26 Oct Accelerate: Paying It Forward
The Dos and Don’ts of Asking for a Raise
By Janice Heit
Sharanya Prasad,* a 32-year-old senior director at a media organization, did not ask for a raise at her prior workplace. Like many women, she believed the notion that the workplace was a meritocracy, that her excellence would shine through, and that her company would recognize this and offer her a raise. But after onboarding with her current company four years ago, she hired an executive coach who helped Prasad get over her discomfort—common among women and particularly women of color—with negotiating for a pay increase.
With a laser focus on current accomplishments and future growth within her company, “I put together a document based on my job description that outlined everything I was fulfilling on a day-to-day and quarterly basis, and then everything I’d taken on beyond my job description,” she says. “And I put together a script, saying things like, ‘I’m looking for growth,’ and ‘These are the ways that I could offer more value.’” She asked for a salary adjustment, naming a specific dollar number, based on her research of comparable roles at peer companies. The result, a 10 percent raise, was “not as much as I’d asked for but way more than if I hadn’t given that number,” said Prasad.
If you’ve been reluctant to ask for a specific number, you’re not alone: according to research by the Pew Foundation, only 32 percent of men and 28 percent of women have negotiated their starting salaries when they were last hired, with early- to mid-career workers feeling the most discomfort. “We’re often taught that if you’re doing an excellent job, you’ll be rewarded with a raise or promotion,” says Prasad. “That was a myth I’d held onto for my first 10 years of working. But if you’re doing a great job and don’t advocate for yourself, they’ll say, ‘Oh, she’s doing great, and she’s not asking for anything—nothing’s wrong.’”
Women of color in particular are leery of rocking the boat.
“When it comes to something very important, whether it’s your career or your money, or a personal relationship, you have to be very clear about what it is that you want,” advises Laura Fredricks, author most recently of Hard Asks Made Easy: How to Get Exactly What You Want (laurafredricks.com). Her advice: “It’s a conversation, not a confrontation.” Know what you want to accomplish, rehearse your tone of voice and body language, and understand your leverage—or, as Fredricks says, “It will cost them a fortune to find someone else like you.”
Let your supervisor know in advance that you’d like to discuss your compensation. And when it’s time to meet, “walk in, thank them for their time, and then get to it.” Fredricks’s “secret sauce” for any ask consists of two statements and a question. She cites an example: “As you know, the purpose of this meeting is to talk to you about a raise, where I’m asking X amount by Y date. I know you probably have a lot of questions. What are your questions?” And then, she advises, “Be quiet, and let them take it. Do not fill the space.”
What if you’re offered much less than what you wanted? “You could say, ‘Let’s revisit this in another three months,’” says Fredricks. And if your raise is denied or you’re told they’ll revisit your request in six months, she counsels, “Negotiate the time frame, and try to cut the time to three months or less. Keep the conversation going.”
And document the process. That’s what Joyce Frazier, a 28-year-old pharmacist at a health center in Louisville, Kentucky, learned. She knew from HR’s phone call confirming her hire that 90 days into her new position she would receive a 3 percent raise, provided she passed her evaluation and met preset goals. However, upon reaching the 90-day mark and being told by her supervisor that she’d passed her evaluation and exceeded expectations, she discovered that company policy had changed, and 90-day raises were no longer being given. So Frazier set out to turn a no into a yes. She requested a meeting with HR and her supervisor, “getting together all my notes and the paper trail I’d created during my hiring process.”
Unfortunately, because she lacked written confirmation from HR following her hiring call, “they said I must have misunderstood,” although she knew they had reneged on an oral promise. It took another nine months and a second stellar evaluation to raise her compensation. Frazier’s advice: “Get everything in writing.”
And keep your eye on the prize: “I tried to be as calm as possible, no matter how much disrespect I received during meetings,” Frazier says. One expert on negotiation tools for women of color, quoted in Forbes, cleverly suggests requesting a “bathroom break” if you feel your temper rising, in order to restore your equilibrium.
Know your worth
An increasing number of US states now mandate salary-range information. Sites such as Glassdoor, Indeed, and Salary Expert can also assist. And then there’s social media.
Inverna Diaz, a 27-year-old working in communications and press relations, quickly grew new business for her company in Washington, DC. One year into her position, as she was deciding whether to ask for a raise, her supervisor surprised her with a title change and a salary increase of $9,000, thanks to an Instagram account calling out the white, male power structure of their workplace. “I don’t know who started it,” Diaz says, “but [colleagues] began posting anonymously about what was going on in their offices, doing what they called a ‘vibe check.’ And everyone was reading it. So I actually ended up getting called in by my supervisor [and offered the raise] before I was ready to have that conversation!”
Executive coach Jamie Lee, who specializes in helping smart women who hate office politics get promoted and better paid without throwing anyone under the bus (jamieleecoach.com), works with clients to “connect the dots between what you’re accomplishing and what the decision-maker cares about. You want to tailor your communication so that it has their ears perking up. And you want to make sure you’re articulating it in a way that is future focused. When you talk about what you’ve done, what you will do, and the impact of that for the organization, you’re demonstrating thinking at that next level.”
From there, Lee says, “you ask, ‘Would you agree that I’m adding value?’ This makes sure there is buy-in and alignment.” If the answer is no, Lee suggests rerouting the conversation in order to problem-solve. “But in my experience, they almost always say yes,” she says. “And then you respond with, ‘I’m glad you agree. That is why I would like to speak to you about having my pay adjusted so that it’s on par with the level of value I’m bringing here.’ And that’s when you make your very specific request.”
For women at small and midsized organizations, experts suggest timing your ask with your performance review. However, at large or multinational organizations, Jamie Lee suggests negotiating three to six months before your annual review, so that your compensation request can work its way through the system’s decision-makers prior to Q4, when such decisions are typically made. “Otherwise, they’re likely going to tell you, ‘Well, yes, that’s nice, and we agree you’re adding value, but you’ve got to wait.’”
The bottom line is this: When they hired you, your company invested in their future. Your achievements—past, present, and future—are their ROI. So do your homework, role-play your script, set a date with your supervisor, have that conversation, and make that ask! DW
Janet Heit’s last feature for Diversity Woman was “Take the Lead: The Future of Work” (in the Fall 2022 issue). Connect with her at Janet.Heit.DEI@gmail.com.
* Employees’ names have been changed.