Master the art of salary negotiations with HR expert, Nnanke Essien 

When you see a dress you like at a store, you estimate its value by looking carefully at its design and touching it to feel its texture. Doing this would help you estimate what the dress would probably cost. However, the store manager has priced this gorgeous-looking dress based on its value, not what you “think it should be,” and that is the importance of negotiating your salary.

According to Forbes Magazine, women will still earn 16 percent less than men in 2024. Now, the reasons for the gender pay gap are vast, and they encompass gender discrimination, gender biases, personal biases, occupational segregation and lack of investment in the girlchild. Still, we never really touch on women’s reluctance to negotiate their pay.

Many women do not negotiate salaries simply because they do not want to appear combative or difficult. According to Harvard Business Review, the reason women often don’t negotiate their salaries isn’t about their confidence or negotiation skills. Instead, it’s more about how they’re treated when they try to negotiate.

To understand the necessity of workplace negotiations and get a professional opinion on why women need to dare to ask, we spoke to Nnanke Essien, a seasoned HR professional with over 13 years of experience in human resources. Her knowledge spans multiple industries, including oil and gas, tech, telecommunication, etc. With 18 different organisations under her belt and her personal experience in negotiating her pay and salary benefits, Nnanke Essien has the answer to your workplace negotiation questions.

Why don’t women negotiate?

Image Credit: Thirdman via Pexels

Nnanke’s first attempt at negotiating didn’t go well. When she tried to start the conversation to get benefits for her work, she froze in front of her boss, unable to speak.

“I even wrote what I wanted to say in my palm, but as soon as I got there, I couldn’t utter a word simply because of my past experiences with figures of authority.”

After this experience, you would think Nnake got over it, but her second negotiation experience was also a flop. It was not until she left the company and returned as a consultant that she could bargain accurately for what she wanted.

“Ever since, I have always taken the opportunity to negotiate my pay at the beginning of all my employments, and it has never failed me.”

There are hundreds of research papers on the internet explaining why women are hesitant to negotiate their pay; however, in Nnanke’s experience, there are more social and cultural complexities to the issue. Some of them are:

  • Being in an environment where the majority or even decision makers have been greatly sensitized by societal and cultural standards or an environment where the mindsets of the majority haven’t been renewed or transformed as it relates to traditional societal and cultural standards.
  • Being in an environment where personal bias and not culture drive decision-making, where values may be on paper and on the website but, in reality, on the back burner.
  • They may also face the challenge of themselves; either they have feelings of not being enough or the conditioning to be content.
  • They may also have faced backlashes or rebuttals when even requesting or negotiating for little things, and that creates a significant experience that prevents them from asking for more.
  • There are not enough role models to show how to negotiate or succeed; even some who have succeeded may think it was sheer luck or a higher power that helped them.

So, in essence, there are many reasons why women are reluctant to negotiate their salaries, including, but not limited to, environmental challenges, leadership lapses, consistent rebuttal in the environment, and, of course, the absence of role models in the workplace.

Initiating salary negotiations

Initiating salary negotiations can happen at two significant points: the first is during the interview, and the second is after significant work has been done.

Negotiating during the interview

One thing you should never do when initiating salary negotiations at the interview stage is acknowledge that there’s a budget for the role. According to Nnanke, there are more empowering ways to ask about the salary. Ask questions like, ‘Can you provide more information about the salary range?’ Asking in this manner would throw the ball entirely in the recruiter’s court, giving you better leeway to understand your position in the conversation.

Image Credit: Marie Claire Nigeria

The best time to start negotiations is before the interview: “Research the global standard payment for the job description based on your experience and skills.” Also, understand that negotiations don’t only have to be about salary, but they can also be about benefits. “It is important that when you’re negotiating, you consider the type of role you’re getting into. For example, a managerial role requires you to attend high-profile meetings, so you must wear clothes that match the occasion. In this case, you should request a wardrobe allowance to represent the brand or organisation properly. You have to sit down and count all the costs perfectly.”

Another thing to note during the interview is the perspective of value that the organisation and you have. It is important to ask what value means in that environment without assuming that the job title and description are the definition of value.

“You should find out exactly what they are trying to solve; then make references to your own experiences and tangible instances where you’ve contributed to that sort of result; because truthfully, the organization needs you, you have what they need, so why would they want to lose you?”

Negotiating while working

“There isn’t a specific timeline that dictates when to negotiate your pay; however, opportunities will present themselves for you to start negotiations, and you must be wise enough to understand the times and the seasons,” says Nnake.

Here are a few significant opportunities that may arise, according to Nnanke

  1. When there is skill migration, and you are asked to take on more responsibilities than you initially had, take this as an excellent opportunity to ask for the benefits of the extra responsibility.
  2. When you learn and share a new skill with your employer, let them know you will only include it in your workload when you are rightfully compensated for it.
  3. Appraisals and performance meetings are a great way to request benefit negotiations. During this time, you have successfully passed the trial phase
  4. The economic situation can also be an excellent opportunity to request better pay. Perhaps you’re forced to pay double for specific services that allow you to do your job effectively; asking for better benefits or better pay will take that burden off you.

In all this, it is essential to approach these conversations with facts and not emotions. When you do this, there isn’t any doubt or marginalisation when you request a salary increase. To present the facts, you must take stock of all your achievements in the workplace.

Tooting your own horn will get you paid

Image Credit: Divine Techy Girl via Pexels

Speaking confidently about your work and your achievements is very important. However, research has shown that women are unlikely to ‘brag’ about their achievements at work and in life. Not speaking about your own achievements will cost you a lot more than you can bargain for, so Nnanke Essien encourages women to not only speak up but also gather evidence of work done and document them.

1. “Never pass up an opportunity to document your success, and do this consciously every week.”

Taking stock of all your significant achievements will help you keep track of all your work. This will give you an accurate record of your work and undeniable evidence of your contribution to the workplace.

2. “Also, be in the habit of discussing successes with your line manager.”

Doing this will help people recognise your contribution and set better goals for the future.

3. “Know your industry beyond your job description.”

Knowing when the industry is making money and when it is tanking will help you form creative ideas that would benefit your organisation. Doing this will keep you in the loop and allow you to share your ideas with your superiors, acknowledging that you are an undeniable asset to them.

4. “Be in the habit of asking for textual recommendations and feedback.”

Having textual evidence of recommendations and commendations by people you’ve worked with will be a testimonial to your professionalism and work quality.

Negotiating your salary ensures you get the organisation’s best value. Despite all the possible obstacles to reaching your financial goals as a woman, you can achieve financial success with confidence in yourself, research, and documentation of your accomplishments. So, know your worth and price it, because you can only get paid as much as you value yourself!



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