Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's recent comment on the topic of women asking for pay raises has brought the issue of raises to the forefront.
Does asking for a pay raise make you nervous?
It does for most people, but it shouldn’t. The odds are in your favor.
Three out of four times women ask for a raise, they get it, according to a Glamour survey of 2,000 men and women. But that hasn’t stopped debate over whether there remains a need to ask.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently ignited controversy when he was asked at a computing conference about advice he would give women who don’t feel comfortable asking for a raise.
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“It’s not really about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along,” he answered. Not asking for a raise, he added, was “good karma” that would help a boss realize the employee could be trusted and should have more responsibility.
His comments set off a firestorm of outrage from women, and Nadella quickly back-pedaled and apologized.
Still, his comments brought pay inequity and women’s general reluctance to ask for raises to the forefront. Research shows women don’t negotiate salaries as often as men do and don’t earn as much as men; men initiate salary discussions four times more than women do. Women also don’t self promote as often or position themselves as a valuable bottom line contributor.
Executive coach Neena Newberry says women fear asking for a raise, worried that it will harm their relationship with the person whom they are asking. “They don’t want to come off as greedy or selfish.”
Glamour magazine recently surveyed 2,000 men and women about pay. Just 39 percent of women said they asked for a higher salary when starting a new job, compared with 54 percent of men. Of those in existing jobs, 43 percent of women said they had ever asked for a raise compared with 54 percent of men.
Newberry, a leadership expert with Newberry Solutions, says in today’s workplace, few people are offered sizable raises unless they negotiate it. The idea that hard work equals more money and that solid performance will result in better pay is outdated, she says. “Even if a manager wants to be a person who notices good work and gives people credit for it, it’s hard in a dynamic work environment with so many things competing for a manager’s attention.” Newberry tells the high-level women she coaches, “sitting around and waiting for good karma to come is a tough way to get more of what you want.”
Male or female, executives and recruiters believe asking and making your case is critical to getting a raise.
To keep your odds high, consider the timing, they say. If your company is exceeding goals, and you contributed, it is fair to share in the prosperity. “If your industry or company is experiencing an economic slump and you’re asking for more compensation, you may appear unconcerned or not in touch with the company goals,” says Maria Fregosi, president-elect of Women Executive Leadership, a Florida organization with a mission of advancing women in leadership and on corporate boards. Although, if you feel your accomplishments are being overlooked, “it is completely appropriate to ask for a meeting to discuss your compensation goals.”
The way you ask for a raise often affects the outcome. Newberry says language and tone matter. You don’t want to start the conversation with your boss on the defense. Your request can’t come across as an ultimatum and needs to be positioned as a win/win, Newberry says: “There’s a fine line for what’s viewed as assertive versus aggressive and there are nuances for women.”
Sandra Finn, president of Cross Country Home Services in Sunrise, Fla., says compensation adjustments are driven by the value you bring to the organization. “Have you demonstrated the drive and passion to stand out from the crowd and have you delivered more than what is expected?” If so, come prepared with the data, she says.
Fregosi, a financial executive, says it pays to cultivate relationships and take calls from recruiters, not necessarily to leave your current position, but to know what is going on salary-wise outside your company. Know the prevailing salaries in your geographic area. If you learn you are grossly underpaid, ask for more money but have a contingency plan or exit strategy, advises Victoria Usherenko, an executive recruiter and founder of ITWomen, a South Florida nonprofit that works to increase women in technology.
To ask with confidence, rehearse. “It pays to practice the discussion with a trusted mentor who can help you think through potential objections,” Fregosi says. “I have found sticking to facts and working to take the emotion out of it to be most effective.”
A mistake, experts say, is hinting at personal issues to your boss about what is prompting you to ask for a raise. A boss doesn’t care that you need more money to pay for your divorce attorney or to make higher car payments. “I have had people ask for a raise because their personal expenses have gone up,” Fregosi says. “That is not a legitimate reason to ask for or to be given a raise.”
Another mistake is demanding a raise when you learn your counterpart makes a higher salary. “You have to have your own story. Make it about you, not Joe. Sell your boss on why you should earn more,” Usherenko says. She also suggests identifying an internal mentor who will advocate a raise on your behalf, too. Of course, receiving a raise may have a caveat. You may have to take on more responsibilities. Think ahead about whether you are willing to do that, she advises.
In most workplaces, salaries are reviewed annually. Start talking to your boss about getting a raise three to four months in advance of your review.
Peggy Nordeen, co-founder and CEO of Starmark International in Fort Lauderdale, suggests asking your employer how you can increase your value to the company in order to earn more money. “A sure way to get a raise is doing the job so well that your boss can’t imagine doing his or her job without you,” Nordeen says.
Usherenko believes performance reviews are not the only time to negotiate salary. “If six months pass and you’ve done something outstanding, there’s no reason not to ask for a raise if you feel your contribution warrants it,” she says. “Get past the intimidation because most of the time, you will get the raise.”
Asking for a raise
Jacqueline Whitmore, an etiquette expert and author of “Poised for Success: Mastering The Four Qualities that Distinguish Outstanding Professionals,” is founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach. Some of her tips:
Timing is everything. The best time to ask for a raise is three to four months before your annual review. That’s when the budgets are being decided. You may also request a raise when you have been asked to take on additional responsibilities that do not fall under your job description.
Be organized. Have all of your facts and figures in order and be prepared to explain why you deserve a raise. Come prepared with a list of your yearly accomplishments.
Do your research. Find out how much others in your industry or job position are making. Use this data to request a certain sum or a percentage.
Consider your alternatives. If your employer cannot meet the dollar amount requested, be prepared to negotiate for benefits (such as additional personal days per year or the ability to work from home and telecommute one day per week). If you don’t get the amount you want, reply with, “What would it take for me to earn a better raise in the future?” That way you’ll know exactly what your boss expects of you.
Be polite and diplomatic. If you do not get the raise, don’t get angry and threaten to leave the company, even if you think you might do so. It’s best not to burn any bridges in case you do get a better offer or need a letter of recommendation.