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A woman's worth: How to get what you deserve

Women who want more money from their employer are in a Catch-22. They have to strike a balance between being polite while still being aggressive enough to achieve their goal. If they are truly underpaid, they might have to consider walking away from a job.  Your Career, by Eve Tahmincioglu.

Early in Jocelyn’s career she expected her managers at the major brokerage firm where she worked to just pay her what she was worth. “I came in early every day, did a good job and figured someone’s going to realize this,” she recalls.

But Jocelyn, who asked that her real name not be used, was wrong. After four years of waiting for recognition — nothing.

Her frustration forced her to take matters into her own hands. “I realized I had to market myself, and also market what my team accomplished under my direction,” she explains. So she put together a presentation of 18 different projects she worked on and showed them to the higher-ups.

“You have to keep track of your own accomplishments. No one is out there tallying them. If you think everyone is saying, “How can I pay Jocelyn more?’ you’re crazy.”

Her efforts ultimately paid off with a promotion and pay hike at the brokerage house. And today she is a vice president at a major financial services firm in the Northeast.

Jocelyn did exactly what you’re supposed to do, says Monica McGrath, adjunct professor of management for the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. She figured out a way to show her bosses how she was contributing to the bottom line.

Unfortunately, McGrath explains, many women are unable to take the bull by the horns during the negotiation process. Either they shy away from asking for more money altogether, or they get emotional.

“I see this same thing happen a lot with high-potential women in organizations. They get angry because they have to fight so hard and end up being overly aggressive, and then they get apologetic because they got aggressive,” she adds.

Women, she says, are in a Catch-22. Women have to strike a balance. Don’t get railroaded because you’re too nice, but don’t go for the jugular either. Just state the facts and make a case for yourself.

McGrath suggests coming to the negotiating table with concrete examples of what you’ve done for the company. Be prepared if your manager says "no way" to your demands. Come up with alternatives such as offering a timetable for more money by saying something like: “I am willing to give you 30 days.” Also, consider getting things out of your company other than cash, such as stock options or a more flexible work schedule. Everything is negotiable.

And even though it may sound counterintuitive, business success coach John McKee suggests once you make an appointment with your boss to talk about compensation you give your manager a list before you sit down to talk about money. The list should contain your accomplishments including everything you’ve done since your last raise, and also details on what you want as far as compensation. Put in real numbers or percentages, he suggests.

But before you do any of that, do your homework and find out what a position like yours can demand in your industry. You want to come armed with as much information as you can so you can make realistic demands. There are tons of sites online today such as and that offer wage comparisons.

Also, make sure to network within your industry by attending conferences or going to online blogs and chatrooms. If your nervous about asking people straight out what they make, you can tell people who are doing similar jobs or are a step above you what you think is a fair salary and get their opinion on that.

One of the biggest battles for women might be getting over their own fears.

Money guru Suze Orman puts it bluntly: “It’s time, ladies, that we stop being victims.”

Her take is that women have to stop blaming others for their financial lot in the work life and fight for what they’re worth.

“You are now in the business world. You have got to take your power and rewrite the story history has handed us,” she stresses. “Women have got to understand, legislation is not going to save us, others can’t save us — you have to save yourself.”

In her book "Women & Money: Owning the Power to Control Your Destiny," Orman includes a chapter called “You Are Not On Sale” that deals with how women underestimate their worth. “You’re no longer a stay-at-home mom, or a volunteer,” Orman demands. “Money gives you power to own your own destiny.”

When you go in to talk to your boss about money, don’t frame it in a yes-or-no question, Orman advises. “You can say, ‘Here’s what I’ve done this year. Here’s how hard I worked. What I want is a 5 percent to 8 percent raise,’” she says. By providing the manager with an either/or it’s harder to just say no. And make sure the lower end of your range is what you’d be happy with, she adds.

Be prepared that you might not get what you want, and at that point you have to figure out if your company is worth it. That means having an emergency fund and as little debt as possible so you are negotiating with your boss from a position of financial strength.

“If you don’t get what you want you can exit,” Orman says. “Without money, you tend to settle because you’re afraid.”

Now don’t expect to definitely get a big bump in pay in your existing job. The big money typically comes when you move to a new company.

But women are yet in another Catch-22 during the job-seeking process. Many are underpaid, so telling a prospective employer what you make can end up dooming your chances for a big pay jump. While I don’t advocate lying, I suggest you turn the tables on the hiring manager during the interview process when you’re asked what you make. Ask them, “What does the job pay?”

If you’re pushed to provide a figure, Orman suggests you say something like: “I was paid $40,000 in my last job but the reason I left is, I was seriously underpaid. I had faith in my employer that I would be at $70,000.”

Empowering women to negotiate will help narrow the pay gap, but alas, there is still a fair amount of sexism out there. So don’t apologize for having taken time off to raise your kids and settle for any salary they’ll give you. And play up the management and organizational skills you developed raising the little buggers.

Also, watch out for hiring managers asking you about your marital status. Sometimes such a question can be a veiled way for them to find out how much your husband or significant other makes so they can pay you less, says Wharton’s McGrath.

Bottom line, give out as little information about your present financials as possible. Concentrate on what you can bring to the job and what you are looking to get paid.

If you’re still feeling butterflies in your stomach about the whole thing find some women, or even men who can be your sounding boards while you go through the negotiation process, and role play with them before you sit down with your manager.

Karen, an administrative assistant for a high-tech company in San Francisco who declined to use her full name, got inspiration from friends during her battle for bucks.

She received an OK salary and stock options when she started and set out to work as hard as she could that first year in hopes of getting compensated with more money and more stock. But when bonus time came and the HR department actually put her in the company system at a lower level than she had been and was no longer eligible for options.

“I realized that they didn't have a clue how much they were asking of me and that they didn't really value what my position brought to their success,” she says.

She found comfort and inspiration from her friends and colleagues who told her it was okay to be mad at the system, and to value the skills that she had. “After about a month of waking up in middle of the night really mad and finding I was losing my inspiration at work, I went and talked to my boss.  I laid it all out very clearly, without a bunch of emotional charge.  I spoke of the value I brought to him, his organization, and to the company.”

Her boss went to HR and initially they offered her a small raise and a promotion in title, but she told everyone she wasn’t going to settle and calmly laid out a case for more money yet again.

“I was stunned that I was so strong. I knew I might have to leave the company and that was okay because at this point in my career I really wanted the opportunity to work in a place where I could have the enjoyment of contributing at a high level and of being valued for that contribution,” she says.

Ultimately she got an impressive raise and even a cash bonus. “It felt great,” she exclaims.