Never be afraid to ask for what you’re worth at work
A guide to getting ready for that salary conversation.
I remember the exact moment I found out I was being underpaid by 25 percent.
It felt like I’d been hit by a bus. I wondered what was wrong with me.
Angry tears flowed as I drove home. Then came swear words. The really big ones.
I remembered the salary conversation with my boss. I felt like an ungrateful brat for asking for more money. Lessons from my childhood played in my mind:
“Always be thankful for what you get.”
“Suffering is an important lesson in life.”
“Respect people not based on their behaviour, but on their age.”
“Men are rightly in charge of this entire world.”
All of it, of course, is trash. In South Africa, it’s not okay to discuss salaries. You know why? Because we might find out someone is being cheated somewhere. It could be me. It could be you.
I’ve been working since 2003. I’ve noticed dodgy practices across industries.
We could be getting cheated because of our gender, race, or age. It could be because we’re not part of elite social circles or because of our inability to negotiate, our poor educational background, our perceived lack of experience, and more.
I’ve lost count of the times someone thought I was an “inexperienced pipsqueak”. My salary offer reflected such thoughts.
During one offer process, an HR person said, “We don’t negotiate – take it or leave it”.
They knew I was not changing jobs by choice and would be less likely to keep pushing to negotiate. They played mind games and exploited my fear.
It boggles my mind that we have decided we’re not allowed to talk to our friends about salaries, but it’s okay for strangers to demand our payslips.
My wild suggestion: pay me what I’m worth. If your company does not have the budget, I can decide whether I am willing to accept a lower amount.
We don’t know how to navigate this topic because it’s such a taboo. But after that shocking discovery, I took back my power and took steps to help myself. You can do the same.
Firstly, I gathered data from people and surveys.
What I found helpful was chatting with people in my industry. People I trust. People who wouldn’t be happy if they knew I was being salary-cheated.
I knew how experienced they were, what sort of place they worked at, and how I compared in terms of performance, experience, and track record.
This gave me a solid foundation to start the conversation with my manager.
I looked at salary surveys and data from my industry. It helped me draw a fuller picture.
Secondly, I prepared for the conversation. I wrote it out word for word.
I rehearsed it out loud. I wanted to hear how it sounded. Was it too heavy or too skittish?
Could I say the words out loud without retreating into myself, crying, or getting mad?
I asked someone else to listen. Does this seem too harsh, too light?
Then I set up a time to talk to the relevant person, giving them some context beforehand.
Here, the “fun” really began. I knew I must manage my emotions, stick to data and facts, and communicate clearly and fairly.
Lastly, I took action, in the form of a salary conversation.
There are three routes such a conversation can take. “Yes”, “No”, and “Not right now”.
You’ll have to work through the response you get and decide: Are you happy? What’s most important to you?
Weigh up what the organisation offers versus what you are missing out on financially.
If any situation or environment no longer serves you, remember, you are not a tree. You can leave.
You owe it to yourself to get the salary you’ve worked for and deserve.