure to drill down on specifics such as geographic location. Factor in the unique skills, education, and expertise you bring to the job and quantify how that increases your value to the company. Armed with this data you’re in a far better position to advocate for more money.

Get a mentor.

    Before embarking on a new job search, find a woman who’s built a successful career. Then, get her playbook. Not sure how to find a mentor? LinkedIn is a great tool for identifying and connecting with someone who would be a suitable mentor. Industry conferences are another good way. Your mentor doesn’t need to be someone who works in your field, just someone whose career you admire. Send her a simple email asking if she’ll take you under her wing:

    Dear Maggie-

    It’s been a couple of years since we worked together at The Barn Group. I hope you’re doing well and enjoying your new role as Vice President. Congratulations! I’m on the cusp of a job change myself, and I’m looking for ways to bolster my confidence when it comes to negotiating salary. (Something you do well!) I’d like to be better positioned to ask for what I’m worth and could use your advice. Would you be willing to sit down over a cup of coffee next week and answer a few questions? I’d be very grateful.

    Warmly, Alice

Be your own cheerleader.

    To successfully advocate for your worth, you need to frame your achievements in their best possible light. Successful people aren’t necessarily doing more than you, they’re just spinning it better. As Jane Park, Founder, and CEO of Julep Beauty Inc., noted during a recent SXSW panel discussion on women at work: “Being your biggest cheerleader, rather than your biggest critic, will be life-changing.”

    For starters, take a look at your resumé and LinkedIn profile. If they list a chronological account of your job titles and responsibilities, come at it from a new angle. How did you knock it out of the park at your last job? What did you achieve that moved your company’s mission forward? Rewrite your summaries to highlight the results of your work. Once your professional summary exudes confidence, internalize these accomplishments.

Role-play before an important meeting or negotiating opportunity.

    Before you get into an important salary discussion you need to understand the different directions the conversation could go. Be ready for a No and decide how you’ll push back. Can you ask for what you are worth in front of a mirror without stammering or breaking out in a sweat? Practice it until you can. Lines like “This is the number I can accept today – anything lower I’ll need more time to think about,” allow you to aim high and put a stake in the ground without cutting off all options for negotiating later. It may feel hokey to ask your spouse or best friend to participate in a mock interview with you, but it’s worth doing. When your achievements and requests roll off your tongue, you’ll be much more effective.

Don’t give up – a No is just a No.

    When I asked why they won’t ask for more money, many women told me that the prospect of hearing No terrifies them. Their fear of being turned down, and living through the aftermath of that rejection, paralyzes them. Park advocates a complete reframing of this experience: “If your employer says ‘no,’ it’s not the end of the world. They won’t retract the offer or fire you.” Seeing No as one step of the negotiating process rather than the end of the road is crucial.

At the end of the day, building negotiating skills is a process. It’s going to take practice and persistence to get what you want. When in doubt, channel your inner toddler to whom a No is simply an invitation to keep asking for what she wants, tenaciously trying new angles and techniques, until she wins.

Read more Tough talk conversations—The “I’m leaving my job” email that won’t burn bridges or make eyes roll and Writing condolences for a coworker.

Laura Shear is a Bay Area-based freelance writer and consultant. She's addicted to home improvement projects and rescue puppies and firmly believes rosé should be enjoyed year-round. Find her on Twitter: @lmshear.