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It's time women made a pact to ask for what we are worth.

Okay, here is the (kind of shocking) deal. I don’t have enough super, and according to the accountant I need to accumulate more than half a million dollars between now and retirement.

Or win Lotto.

So I’ve been busy trying to conjure up a realistic plan.

For starters, I’ve rented out my little piece of over-priced Sydney real estate and moved to the beautiful Blue Mountains. I’m going to try to hang onto my city apartment and buy even the smallest thing up here, or split something with my BFF (who is also my sister).

I’ve followed the lead of young Aussies and have a “portfolio” career – in other words, a small business, where I take on as many jobs as I can.

Author, Kate Southam.

I’ve been lucky to work from home for a year but now have taken on a contract – three days in the inner city, one from home. Lovely people, the work is interesting and the pay is good. The only drawback is I have to change trains once on the journey down and once on the return home.

I get up before dawn in literally -1 degree C so am weighed down by a coat, scarves and layers of clothes carrying lap top, lunch, shoes for the office and stuff as I run between platforms 3 and 7 to make my connection. I look like a cross between an oversized penguin and undersized front row forward as I lumber side to side and forward simultaneously. Hey, if I shoulder charge you while panting up the stairs, it is nothing personal. I literally have less than three minutes to make the connection.

If only I had followed the advice I give young women: Make sure you get paid what you deserve, track that bloody super and add to it where you can starting NOW.

I didn’t learn how to negotiate for money until I was 38 and then it was a few more years before a male friend told me some employers - like his - will even pay you more super if you ask.

Make sure you get paid what you deserve. Image: iStock.
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This week we heard again that more women than ever would retire in poverty. Over our working lifetime, ANZ reckons women earn on average up to $700,000 less than men. And older women are becoming homeless at a faster rate than any other group.

At times like this I wonder: “Why didn’t I marry well - or at least divorce well?”

I did eventually learn how to negotiate. A female manager 10 years my junior taught me and I’m grateful. Don’t get me wrong, I had asked for pay rises before but usually only when I was really ticked off. With a background in sales, Colleen shared the secrets of the perfect pay rise pitch:

1. Don’t wait until pay review time to ask for more money.

2. Make a solid business case for why you are worth the extra dosh.

3. Understand that your manager has to justify why you should get more money to her or his manager so make that damn easy.

4. Don’t let the fear of a knock back stop you from trying it on. Oh and be ready with some non-financial reward your manager can compensate you with if there really is no budget for salaries.

5. Know what your role is worth on the open employment market too. In the good times, salaries for new roles grow much faster than pay increases for those staying in the same job.

It was a revelation. I thought pay rises just happened and if you didn’t get the bucks it was a personal slight from your boss. I have followed this formula ever since and used it when making a case for why people I have managed should get paid a whole lot more too.

I know my experience is not isolated.  I wrote a careers agony aunt column for years. Hundreds – and I mean hundreds – of women told me of being ticked off at being over-looked for promotion and pay. Yet in 99.9 per cent of cases, when I pressed them for details they admitted they had not asked for either.

I wouldn’t need Lotto if I had a dollar (well, $1000) for every time I read/heard, “Why should I have to ask? My boss knows what I do?”

Why should you ask? Because you want more money. Because you don’t want to retire in poverty.

Just this week I attended a live panel discussion about gender pay disparity. Most companies don’t even know it is happening.

The panel. Image: @womensagenda.

The head of law firm Henry David York Michael Greene told the forum that he truly believed his firm paid men and women equally for doing the same work. About five years ago the firm decided to do some analysis only to discover its gender pay gap ran to 17 per cent. Channel TEN’s new CEO Paul Anderson says the network’s board wants gender pay equity measured annually. And Mirvac CEO Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz ensures managers down the line understand the bias they can bring to the pay and promotion process unconsciously.

Another panel member Alison Monroe, of consulting firm Sageco, also reckons women are commonly asked at job interviews to share what they are currently earning. Men know to side step that one and focus instead on what the job they’re going for is worth. So should we all.

We have to be bold enough to ask for money. You should be professional about it but if we all ask then no woman will be branded “pushy” simply for backing herself.

And if you have already nailed the pay rise pitch, please, please coach the women you know on how to do the same.

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