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Need a pay rise? Wish you could afford those great jeans? Wondering where all your savings go? You can cash in without too much fuss writes Maria Dominguez.

Women have come a long way since men gripped their clubs and spears, hunting and providing the food for the family. Back then, women waited for the men to bring home the goods while they gathered the firewood and nurtured their young. Clearly, much has changed. Today’s woman puts the food on the table and also looks after the family. She has, in effect, become both a blend of the hunteress and the gatherer.

In fact, many women have ventured beyond their caves. In Australia, more than half hold full-time working jobs and are making more money than ever before. Many are flying high in upper management, and many more stand in positions of power. Of these, some can even count themselves among the country’s millionaires. But, as accomplished an image this all seems to project, many women are still in the dark about their own finances, fraught with insecurity when it comes to dealing with it—that is, if they deal with it at all. An image, financial advisor and author of Women & Money, Suze Orman, sees, surprisingly, all too often.

Whether it’s a lack of knowledge, routine habits or old attitudes that leave their money on low priority, or up to someone else, like their husbands, to take care of, Orman says women can get a better grip of their money by taking action. Something, it seems, men are more hard-wired to do.

Women and money

For one thing, she says, women don’t quite talk about money like men. When a man talks about money, he focuses on how it can create power and success. A woman, on the other hand, is so uncomfortable with the topic of becoming powerful and successful, she fails to acknowledge the power money has to make her life better and happier. But talking about money is crucial—it could mean the difference between her clients willing to pay her worth instead of settling for less, or the difference between getting her well-earned raise instead of staying with the same pay she’s had for years, hoping her boss will suddenly realise she deserves more.

Admittedly, money is not really what many women believe is a subject for polite company, but this, Orman stresses, is denying the importance of money in their lives. This ‘conspiracy of silence’ as Orman calls it, can sabotage any attempts for a woman to feel empowered. The biggest problem, Orman believes, is women putting themselves on the ‘For Sale’ rack, treating themselves as a commodity whose price is set by others. From professionals to stay-at-home mums, they treat their services, their abilities and their time as if they were on sale.

In her book, Orman cites numerous examples of this happening: a full time working woman with a family who helps organise the school lamington drive, despite the demands she has on her time and energy. Or when the woman with a successful business who has had rising operating costs for the past three years, has yet to raise her prices with her clients, worried that she’ll lose them if they do.

Stay-at-home Mums

Even more self-deprecating are when stay-at-home-mums don’t feel they have a right to ask their husbands for money to buy something she wants for herself; happy to avoid the inevitable tension and humiliation of having her hand out. It seems women have no words to communicate the value on what they do.

It helps to think, says Orman, before making any decision to donate your time and effort, the true worth of what we are giving—or giving up. ‘True generosity is when you give the right thing to the right person at the right time—and it benefits both of you,’ she says. ‘Others probably describe you as a generous woman, but if I were to look at you, I might think you give for the wrong reasons. Do you give because you feel that you should? Do you give to feel included? Do you give because you’re worried about what other will think if you don’t?’

If true generosity then, is as much about the one who gives as it is about the one who receives, maybe women need to take a closer look at the prices they are putting on themselves. As Orman puts it, ‘How we behave towards money, how we treat our money, speaks volumes about how we perceive and value ourselves. If we aren’t powerful with money, we aren’t powerful. You set your price and the world will meet it. When you walk through the world feeling you are “more than” rather than “less than”, more will come to you. No one ever achieved financial security by being weak and scared. Confidence is contagious; it will bring more into your life.’

Confidence

Confidence and “money speak”, it seems, goes hand in hand with men and it translates well in the workforce. For example, when women get a new job, they rarely negotiate the starting salary, which is believed to reduce women’s lifetime earnings by up to a million dollars. Many of us know we’re underpaid, yet we struggle to ask for a raise. Men, however, like to negotiate, even comparing it to “wining a ballgame”. Research shows men are four times as likely to negotiate, while women feel “a great deal of apprehension” about negotiation.

Negotiation

Negotiation is just as big a hurdle to jump when women find themselves years into their job. This is again, another example of where women can undervalue themselves. Part of the reason why women feel so apprehensive could be because of the female need to be liked, to be seen as a “team player”, reflecting, perhaps, the difference between how men and women are raised. Men are raised to see the world as hierarchical and competitive. There’s always a one-up and one-down position, a winner and a loser. Women, however, tend to see the world as cooperative and democratic; they share.

Even if a woman does ask for a raise, this cooperative approach can be taken advantage of. As Orman says, ‘Do not sheepishly ask for an increase. You are a businesswoman—emphasis on the business. If your boss looks at you with doleful eyes and says, “I wish I could do more for you, but really, my hands are tied. All I can give you is a standard 3 per cent increase this year, because that’s the company’s policy.” Your boss is appealing to your kindness, hoping that you will understand that money is tight, that maybe “next year” will be better.”

A woman’s inner nurturer and kind nature, it seems, can sabotage her best efforts of getting a grip of her finances. But money is never just a means to achieve some of life’s goals or buy life’s necessities; it means time, energy, power, freedom, independence and more. And it is only now, after the era of the cave, when we have finally taken up our own spears, that we have to acknowledge our value, brave through our nerves when we have to negotiate, and know, instinctively, not to put ourselves on sale.

Three steps to a pay rise:

• Be proactive

The most important step is to recognise that you need to make this happen. Getting more requires asking for more. If you are not getting what you deserve, you are not to blame your situation on someone else or some external situation. You are responsible for valuing yourself and stating that value to the world. This holds equally true for employees of companies large and small as well as artists and stay-at-home mums.

• Be impatient

Do not go sitting around waiting for your boss to magically appear and tell you the company is promoting you and giving you a raise. Take that approach and you could well be waiting a long time. Be realistic. But if you have gone a long time—say, two years or more—and haven’t received a raise, it’s time to take action.

• Be prepared

Tell your boss you want to set up a meeting to discuss your compensation. Prior to that meeting, you are to give your boss a one-page outline of your achievements. Not ten pages, one page. The idea is that you are stating in clear terms what value you have brought to the company and why now is the time for the company to show that it values your effort. The words that should never come out of your mouth are: “I deserve a raise because I haven’t had one in two years.” That wouldn’t make much of an impact. But if you state all the ways you have met and exceeded expectations, you have your boss’s attention. The fact that you value what you do causes a nice chain reaction. It gives you the confidence to state your case, and it then makes it difficult for your boss to undervalue your work.

“Women & Money by Suze Orman” (Hay House, RRP $26.95) is available at all leading retailers. Visit www.hayhouse.com.au for more information.