I caught up with an old friend last Saturday for breakfast – let’s call her Samantha. The last time we met was in November and she had told me how burnt out she felt at work, and how she was considering leaving the rat race of London to return to her native Scotland and find a new role in Edinburgh. I asked her how things were going now, was she still seriously considering leaving? Apparently not. Her situation at work had changed, and she was going to stay put in her company. Why the change of heart, I asked, when she had seemed so set on the decision only a few months ago? Her answer was very interesting, and it reminded me of some of the deeper-rooted issues I have come to associate with the gender pay-gap and the lack of advancement of women in the work environment compared with their male peers. Here’s why …

Samantha’s employers, an Investment Management business, realised she was feeling stressed, unhappy, considering a move, and panicked. She has been there for almost four years and whilst many of her peers had floundered in this high-pressure environment she had flourished, progressively working her way up the food-chain.

First, her manager offered her some unofficial extra days of annual leave in December and suggested she totally switch off over Christmas in Scotland and come back ready to talk about what they could do to make her more content. Upon her return, it was agreed that if she passes her next exam then she would be immediately interviewed for a promotion, and she has started to attend more international client meetings. She also sits down with her manager every week to discuss her progress, what she is doing right, what could improve, and essentially how she can continue building her career with them. Now, finally, she feels supported by her employers and is excited about what might come next.

If all employers had the ability to identify the times when their female employees were feeling undervalued, as Samantha’s did, then I am confident that the gender pay-gap and limited progression of female workers compared with male peers would be significantly reduced. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case, and whilst I am sure there could be more internal procedures implemented I believe that the change needs to be driven by the employees themselves.

I consistently encourage all women I speak to about their jobs to take an active role in their own success, and that starts by being vocal about what they want to achieve, whether through increased responsibilities or pay. It’s not enough to speak with friends, family, recruiters, even colleagues about feeling undervalued, to make the change happen. I believe the reason that some women are not as advanced or well-paid as they would like, is because they are afraid to have the, sometimes tough, conversation that is required to make these a reality.

Here are some tips I’d share with anyone feeling undervalued by their current employers:

  • Ask your line manager for a meeting to discuss your career development. Prepare for this meeting by making notes on all the credible reasons why you feel you deserve the changes you are seeking. These may be that you had been promised a promotion previously that has yet to materialise; you have taken on responsibilities at the level above you, but it has not been recognised in any capacity by the business; you have learned that a colleague with the same role as you is on a higher salary etc. By preparing in advance you will be ready to counter arguments and will feel more confident in your assertions.
  • If your manager does not feel you are ready for the promotion or raise you are seeking, ask them what you need to achieve to make this a reality. Agree on a list together and ask them to confirm this via email following the meeting. Then afterwards, during your one-to-one meetings, you can talk about the progress you are making to achieve these targets, seeking advice where necessary, and keep it on their radar that this is important to you.
  • With the exception of trusted friends, do not openly share with colleagues that you are unhappy, and you feel the business doesn’t value your work. Even an offhand comment in the kitchen whilst making tea with Dom in Marketing could get back to your bosses, and you do not want to be portrayed as someone spreading a negative atmosphere in the office.
  • If you still face resistance and it seems unlikely that your business will be willing to support you in getting to the next step in your career then it is time to start looking externally for a new opportunity. Time spent frustrated and watching others progress around you is time wasted. With your goals fresh in your mind you should be well-positioned to make it clear to any potential employers, or recruiters, what you want to achieve. Have the confidence to be assertive during interview processes and try to identify a future manager who is going to take your ambitions seriously and help you realise them.
  • Finally, have confidence in yourself! It’s so much easier to believe someone when they say you can’t do it versus you can do it, so be your own cheerleader and let your drive help you to create a fantastic future for yourself.

If this post gives just one woman the confidence to ask for what they feel they deserve in the workplace then I will be happy, and I hope she will go on to encourage her friends and female colleagues to do the same! #pressforprogress