Published August 15, 2012
We’re told over and over again that women are too reticent, too lacking in confidence, too timid to ask for a raise.
But we are asking.
And we have proof. We found four real women who negotiated for raises, and got them. These aren’t career coaches or hiring managers–they’re just ambitious, conscientious women like we are, who made things happen for themselves.
Please note: Names have been changed to protect those who shared their successes—and prevent them from encountering any awkward situations at work.
Remember, if they can do it, you can, too.
I was at my job in New York City for about a year when I figured it was time to prepare to negotiate a raise, so I started using sites like Salary.com to find what people of comparable experience and qualifications were earning. I quickly realized that I was making less than the industry norm.
I got along well with my colleagues, so I asked in the spirit of solidarity: “I’m looking into pursuing a raise, and it’s good for all of us to know what we’re worth.” They were happy to share, and I quickly realized that a male co-worker who had been hired after me with the exact same credentials (down to the same journalism school!) but less experience was making 15% more than I was! To add insult to injury, it’s not that he had negotiated from the outset and I hadn’t: Neither of us had negotiated our first offer.
I wanted to be upset, but I had to get strategic.
I started asking friends who were attorneys about my situation, and they pointed out that my employer was likely violating the Equal Pay Act; I was the only woman in my office. My boss at that time was new, so hadn’t hired me and wasn’t aware of the disparity. When I pointed it out to him (as advised by my lawyer friends), he brought it up to the CEO and I was granted a 15% raise immediately.
Medicine is different from other fields in that if you’re working in a private practice and making a salary, you can expect to have a conversation about becoming more of a partner around the five-year mark. Then, instead of getting a set salary, you share in the company’s profits with a proportional bonus each year.
In my practice of six doctors in Michigan, I’m both the only one who doesn’t have children and the only one who works full time. Consequently, I have ambitions to become a partner. After three years, I noticed how much more the owner of the practice did than his staff: He was dealing with angry parents, negotiating with health insurance companies, ordering vaccines, hiring new employees. Since I did want to become a partner one day, I started asking myself: What could I take on to get to there?
So I asked. I told him I was interested in learning more about how the business functions and how I could help, and asked how I could move up in the ranks. Not only was he appreciative that I noticed his work, but he told me I was the only one who had ever asked him how to transition to the business side of things.
He inquired how much I want to be making, ultimately, and we sat down and figured out how I would get there. We ironed out my responsibilities and pay raises for the next five years (it works out to 10-15% per year). By demonstrating my commitment to the practice and asking how I could grow with him, my boss was able to plan on my being around and reward me accordingly.
Being upfront with my dedication to his business made it easier for him to invest in me.
After graduating in a recession, I believed I would be lucky to have any job besides “unpaid intern.” So, when I got a paid internship, I worked my way into a staff position and then another–and with that second promotion, I asked for more money.
My company is a non-profit, so we’re all working for the greater good. In this kind of environment, asking for money can seem greedy and crass. Add to that the fact that I’m one of the youngest people to hold my position, and I was understandably reluctant. Until now, I had always seen my salary as how much money I had, not how much I was worth. And since I could pay my bills, my rent and my student loans, it felt like I had enough.
But then the woman whose job I was taking over told me I should negotiate–she was moving overseas, so I felt comfortable opening up to her about my salary, and she felt comfortable giving me an outside perspective on assets I didn’t realize were valuable: my experience in the field in college (I had been an editor at the college paper), my familiarity with the office culture, my willingness to work more hours and be connected 24/7.
After realizing how helpful it was hear an objective view of my value, I started gathering intel from people who were similarly non-competitive with me: I asked my former boss for his advice, and my friend who works in finance.
Between the two of them, I settled on asking for a 20% raise. Once I got past my worries about seeming presumptuous, the actual negotiation was easy. I brought notes into my meeting (on my friend’s recommendation) and went through the points about my worth. My boss took my suggested number back to the appropriate channels, and a week later, I had a new job and a higher salary.
Eva, Vice President at a Non-Profit
When I was offered my first job as a graduating senior, the idea of negotiating my salary seemed absurd. I felt lucky that anyone would give me a job, and also feared that negotiating my salary would be painfully awkward and potentially damage my relationship with my new company and boss. But after learning that women end up with much lower pay throughout their careers partially because of failure to negotiate, I decided I had to do it–if not for me, then to break the pattern!
When I called to respond to my job offer, I took a deep breath and squeaked out, “Is there any flexibility with the compensation?” My boss asked me how much I wanted to make, and I asked for $10,000 more than they offered. Two hours later he responded and I was given a 17% raise. My first thought was “Wow, it actually worked!” and my second thought was, “I wonder if I could have gotten more?”
Since then, I have always negotiated my salary, even if the starting offer is high, and have actually come to enjoy it. Before negotiating, I remind myself that the company wants me or they wouldn’t offer me the job, that the person making the offer probably makes a lot more than I am being offered and that my company will respect my ability to communicate clearly regardless of what happens.
Then, I take these three steps, always staying positive and energetic:
1. Not Waiting for a Call: When I am called with an offer, or a counter offer, I always say, “Thank you. I am incredibly excited about this opportunity and appreciate the offer. Can I call you back this afternoon to discuss some details?” It keeps me calm and makes me feel like I have control of the conversation.
2. Asking for at Least 20%: I normally ask for a 20-30% salary increase. I don’t know how I decided on this but it has seemed like the right amount to ask for. I want to make sure I ask for much more than I actually want, recognizing that their second offer will be lower than my request. I also provide a reason for ask for an increase (the cost of living in the city, the level of responsibility required, the average market salary) but don’t go into details.
3. Remembering It’s Not All About Salary: Because time and flexibility are very important to me, I also often ask for increased vacation time or other benefits, such as paying for a class or training. One job wouldn’t give me much extra salary, but I got an extra week of vacation every year and actually had my new boss apologize for not being able to offer more.
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