Raise your hand if you like asking for a raise or think it is easy. That’s what I thought. According to Donna Flagg, founder of The Krysalis Group and author of Surviving Dreaded Conversations, women find it significantly more difficult to ask for a raise than do men. I recently heard her speak at NYU’s Stern Women in Business Conference and found her suggestions on this topic quite helpful.
First, she suggests, you must realize a few things:
- It’s not personal. It’s financial.: Often, we may fear asking for a raise because we don’t want to be turned down and associate being turned down with our self worth or value-add to the company. While we should be able to demonstrate that we add value to our company when asking for a raise, not getting the raise does not mean we don’t add value.
- It’s just a question and not tied to self worth.: Have you been in a situation where you ask someone a question and all you want to know is the answer to that question? However, the response from the person with whom you are speaking comes across as quite defensive. Perhaps they think you are testing them. As Ms. Flagg said, “I am not questioning you. I am asking you a question!” Similar to situations like this, asking for a raise is a question. There may be several “reasons” why one will or will not get the raise. Just ask! Why do we see men making more than women or getting that raise? They ask!
- It’s more than asking for money.: Salaries are a line item in a budget. Managers have to manage their budgets and companies have shareholders to please. Yes, we may be looking for a raise, but there are many considerations that need to be taken into account before the answer to your question is “yes.” Thus, if you get a “no,” understand the rationale behind that “no,” and try again.
Now that we understand some of these points to consider, let’s discuss the process for asking for this raise.
- Understand the bigger picture: While it is true that we want to be paid what we are worth, there is a fine line between not asking because one thinks she does not deserve it versus it is inappropriate to ask. For example, if you work for a non-profit or a government agency that is on a pay freeze, there are clearly limitations on the pay increase discussion. In such a situation, it may be inappropriate to think you and only you should get the raise when no one else would be able to given the circumstances of your organization.
- Know the rate of pay for your role: Do your homework. Know the salary range for your job title or job grade at your company and/or within your industry. Ms. Flagg gave the example that an employee once asked her for a salary increase that would have put her above the boss’! Not good.
- List your quantifiable contributions to the organization: Make a list of how you add to the success, health, and productivity of your organization. Include specific, measurable, action-oriented activities rather than a laundry list of stuff. Perhaps you can create categories with a list of quantifiable contributions for each category. Make it a long list so you have a good argument, but start with the top three to five for your discussion.
- Make sure you have a good argument: Think of a BCG matrix where the x-axis is your contribution and the y-axis is your salary. If you are in the bottom right quadrant where your contributions are high but your salary is low, you have a much better shot than the other quadrants.
- The Steps for the Conversation
- Ask if it feasible to get the raise.
- If the answer is “no,” ask questions. For example, if the response is that there is not a budget for this, ask when it might be appropriate to bring up this conversation again. Don’t just accept the no and walk away. Make sure you have some agreement as to what you need to do to allow for the next conversation that would more likely lead to a “yes” and agree to a date for that next conversation. Don’t just agree to “talk later” about it.
- Respect your boss’ position, regardless of the response.
- Again, consider the bigger picture. There are many dynamics happening that you may or may not be aware of. Remember, it is not just about you.
- Practice: Now that you know what you need to prepare for and how to have the conversation, practice! Given that men are so good at this, it might be a good idea to practice with a man, whether it be a colleague, friend, or significant other. You may be surprised at how you come across versus what you think you are saying. As an ex-corporate trainer and communications coach, I can guarantee this!
I’ve shared with you suggestions and a process for what to do, but there are a few things NOT to do.
- DON’T back up your argument with personal issues (e.g., new car or house, kids’ daycare, vacation).
- DON’T say you work harder than Suzy or Joe.
- DON’T let “no” be the final word.
- DON’T fear the outcome.
One last point to share. Some women at the conference said that they negotiated other things like summer Fridays or more vacation in lieu of a salary increase. This may be a good thing, but consider the following. First, what are you really after? Is it a raise? Is it acknowledgment? Understand what you are really after as it will help you stand your ground more effectively. Also, if you do accept the vacation instead of a pay increase, know that you may have just set yourself up for a difficult follow-up conversation about that pay increase. Certainly, you could agree that for now, the extra vacation is fine but you would like to discuss the raise in year. Again, the outcome you want is up to you. Simply consider the potential consequences of agreeing to alternate solutions.