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How to Get a Pay Rise (At Any Stage In Your Career)

The gender pay gap in Australia currently sits at 13.8% across all industries, which means women get around 85 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts. However, research from the last few years indicates that number is much high for advertising and media – up to 25% for ad agencies and 21% for media agencies (2).

Okay, that’s crappy. So how do I get more money?

Mavens spoke to several industry experts to find out.

Step 1. Do your research (and yes, that means talking about salary)

It can be challenging to know your worth in the creative world, especially if your craft is far removed from the parts of the business where commercial transactions take place.

This is where talking about salary can help you get a sense of where you stand.

“One thing I’ve noticed in the emerging generation is they’re much more candid when it comes to sharing salary information,” says Esther Clerehan, CEO of Clerehan, the iconic recruitment firm that has been placing advertising talent for more than 25 years. “In the past, salary was really private. That’s changed, and I say bring it on. If it helps hold employers to account, then that’s a good thing.”

Nomfundo Msomi, Head of Strategy at whiteGREY Melbourne, agrees:

“Who are you protecting with your silence about how much you get paid? There is no upside to not talking about money, especially for women.”(3)

Talking to friends or colleagues with similar experience to you, especially men, can help you see where you stand. But be smart about it.

“If you do get a raise, don’t go and share that information immediately with your friends – you don’t want to get a run on the bank,’ adds Esther. “The agency can’t afford to give everyone a pay rise. You’re fighting your own battle, not everyone else’s.”

Step 2. Time your request

There is no steadfast rule on when to ask for a raise, but one thing is certain – not asking for one is going to cost you.

“If you haven’t had a pay rise in a while and your colleagues have, it’s time to go and ask for a raise. Prepare a pitch to your manager to show ‘this is what I’ve achieved.’ But pick your time, you don’t want to go and ask for a raise after an account loss,” Esther advises.

“It should happen that you get a pay rise without asking. But it doesn’t always happen. They might be preoccupied, but they’re expecting it. And they’ll respect you for asking. You’re in the wrong place if they don’t.”

Step 3. Inflate your number

Former BBH Chair and advertising legend Cindy Gallop has often advised looking at yourself in the mirror and saying numbers out loud – the highest number you can say without laughing out loud is the salary you should ask for. And while this may sound ridiculous, there’s actually some behavioural science to back up the notion of inflating your number – it’s called ‘anchoring bias.’

This cognitive bias describes the human tendency to lean heavily on an initial piece of information when making subsequent judgments. So if you were given a 5% raise last year, that’s your anchor.

Now, if you go and ask for a 20% raise (assuming your performance has been excellent), your boss is going to sit up and take notice of this new anchor that you have set. Why does she want 20%, does she have another offer? Has she realised we are paying her below market rates? They’ll probably still negotiate down, even to 10% – but that’s still a 100% increase on last year’s raise.

Emma Robbins, Executive Creative Director at M&C Saatchi, is of similar mind:

“My tip would be to go in a little higher than you would like, get yourself and your employer some wiggle room". (4)

Step 4. Hone your pitch (and back yourself)

When asking for a raise, your boss will likely ask why you deserve it, and it’s a fair question.

Thinkerbell Senior Creative Regina Stroombergen and Alt Shift Creative Director Julia Spencer (the founders behind the exclusive Mums In Ads club) suggest teeing up a meeting to discuss your salary with your boss, and letting them know what the meeting is for in advance. “Be prepared with talking points and specific examples of great work you have done, times you have shown leadership or solved a problem above your pay grade…"

"Whether you’re a mum or not, asking for a pay rise takes a dash of guts and a sprinkle of BDE.”

You also need to adopt a position of strength.

“Drop the apologetic language,” says Emma. “Don’t go into the conversation saying ‘Sorry to take up your time but I just want to know if–’ "

“I’m not saying you have to go into there talking like a man, but you can say something like ‘I’m worth this much, and here’s why. Give your reasons and be assertive.” (4)

Esther agrees: “It’s important to have a good pitch – illustrating why you deserve this raise. If money is tight the ECD might have to talk to someone else to find that increase, so your pitch not only needs to convince your boss, but a CFO or CEO who would greenlight extra budget.”

Step 5. Don’t be discouraged

“If it’s a ‘maybe’, listen to what’s being said and understand what you need to do in the next 6 or 12 months,” Emma advises. “Then you’re in their head and they know what you want, and that you’re willing to work toward it.” (4)

If that fails and you know in your gut that you don’t have the support to grow, it’s time to move on.

“When you reach a wall, that can be a good thing. You go find another mountain to climb,” says Esther. “That’s how people progress.”

But I’m on / have been / am going on parental leave.

When employers prevent women from progressing financially, that’s part of the motherhood penalty. Lost income and super is a huge driver of where the inequality comes from historically.

“It’s common for mums to feel more uncomfortable than most in asking for a pay rise due to being employed part-time (which many are) or because they have taken maternity leave or bouts of carers leave in the past,” says Mums In Ads (M.I.A). “This likely stems from being made to feel like the company has sacrificed or made special allowances for them to be employed on a part-time basis in the first place. So, despite deserving a bump in pay or even working harder than their full-time counterparts, working mums feel like they don’t want to be perceived as ‘taking the piss’ in asking for more.”

But that doesn’t mean mums shouldn’t ask.

“Mums need to realise that they are just as valuable in a part-time role as others who are working full time and, along with their existing experience and expertise, bring a raft of insights, knowledge and skills that motherhood has afforded them,” continues M.I.A..

“With salaries being something that is kept so secretive in private businesses, it can be hard to know what to ask for. Talking to recruiters can be helpful to find out what figures are in the ballpark. You could also ask your company if they have certain pay brackets for experience and see how you fit in there.”

Says Esther: “Agencies have to look at the employee’s career arc. If they’re wanting to have children and return to work, it’s a blip on that arc. It shouldn’t make a difference.”

Step 6. Pass the baton

As you progress, you’ll find yourself in positions where you can have a role in the hiring process – and this is where you can pave the way for the next generation of women.

Champion equal opportunities and eliminate gender bias from the hiring process. Look at ways to address imbalances in the leadership team and put more women in decision-making roles. Create safe workplace environments free from harassment and bullying. Foster ‘femships’ and mentor where you can.

Passing the baton is how we can make shift happen.

There’s a plenty of explanations as to why women get the short end of the stick, from imposter syndrome, the motherhood penalty and general lack of support to outright misogyny and sexual harassment. But at the end of the day, our workplaces were built by men for men. So women – unfair as it is – need to work harder to demand our worth. It starts with you, so go get that money.

(1) ​​Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) ‘Gender equality workplace statistics at a glance 2022’

(2) The State of Diversity & Inclusion in the Australian Communications Industry 2019, B&T and Honeycomb.

(3) (4) Youngbloods & The Aunties 'Playing In The Boys Club' panel event, 2022


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