In Praise of Money

I’m very good at my job but I’m not very good at asking for more money. I’ve been at the same company for 13 years and I’ve made good progress, I don’t have kids but still I know I’ve slid back against other colleagues who are more assertive in asking for more money. I know I need to step up and increase my value, as I'm beginning to feel resentful and guilty that it's my fault but I’m worried its already too late to change my story.

CH, Dublin


Firstly, hands up who else is in exactly the same boat, a partially inflated dingy that seems barely seaworthy? Most of us are a little bit afraid of money. It’s an ugly subject that taps into our deep fear of being grabby, grubby or greedy. We rarely think about it in the abstract or indeed in real terms, what it can do for us and indeed, for others. That is until we realise that we're being undervalued.

The truth is, we should be thinking about earning power when we're in secondary school, what effect our career choices going to have on our quality of life? What does success look like? How do we begin to put a value on our time? It's ok to want to be as well as we can, for the work that we do.

Think about the actual value that you bring to your company. The smart company recognises its people as its greatest asset rather then an onerous fixed cost. Will it cost them time and money to replace you? If you believe that you truly contribute to your company's ability to create revenue, fight for your right to be recognised. It can often be easier to set the highest realistic salary goal for five years' time, then plot an incremental journey to get there. How many times will you have to ask for a raise and what will it need to be each time?

Furthermore, what impact and milestones will you need to hit to qualify? This gives you great visibility of what needs to be done by when. Share this plan with your boss, share your your own value and ambition with them so that they are clear about the path that you are on. We work to live the lives we want to lead, we work to make an impact, we work to feel valued and purposeful, we also work for the money.

In answer to the question 'Is it too late?' Well, unfortunately, the answer is maybe. We set our future outcomes at the beginning and have to work very hard to change those outcomes. You're going to have to make up ground now to get back on an even keel. At thirteen years into your tenure at one company, you're officially 'home growth' and will likely be on less money than talent brought in from elsewhere. The good news is that, to the market place, you are talent brought in from elsewhere. Go and test the water, see what feels right. It's the perfect time to explore your options and your earning power. You never know what you might find. And if you decide to jump, start afresh with a new narrative and a clear plan for the next five year trajectory.

I was in conversation with four incredible women at the Oracle Phenomenal Women's Day event this week, and here's their collective wisdom on the issue.

Daniela Becker, Head of Sales CX Cloud Platform Western Europe at Oracle

I started at Oracle as a graduate and it probably took me about twelve years into my career to move from being told ‘You’re brilliant at everything’ to me asking the critical question around ‘How’s this going to impact my remuneration and what’s everybody else getting?’ So I probably spent twelve years just serving and the last five years smartening up and asking where am I? Getting strategic and having the crucial conversations to understand what I need to do to get to the next level, you always get there but you have to ask the question. 

If I were to go back, I would have started having these conversations way earlier. We focus first on building value and credibility and then secondly and afterwards on creating that value for ourselves, when actually it should be twin track. 

Brid Horan, Co- Chair Balance for Better Business and Co-Founder 30% Club Ireland

I’m brought back to my very first conversation about salary, which is a lifetime ago, when I discovered that I was being paid less than the two male trainee actuaries who were brought in to the company on the same day. I thought it was a mistake so I went to personnel and raised the question. ‘Oh no it’s no mistake’ I was told, ‘You’re on point.2 of the clerical scale’, I was told that the difference was because the guys were also on point 2 but they were on the male scale while I was on the female scale. Happily that’s now a tale from a whole other world - naively, I didn’t know about unequal pay at the time. As far as I was concerned, it was just unfair and when I argued this, the manager agreed to move me to the male scale if I passed my first exams (and even to backdate the increase). I asked the question because I thought it was a mistake but doing so actually made me comfortable about asking questions and speaking up. 

That meant that I’ve always been really aware of inequality, but it’s never an easy conversation for people to have so we’re inclined not to have it. Because of that early experience I discovered that there’s nobody else to stand up for me, I have to stand up for myself. A lot of women tend to think that if they do a really good job, they will be noticed and they’ll get rewarded and they’ll get promoted, which is the second mistake - it’s not just about salary and bonus, it’s actually about advancing your career. You need to say to people, I’m interested in progressing, exactly what do I need to do to make that happen? Women are more ambitious than they show but we need to be explicit if we expect it to happen. There’s more support and advice available nowadays, so take opportunities for broader experience, for mentoring, further training or education and other development avenues.

Lisa Lanigan, Client Development Manager IMI 

Some of the traits that make women so amazing are also the traits that can hold us back. Our conscientiousness, our willingness to want to do a great job, and to put in a huge amount of effort to see something through. What we’re missing out on is what we call catapult moments, those points in time that really push you into that leap forward in your career. It’s been proven that women have fewer of those than men because we’re so busy trying to check that we have 10/10 of the qualities required to do the job and ruling ourselves out while the man has already gone ahead and ruled himself in, ploughing on, which is, let's be fair, a successful method. We need to recognise that this works and ask ourselves, are catapult moments passing us by and what can we do to make sure that we're putting ourselves forward even if we don’t have all those skills but just the faith that it will work out.

By not putting ourselves forward, it’s not just the person who’s losing out, the organisation is losing out. And I think that’s something that sometimes women don’t understand, they see themselves, in advancing their career, as an individual entity as opposed to the extra value that they’re going to contribute and how they can actually enhance the next level or the next project or the company as a whole.

Sonya Lennon, Brid Horan, Daniela Becker and Lisa Lanigan at the Oracle Phenomenal Women's Day event.