Sonya Lennon
Sonya Lennon

How women can ask for more money and make that money grow

Ask yourself, have you got a career or a job? The difference is the drive and ability to unlock value and exert control in your working environment and earnings.

Money is a peculiar concept, a social construct. It was created to convey and exchange value.

Our money mindset comes in two parts: our ability to make it and our ability to make it work for us. And for that, we have to believe we deserve it.

For a lot of us, talking about money makes us feel a bit icky. Stop that now, it’s why you get out of bed every morning.

Value – now there’s a concept. Value is inextricably linked to money but relies on a third element, context. A litre of milk costs, depending on where you live (thinking globally here), anything from 43c (Tunisia) to $5 (Lebanon).

When I was a carefree 20-something, embarking on my career with enthusiasm and talent and little leverage, I threw myself at jobs to ‘gain experience’. It would be good for my portfolio, they said. Great profile!

I had no reason to question that. I had little experience and no proven record of success. The other thing I didn’t have was any concept of the value of my time. So I worked and worked and worked, doggedly pursuing some half-formed chimaera called success.

This next bit is about kids, but if that’s not you, keep reading, I’ll be zooming back out soon.

I was 36 when my twins were born, a good 16 years into my career before I realised that minutes had value. 

As a double income home, every minute that I spent away from our children cost money. Of course, the same was true for my partner. But that didn’t feature in my internal narrative, and even though we shared the cost of childcare equally, I suspect it didn’t feature in his.

This forced me to make critical decisions about prioritisation, something I had never done before. Would it be worth doing this gig
or that gig? The cost of childcare suddenly inhibiting my freedom. Imagine that.

The value of minutes is always real, but you notice it more when caring duties are involved. Results of a longitudinal study conducted by the Irish Human Rights Equality Commission shows that women spend 42.6 hours per week in duties compared to 25.2 hours for men. Oh it’s real.

So let’s go back to value and its contextual element for a moment. The milk. The price is, in part, set by the economic landscape, the cost of living. But it is also set by positioning. Some milk is priced higher because of certain attributes: its organic credentials, packaging, marketing, flavour; all of these things could be used as premium differentiators allowing the manufacturer to charge a higher price.

Newsflash – you are the milk.

Ask yourself, have you got a career or a job? The difference is the drive and ability to unlock value and exert control in your working environment and earnings. The value that we can command for our time and expertise is based on market forces, yes, external conditions and norms, yes, but it is also based on the value that we place on our time and expertise, in other words – ourselves.

That impacts our positioning and by extension, the value that others place on us. You can be the premium milk, or the own brand. You decide.

So many women that I have spoken to have admitted that they wasted the first decade of their career waiting for someone to notice their brilliance.

The bosses are busy, often pressurised and over-stretched and may never notice. Due to social conditioning women have been trained to be less voluble about their achievements than men. Introverts of any gender, you can slip in here too and have a listen.

There are millions of mantras, self-help and development programmes, gurus and guides to help you to get the place where you value yourself as you are right now.

Not some future version of you that’s smarter, more experienced and all-round better. But it’s so hard to get there in a vacuum.

Ask someone to help you – a trusted and admired colleague or friend is a great starting point. The world is full of executuve coaches who can unhitch negative self-talk and poor money mindsets.

They don’t come cheap but you will be making an investment in yourself and, if the chemistry is right, you will value and respect the experience more having done so.

Once you’ve built your confidence it time to get strategic. You don’t need to turn into the Wolf of Wall Street, but you do need to share your ambitions.

If you’re an employee, talk to your superiors, tell them where you see yourself in some shiny, near-future. So many women have said to me ‘I can’t tell my boss my ambitions, they will think I want their job!’ Well guess what – they want their boss’ job!

Ask the question, “What value do I need to unlock for the company to move me to the next salary band?” And then, “Can I check in with you monthly to check that I’m on track [in other words, show you how I’m smashing it]?” When you’ve done that , you’ve made a business case for reward. If you don’t get it, you have a great paragraph for your CV.

Create an environment where you can communicate your achievements to the people you work with. Make sure they know that you will expect more as you create more positive impact.

Making the money is only the first chapter. Making it work for you is the next. That’s an opportunity for money to graduate to wealth. You’ve made it, but not to squander it, to grow it, creating security and freedom.

Money is choice, but only if you keep and grow it. If you can unlock your earning power, you’ve only cracked half the problem. Now it’s time for some big questions.

What’s the financial plan? How intentional is your mindset around budgeting?

What percentage of your money are you willing or able to save? What percentage are you willing to invest. What are your pension provisions?

We go to work to live the lives we want to live, and if we’re really lucky we can create purposeful, positive impact along the way.

When I’m called on to give career talks I always start with the same point.

So, you’re deciding what you want to study and, hypothetically, what job you want to do.

Now, put a pin in that and go onto Find the house that you want to live in, in the area you want to live when you’re ‘grown up’.

Calculate the mortgage repayments then multiply that by 1.5 for living expenses and savings to calculate the salary you will need.

Now, what did you say you want to do again?

Originally published in The Irish Examiner