career written on road for workplace negotiations article

Workplace Negotiations Post-COVID

During the COVID-19 pandemic, women have become less comfortable asking for raises or promotions than their male counterparts. Here’s what you can do.

By Sandra Guy, SWE Contributor

A national labor market study of 2,000 employed U.S. adults ages 18–65 revealed that more women (64%) than men (61%) worry that their jobs could disappear post-COVID. That’s a turnaround from the pre-pandemic situation when more men (52%) than women (41%) expressed such concern. The results took into account the professions and educational levels of those surveyed.

The study also found that men are more comfortable than women in asking for benefits in the next 12 months — something that could further perpetuate the pay gap between women and men.

An economist with Indeed Hiring Lab, a unit of the job-seekers’ and professional networking website, which commissioned the study, says deft strategies can overcome women’s doubts. “Women and men seem to be talking about the labor market differently,” said AnnElizabeth  Konkel, an economist at Indeed Hiring Lab and the report’s author.

“In a weak labor market, workers generally don’t want to rock the boat by asking for a raise or a promotion,” said Konkel. That’s particularly true of women, who often feel they have to overperform in order to seek a pay raise, she said. Women may be concerned that they couldn’t give 100% at work the past 18 months because they’ve had to divert their attention to child care, elder care, and housekeeping during the pandemic, Konkel said.

“Women might say, ‘I don’t want to be perceived negatively and then, if there’s discussion of layoffs, I don’t want that sticking in my manager’s mind,’” she said. Yet the pandemic lockdown has caused many business leaders to loosen up on workforce flexibility. They’re realizing that retaining top talent is worth negotiating not only pay and promotions, but also hours, schedules, and flextime.

Konkel headshot with read hair blue eyes

“In a weak labor market, workers generally don’t want to rock the boat by asking for a raise or a promotion.”

– AnnElizabeth Konkel, economist, Indeed Hiring Lab

AnnElizabeth Konkel
Photo Credit: Indeed

If your employer has told you that the budget won’t accommodate a pay raise, ask for an appropriate time to schedule a follow-up conversation if you’re happy at your workplace, experts say.

In that follow-up meeting, list specific, concrete examples that prove your value. How many people do you supervise — remotely? How did you pivot during COVID? How have you leveraged improvements with fewer resources? How have you juggled supervising your children’s schooling while meeting deadlines? How have you solved problems on the fly, such as an in-home technology glitch? And, most importantly, can you quantify how your flexibility and leadership skills contributed to the company’s well-being?

Konkel encourages women to:

  • Revisit the idea of waiting to ask for a pay raise and promotion. If there’s stability at your workplace, make a list of reasons you deserve a pay raise or promotion. Convince yourself first.
  • If you’re looking for a raise, propose a range, at least 10% to 20% more than your base salary.
  •  Set up a Skype or Zoom meeting with yourself and practice making your pitch. Get comfortable and feel confident in your presentation.
  •  Seek flexible work hours and schedules, especially if you continue to shoulder most or all of the child care, elder care, or schooling in your home.
  •  Ask for other benefits, such as time for continuing education or professional development, a higher-grade Wi-Fi setup, a new laptop or computer, or professional lighting and backdrops for Zoom meetings.

Demonstrate Your Understanding of How the Workplace Has Changed

Another key intellectual exercise is to project how your skills figure into the future of work — a workplace that the pandemic has perhaps irreversibly altered.

Lauren Pasquarella Daley, Ph.D., senior director of Women and the Future of Work for Catalyst, a nonprofit that helps companies “build workplaces that work for women,” said in a podcast she would recommend reading the book On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life, by Sara Ahmed, Ph.D.

“It can really deepen the way we talk about our policies, our practices, and how we show up for each other in the workplace,” she said.

For example, a Gartner consultancy report showed workers will take on more varied, adaptive, and flexible roles so that businesses and employers can respond quickly to changes. That means your resilience — especially ways that you’ve shown flexibility during the pandemic — will be just as important to your company and your supervisor as efficiency going forward.

The Gartner research also found that one-third of the 800 human resources leaders surveyed said their companies would replace full-time workers with contingent workers to save money. At the same time, however, employers expect to play an expanded role in their workers’ financial, physical, and mental well-being, the report showed. It may, indeed, be the best time to ask for enhanced sick leave, child care, and flexible hours as a result.

Post-COVID, companies are expected to diversify their holdings and invest in smaller markets to keep a tighter rein on their operations, the report said. They’ll need workers who can manage and thrive in an even more complex business as a result. That will require a robust IT system and technical systems that can support employees working from home and from offices scattered among a bigger territory.

An outgrowth of the new paradigm will be to focus less on roles, the study concluded, and more on the skills needed to “drive the organization’s competitive advantage and the workflows that fuel that advantage.”

That means you’ll want to develop critical skills that potentially open up a variety of opportunities for your career development, rather than prepare for a specific next role.

Female CEOs shared advice with Inc. magazine including:

  • Watch how you project confidence. Practice maintaining erect posture, speaking with a confident and deeper voice tone, and walking with purpose.
  • Be the most prepared person in the room. Learn the subject matter and delve twice as deeply into putting it to use to benefit the company.
  • Celebrate learning new things, even if your presentation happens to fall flat.
  • Be open to views that differ from your own, rather than immediately going on the defensive.
  • Accept the fact that failing is part of the journey. After grieving a loss, work to objectively pick apart the issues you can improve upon.
  • Seek coaches, mentors, and trustworthy professionals to help you hone your performance, confidence, and work results.