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“How to play the pay rise game” Lucy Mangan on why you should never fear asking for more

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Here’s a question. What would you do with a 14% pay rise? And how would you react if you were docked by a similar amount every month?

I’m guessing your replies will be some kind of variant on “Be very happy!” and “Be very sad!” respectively. And yet, according to new research by student money site Save the Student, that 14% is exactly the difference between what female and male graduates think they’re worth. The ladies foresee an average starting salary of £19,662 while the gentlemen envisage a more munificent £22,988.

The former also report higher levels of anxiety about getting a job in the first place and about paying off their student loans, despite evidence that they get higher grades and are more likely to find full-time employment than the latter.

Of course, this is not just a problem for your first few post-grad years because – with a few rare exceptions – no light dawns after 18 months that illuminates your mistake. You are unlikely to experience an empowering influx of self-confidence that overthrows a lifetime’s social indoctrination and lets you storm down the corridor and successfully demand from your boss a 30% payrise (“That’s 14% multiplied by two, Alan, in case you were wondering, with an extra 2% to make up for the oversight, ’kay? You’re a doll”), effective instantly. The inequality just gets baked further and further in.

But Save the Student’s figures are valuable. It is always good to be able to quantify a wrong and especially so at a point where the wrong is still only in your own head. And now we know – whatever you think you should be paid for your contemplated job (be it your first or one further down the line), whack on another 14%. At least. Go on. Ignore your brain and its jumbled litany of self-doubt, anxiety and nameless, free-floating guilt and listen to your imaginary penis instead. Stop listening if it starts telling you to sexually harass younger female staff. Kudos on your creative powers, but you’ve gone too far.

The reports of female graduates’ anxiety and fear are also a useful reminder to us all that we self-generate too much worry and that we let irrelevant factors undermine us. Look around, or think back to, your lecture hall. Were you really surrounded on all sides by young men who were better than you? I very much doubt it. I bet that worry and nagging sense of not-being-quite-good enough is coming from somewhere else entirely, far beyond the factual realm, and should be talked to firmly before being set aside and ignored forever.

I made a promise to myself at the beginning of 2016 (it was a New Year’s resolution – dunno if you’ve heard of them? Quite a good idea, sometimes) to ask for more money. I made it a blanket rule that whatever fee I was offered for something, I would ask for 10% more. I felt terrible – greedy, arrogant, guilty, you name it, I was doubled up with colic under the duvet in reaction to it. But soon I also felt 10% richer. Because it worked, and I was.

If you can’t bear to ask for more under the “Because I’m worth it” rubric, angle it slightly differently. Remember instead that it is in nobody’s interest ever to extend to you their highest offer straight away. It’s a dance, a game and you need to step up and take part. Because you are, at the absolute least, 14% better than you think you are.


Want to find out more? Why not attend ‘How to Negotiate a Pay Rise (and extra holiday too) with Step Up Club’. Learn how to negotiate with confidence and get the most out of your career with Alice Olins and Phanella Mayall Fine, founders of Step Up Club. Find out more at: live.stylist.co.uk 

Stylist Live brings everything you love about Stylist magazine to life across three days of experts, interviews, comedy, food, beauty and fashion exclusives.
10 -12 November, Olympia London.

Photography: iStock, Ellis Parrinder

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