Contract negotiation for women: What you need to consider

Employment contracts can help women achieve their objectives, if they negotiate the clauses effectively. We talk you through what to look out for and how to successfully negotiate with your employer.

An employment contract sets out the conditions of your employment relationship — it’s a tool that helps you secure the specific terms that you and your employer have tailored to your individual employment objectives. Negotiations are important when you’re seeking a higher salary package or conditions that strike a balance between work and family or personal responsibilities.

Ensuring that your employment contract is right before you start work is key, as this helps minimise future workplace disputes regarding your conditions of employment.

What can you negotiate?

It’s important to carefully review the contract an employer offers you, and to take the time to consider any potentially beneficial clauses so you and the employer can negotiate these.

Consider the following factors:

Salary

Negotiating a salary can be intimidating, but it’s important to agree on a figure that reflects your skills, experience and responsibilities in the role. Given that the gender pay gap prevails, you should check salary guides and surveys or speak to recruitment-agency staff about salaries for positions at a level comparable to yours. You can then base negotiations on this information to ensure you don’t undervalue yourself.

Performance and salary reviews

Consider asking for your contract to stipulate exact dates for performance and salary reviews. This will not only hold your employer accountable, but also provide a more structured approach to discussions about career progression.

Bonuses

Look for any clauses concerning bonuses. Contracts often stipulate these as payable at the employer’s discretion, so these clauses may enable the employer to withhold payment. To secure the certainty of these payments, you should seek to remove that discretion. Alternatively, ask for the contract to specify the criteria or performance indicators that will be applied when assessing whether the bonus payment will be made to you.

Flexible work arrangements

Ensure that any clauses relating to your expected work hours are clearIf you’d like to build more flexibility into your position, consider negotiating a clause that permits you to work an agreed number of hours at home.

Leave entitlements

You can also secure flexibility by asking for additional carer’s leave or annual-leave entitlements. If your employer finds this unacceptable, think about requesting a clause that  allows you to “purchase” additional annual leave in exchange for an equivalent reduction in your salary.

Superannuation

Women can put their superannuation accumulation at a disadvantage when they take long periods of unpaid leave, such as parental leave. To counteract this long-term detriment, consider negotiating a clause stipulating that your employer continues to make superannuation contributions during periods of unpaid parental leave.

Notice periods

You may be able to negotiate an extension to the amount of notice your employer is required to give you if and when they terminate your employment. This gives you more time to find alternative employment

Probation period

Seeking to reduce the period of probationary employment can, if your attempt is successful, help build greater job security.

Parental leave

Your employer may provide an entitlement to paid parental leave. You should investigate whether this entitlement stems from a workplace policy or from the terms of your contract. Difficulties can arise when employees try to enforce entitlements in policies, particularly when such policies do not form part of an employment contract. If securing paid parental leave is important to you, try to ensure that your contract includes a relevant clause.

Part-time considerations

If you’re a part-timer, it is useful for your contract to clearly outline your duties and responsibilities. It will assist in ensuring that your employer does not allocate you work that’s different to or less valuable than the work provided to full-time workers in similar positions.

How to negotiate your contract

Preparation is key when you’re negotiating the terms and conditions of your employment contract. Consider precisely what you need from your role, whether that’s job flexibility or work–life balance. Strong reasoning and research will help you negotiate successfully. When you’re well prepared, your new employer is likely to be more open and engaged with the negotiations rather than see them as a list of demands.

If you’re concerned about the content of your employment contract or need a lawyer to clarify its terms, seek legal advice before you sign it.

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Mia Pantechis

Maurice Blackburn Sydney
Mia Pantechis is a Senior Associate in Maurice Blackburn’s Sydney employment team. She is a senior member of the only first tier law practice listed by the prestigious Doyles Guide 2018 for employee representation. Mia graduated from the University of Sydney. She holds a Bachelor ...

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