It was 5:15 p.m. on a busy Wednesday. Most people were clearing out of the office, but I was just getting back to my desk after a crazy day of back-to-back meetings and had a pile of work to do before I could get out the door. At the time, I was the leader of a major corporate sales team — and we were missing our targets, which meant that I was having to make budget cuts.
Then, out of nowhere, one of my direct reports dropped by my office and sat down in the chair opposite me. Without preamble, he said, “I’ve been meaning to catch you. I need a raise. I’ve been working really hard, and I haven’t had one in two years.”
Needless to say, I erupted. I was hungry. I was tired. And I was not in the mood to talk about it, at all.
Of course, as the current-day co-founder of Fairygodboss, part of me wishes more women would take a page from the blustery confidence of this former male employee. He misread the situation, to an inane degree, and ultimately missed his mark. But he did ask.
And this Equal Pay Day, it’s important that we ask ourselves about asking, and why women aren’t doing more of it. Undoubtedly, women’s hesitancy to ask for more money is a contributing factor for why the gender pay gap persists (and it does persist, as nearly half of Fairygodboss users can personally attest to). Companies must be fairer in how they compensate, it’s true, but we also must fulfill our own destinies by getting more aggressive about asking — persistently and forcefully — for raises. The more women ask for raises, the more we’ll get paid, and the narrower the pay gap will get. Period.
So, this April 10th, I’d like to ask every woman reading this to go ask for a raise. But before you go running into your boss’s office, there are a few things you can and should do to prepare and increase your chances of success.
Chief among them? If you’re asking for a raise, you have to think a lot about your manager, something my former employee certainly didn’t do. The reality is that, in most corporate situations, your manager will need to go out on a limb in order to get you that raise. As a manager, I wish that was something I wish more people — women and men alike — understood. So as you think about how you’ll ask for your raise, consider the following:
1. Timing matters.
Managers — they’re just like you! They have one thousand things on their plates and bosses to please, families to care for, etc. — and managing can itself be a very time-consuming endeavor. So think about how, where and when you will approach your manager. Clearly there are some times of day and some days of the week when your message will land better. And you should know your boss and his/her quirks... for example, it’s probably a catastrophically bad idea to ask me something if it’s noon and I have not had lunch. First thing Monday morning or last thing on Friday is also probably not a winner.
2. Understand your company’s budget cycle — and financial performance.
Most managers don’t have coffers full of money to allocate, so they are beholden to the company’s financial process. At most companies, annual budgets don’t really allow for discretionary salary increases mid-cycle. If you approach your manager when it’s not time for corporate budgeting and/or increases, you’re making it considerably harder for him/her to help you — even if he or she wants to.
Moreover, you should try to have an understanding of how your company is performing financially. If you are meeting or exceeding your target, there may be more leeway —but if the company is underperforming, it might not be the easiest time for your manager to be able to advocate for you, regardless of your individual performance. For example, during the financial crisis, I was given a target of budget cuts to make. Since I was having to cut heads and programs, I was not terribly excited to be asked for salary increases.
3. Make the business case.
Like any other idea or investment, you should have a solid business case for what you will deliver in the next 12 months. I have personally found that people asking for raises tend to focus on their past accomplishments — which are important for sure. But if you think about the situation in a business context, the strongest case you can make is to say, “If you invest this money in me, here’s what I will deliver for you. Here’s the return you’ll receive on your investment.”
4. What’s in it for your manager?
There have definitely been times when I have used my political capital to ask for a raise for a team member only to be burned when he or she still left after getting the raise. Keep in mind that your manager has a lot to lose when advocating for you. How can you help put them at ease? What do they care about? It’s important to help show your manager that one, you’ll be loyal, and two, you’ll help them advance their goals, whatever those are. Remind your manager how you make his/her life easier, and can continue to do so even more.
5. Expect to hear 'No.' Then don’t take no for an answer.
Any smart manager will say no to your request the first time. Before going to bat for you, he/she is checking to see just how important the raise is to you. So if you ask and hear no and then drop the topic, you can be sure you won’t get your raise. When men on my team were looking for a raise, they would ask monthly — like clockwork. I urge you to do the same. Ask your manager for milestones. What do you need from me? What would you need to see from me to ask for a raise next month? Engage them in the process.
By taking these steps, and avoiding my former employees’ pitfalls, you can ensure you’ll be paid what you’re worth — and help close that pesky pay gap along the way.