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THE AUSTRALIAN SALARY CHRONICLES #1 – The Disappointment of a $40,000 Payrise

Welcome to The Australian Salary Chronicles, where we’re bringing transparency to negotiation of both remuneration and progression opportunities for women, one story at a time. Very little attention is given to the good news stories when it comes to the gender pay gap in Australia and we want to highlight these to inspire and support other women navigate more of these conversations

We ask women to share their experiences negotiating their salary/progression opportunity and what their advice is for others doing the same. We share these stories anonymously so they feel comfortable speaking as openly and as freely as possible.

This week we’re speaking with an experienced finance professional who was negotiating a salary review following a restructure.

Title: Financial Controller

Location: Sydney

Salary Offered: $148K

Negotiated Salary: $165K

What was the situation when you decided to negotiate your salary?

I was working in a finance leadership role at a large company ($250M+ revenue) that had operations across both Australia and New Zealand. I entered the organisation in a traditional finance manager role at a salary of $120K, which was fair given the role I was doing (Australia only) and the team I was leading (a team of 7 including direct and indirect reports) at the time. Six months or so after starting there, a new CFO came on board and completed a restructure ultimately targeting a leaner finance operation. The layer of leadership above me, including my boss, was removed which meant that I would subsequently be reporting directly to the CFO. My role hadn’t officially changed, however the nature and scope of the work I was doing had as I had to pick up the work of those who had left. These changes were not reflected in either title or my level of pay however I was only 6 months into this role and was not comfortable bringing up the conversation of remuneration at such an early stage with a new boss I was still trying to build rapport with.

Roll forward 6 months, and of course more changes were on the horizon. Keen to decrease headcount and ultimately overheads, a decision was made to consolidate the Australian and New Zealand Finance Operation and I was promoted to Financial Controller ANZ, whilst my New Zealand equivalent moved into another area of the business. In addition to the additional operational responsibilities in New Zealand, I was asked to take seat on both the Australian and New Zealand Leadership teams.

A new title and additional geographic responsibilities meant I certainly felt entitled to a higher salary; especially given my role meant I had knowledge of confidential salary data of both my new colleagues on the leadership team and other finance leaders who had previously occupied equivalent roles.

When I sat down with my CFO for the salary discussion I was nervous and very unprepared. I had a significant amount of respect for this man and at the same time had contributed a lot in the time I had been with the organisation both in supporting headcount savings, improving process and procedures and building strong relationships with leaders in the business. Our first salary discussion started at around $148K a number he put on the table. This was a substantial increase over my existing salary and a substantial income for someone of my age and experience, yet I felt both disappointed in my boss. It was not about the money – I was young and had very little financial commitments and needs but…it was about fairness.

Fairness – when compared to my leadership colleagues (all male) who were paid at least 30% more than what was being offered and with whom I was now expected to hold a similar level of accountability and responsibility.

Fairness – when considering the significant headcount reduction and subsequent cost savings I had been instrumental in realising.

And finally, fairness when compared to salaries paid to past finance colleagues in the organisation who had been in roles that had far smaller responsibilities and accountabilities.

I left the initial conversation and discussed the situation with my mum who quite promptly told me to get back in that room and negotiate (to be honest a concept that was very foreign to me at the time). Apprehensive, I opened up the subject the next day with my CFO who was not pleased to be discussing the matter. He did not agree that that new role warranted a higher salary than was being discussed given my age and years experience. Upon reflection his views probably had more to do with what he was being paid at the same stage in his career than it did with my situation.

The process of negotiation was awkward, uncomfortable and draining, leaving a bad taste in my mouth. I had to fight, justify and take a pretty hard line against a person I really respected despite being confident of my value and contribution to the organisation. Eventually after I challenged what the role would be paid if I was male, 5 years older and reported to another Senior Executive in the business, he relented and asked what ‘number’ I wanted. I could have gone much higher, to be honest I had no idea what ‘number’ I wanted, just a fairer remuneration for the role and responsibilities I was assuming. In the end I settled at the half way mark – half way between what he was offering and half way between what I know my colleagues and predecessors had been paid.

The whole process left me quite dissatisfied and disappointed in my leader, ironic for someone who had just negotiated themselves a $40k payrise. But it wasn’t about the money and at some level I felt betrayed that someone I trusted, for whom I had worked my backside off for did not see this same value.

Reflecting on this now, I know that preparation is crucial and had I gone in with something on paper, something visual, factual that we could point to, it may have been easier. I always had the upper hand in the negotiation, because I was so crucial to the success of the team and because I had already contributed so much without fair reward and recognition. I was confident in my contribution, but it was hard to maintain that confidence when we were putting a financial value on that. It was and still is the toughest conversation of my career.

Prepare, practise so that you get comfortable with discussing your value in such a subjective context and be clear about what a good outcome is.

Are you negotiating a number (salary), a title, a change in working conditions /hours or a change in other working conditions?

No one can do it for you. You have the most at stake and you must take the driver’s seat. Quite simply you must ask.

YPWA are committed to closing the gender pay gap in Australia. If you are a women and need some support negotiating a salary or career related issue, why not attend one of our Free Monthly Group Mentoring Sessions. To receive details of this and other YPWA Events register at

If you are a woman with a story to share on negotiating salary/remuneration or progression opportunity, please contact [email protected].

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