How to negotiate your salary as a woman
“If, like me, you have a son and a daughter, would you like your daughter to be paid less than your son?” Veronique Goy Veenhuys, “Equal salary is good for business”.
In Switzerland, the wage gap between women and men is 19.6% in the private sector and 16.7% in the public sector. Although the difference narrowed between 2012 and 2014, it increased again in 2016! As much as 43% of this difference cannot be explained by elements such as a different level of training, the number of years of service or position in the hierarchy. In Europe, the average gap is 16%, but ranges from 3.5% to 25.6% depending on the country.
In Switzerland, the Federal Act on Gender Equality came into force in 1995 (!). That “Men and women have the right to equal pay for work of equal value” has been enshrined in the Swiss Federal Constitution since 1981. This right was included in the UN Declaration of Human Rights as early as 1948.
Swiss companies with at least 100 employees must regularly carry out a wage analysis and have it audited by an external audit body (Gender Equality Act). Information can be obtained from the Office of Gender Equality (“Bureau de l’égalité entre les femmes et les hommes”) in each canton. These offices publish equality information and educational materials and organise events.
I questioned several of my acquaintances, coaches, HR, mothers who went back to work after several years at home, managers… They all gave me the same answer: the best thing to do is to check with your colleagues and friends. There are also publications (e.g. L’Illustré), websites (jobs.ch, Working in Switzerland, zeigdeinenlohn.ch, Swiss salary.ch guidelines, etc.) that give salary ranges for specific jobs. While all this information should be interpreted with caution, it can nevertheless give you a basic idea.
If you have a specialized or high-level job, it is worth consulting a coach or head-hunter. In some employment agencies, counsellors agree to provide you and the ORP/RAV with information. It is in the agencies’ interest that you earn a good salary, since recruiters are paid on a commission basis. If you are young and just starting out, you can also contact the career guidance services of schools or universities.
During the interview
Don’t hesitate to discuss salary openly with the recruiter or manager during the job interview. Indeed, it is better to say that you have not worked for a few years and that you do not know the current market well, rather than coming up with a salary proposal that is too low or too high. And above all, avoid saying “as you wish”!
SMEs and large companies should not “cheat” on wages. It is a question of reputation and it is in their interest to be in line with the market, and dumping is regularly condemned in Switzerland: many articles can be found in the press on this subject. In addition, many companies regularly carry out salary comparisons (benchmarks).
If you are employed, you are in the best position to negotiate your future salary and / or get the highest salary possible. If a company wants to hire you, do not hesitate to ask for a salary 10% higher than your current salary. If you are unemployed, try to get at least the same salary as the last one you had (for identical work). Finally, if you are in employment and you notice a significant salary gap (or bonus or any other part of the salary) compared to male colleagues in your company, do not hesitate to put information together and discuss it with your manager and HR, so that a solution can be found or you can be given a valid explanation.
Whatever the case, negotiate. It is always better to negotiate when you enter a new employment, as it is generally more difficult to obtain a significant increase afterwards. Make a list of arguments in favour of a higher salary than the one you are offered taking into account not only for the tasks you will perform, but also the responsibilities you will assume, your human and professional skills, your experience, your ability to adapt, your flexibility, etc.
Sometimes a company abuses the situation, for example when an employee returns from maternity leave, or when certain employees benefit from cronyism or historical privilege. We have all probably heard of discreditable situations like this. If you find yourself confronted with such a situation, do not hesitate to discuss it with a competent person if possible, within the company or, if necessary, outside.
And if your company doesn’t appreciate your value or doesn’t respect you, it may be time to change…
English version reviewed by Christopher Booker. This article was published in French on joHdi. Original title: “Comment négocier son salaire quand on est une femme”.