Photograph by Holger Winkler Joos—Getty Images
By Caroline Ghosn
April 19, 2016

As a result of the pay gap, the average American woman will lose $430,480 over the course of her career. Take a moment and think about how much money that is: It is the kind of cash that can erase student debt, pay for specialized cancer treatment, or buy a dream home.

And that massive earnings gap is happening despite the fact that there are more women in the workforce than ever before, and despite the fact that women now have more advanced degrees than men.

Not to worry, though, because millennials have no fear and are working aggressively to close this gap, right? Wrong. According to a recent survey of millennial women, 63% felt uncomfortable negotiating, 58% were afraid of losing their job or offer, 56% didn’t know what to ask for, and 51% didn’t know that they should be negotiating.

We need to change the way we women feel about negotiation. Walking into an office and asking for a raise or more responsibility is no easy feat, but knowing when and how to do it is essential. Here are some of the things I’ve learned over the course of my career:

1. Do your research

Women report salary expectations between 3% and 32% lower than men for the same jobs, which means that knowing exactly what kind of compensation to ask for is essential. Online resources like Levo, Glassdoor, Salary.com, and Payscale.com have treasure troves of data that can help you figure out what to ask for. This is also the time to have specific examples of how you add distinctive value to your team. Did you recruit another great team member? Smash through your KPIs? Receive a compliment on your performance from your client? Try keeping a work journal and logging both daily tasks and big wins. This makes the conversation more about your performance and the market and less about why you might want a raise.

2. Prepare your body language

Although this may be a one-on-one conversation, prepare for it the same way you would prepare a pitch for a client—the only difference is that you’re pitching yourself. Since more than 55% of messages are conveyed through nonverbal cues such as gestures and posture, this means practicing your body language and delivery. Start with strong eye contact, positive facial expressions, and open, calm arm movement. Make time to practice. Film yourself role-playing the negotiation with a friend, then watch the video and analyze it to identify opportunities for improvement.

3. Know the context

Do you work at a startup that just launched and is managing cash down to the penny? Do you work at a Fortune 500 company that has just had a round of layoffs? It may not be the best time to ask for a raise. Also, know your boss. This is not a spontaneous Friday afternoon conversation sandwiched between other day-to-day agenda items. You want him or her to know in advance that this is the type of conversation you would like to have. That way he or she can be elevated out of a daily operational mindset and into a professional development one.

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4. Broaden the conversation

A salary increase isn’t everything. Getting turned down for a raise does not mean you have nothing left to negotiate for. Thing about what else you deserve, whether it’s a performance bonus, a better title, an augmented equity plan, or the budget to take online or offline classes to improve your skillset? Think about other things your company may be able to provide for you in lieu of a salary bump.

5. Be positive

Energy is everything. Go into the negotiation with the confidence that you will succeed and with the clear understanding of your value to your organization. Stay in a collaborative frame of mind in which you envision yourself ending the conversation in a better place than the one you came from. Your boss will pick up on this immediately.

Caroline Ghosn is the founder and CEO of Levo, a professional network dedicated to helping millennials navigate the workplace.

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