For decades, Canadian women have been fighting to be acknowledged as being as capable as men, and to be paid equally. But there is one thing that men seem to be better at that critically affects their earnings throughout their lives and contributes to this country’s persistent gender pay gap: asking for raises.

What’s the gender pay gap?

Canadian women continue to earn significantly less than men, regardless of their role or education level. According to Statistics Canada census data released in 2017, women with bachelor’s degrees had a median income of $68,342 in 2015, while men with the same education earned a median income of $82,082. That means university-educated women earned $13,740 less a year than their male counterparts. That’s a staggering difference, and unfortunately, it exists at all education levels.

And while women feel the gap during their working years, it also has a critical effect on their retirement. If you’re earning less, you’re likely saving less – and since women typically live longer than men, you’ll need to stretch those savings over more years than your male co-worker.

Many of the reasons for the gap need to be addressed at a societal or cultural level, such as the fact that women are more likely to work part-time to accommodate child-care responsibilities, or that many women work in lower-paying, traditionally female-dominated fields.

But there is something women can do to improve their earnings potential, from the very beginning of their careers and right through until retirement: Get comfortable with asking for raises. “Every single woman should have this conversation with her boss. Do your research, and ask,” says Karlyn Percil, a Toronto-based life coach who left the corporate ladder to focus on helping other women develop their leadership skills and succeed.

5 tips to help you ask for a raise

The most important thing you can do when asking for a raise is to build a case for why you deserve it. Here are some tips to help you prepare for that important conversation with your boss.

  1. Do your homework. Find out what the salary range is for roles similar to yours. Contact your HR department to see whether salary bands for your role are available, so you can get a sense of where your pay lands on the scale. You can also find out what other companies are paying for similar jobs by using sites like Glassdoor or by talking to a recruiter. If it turns out that you’re being fairly paid for what you do, by all means ask for a raise anyway – for the practice, if nothing else – but think about working towards a promotion to get it.
  2. Showcase your success. “Have a PowerPoint document on your desktop, so whenever something awesome happens, e.g., a ‘big win,’ you can drop a screenshot into your PowerPoint,” says Cher Jones, a social media expert and personal branding coach. Be sure to think about what’s important to your employer, and collect files that show how you’ve supported the organization’s goals. Add any proof points such as any campaigns or reports you’ve worked on and their results, or even emails with positive feedback from senior leaders or clients.
  3. Be authentic. Your boss probably knows you fairly well, and if you’re normally pleasant and polite, coming across all hard-nosed and combative by demanding more money “or else” may astonish rather than impress. Be yourself. You’ll be more comfortable and ultimately more credible.
  4. Practice the conversation. Rehearse with family and friends to the point where it feels natural. “That way you’re not saying those words for the first time when you have your meeting,” says Jones. If you’re still nervous, you could try to psych yourself up for the meeting – or you could admit your discomfort up front and move past it. Refer to notes if you want to be sure to cover all your talking points.
  5. Watch your body language. “Make sure your non-verbal cues are aligned with what you’re saying,” says Percil. Stand up straight rather than slouch, and try to maintain eye contact when speaking to your boss. For more on the power of body language, see psychologist Amy Cuddy’s research.

Keep hammering on the glass ceiling

Asking for a raise can be a tough conversation, but it can also be a very empowering one. Plus, each time you ask for a raise, you’re taking a step towards closing the gender pay gap for future generations. “When you ask for a raise, think about the women who will come after you,” says Percil. “Think about the legacy you leave behind for them and how asking for what you deserve could improve their salary and the perception of women in your field.”