The fact that women are positioned to be hit hardest by the coronavirus’ financial fallout isn’t exactly a secret.
Women, who make up more than 60% of all minimum-wage and lower-wage workers, are more likely to experience job insecurity and layoffs during economic crises, according to gender economist Katica Roy. And this particular pandemic has even more direct implications on women’s earning potential. As children are kept out of school, dual-earning couples who may have previously felt balanced in their divisions of household labor are being forced to make tough compromises and concessions. And, as this crisis has already made startlingly clear, for hetero couples, those concessions still tend to follow traditional gender lines.
In other words, it’s more often the careers of women — some of whom may have been earning less than their partners, or otherwise feel more culturally permitted to ask for flexibility — that are taking a backseat in this moment, coming second to the unpaid care needs of their family. Of course, this isn’t the case for all such households. But it’s a strong enough pattern to make for some grim projections, including from The Atlantic’s Helen Lewis who went as far as predicting that “some women’s lifetime earnings will never recover” from the coronavirus.
Unemployment numbers in the U.S. are skyrocketing as a result of the pandemic. As of March 26th, a record 3.3 million Americans had already filed for unemployment benefits, and the week prior saw the biggest jump in new claims of joblessness in the nation’s history. Set against this backdrop, many of us who are lucky enough to still be employed feel precisely that way — lucky. It’s not exactly an encouraging environment to ask for a raise or promotion in, even if you’re long overdue one. That’s the situation my friend Emily* is in.
Emily, who’s been planning for months to ask her employer of three years for more money, called me with a question that I’ve heard other women in the FGB Community ask: Given the current state of things, is it wrong of me to still ask for that raise?
“My performance review is next week and I have no idea what I’m going to do,” she told me. “I deserve both a raise and a promotion, but the raise is really a priority for me. I need this money. And if I don’t ask next week, I won’t be able to ask again until November.”
She was extremely nervous, though, about how her ask would be received.
“Everyone at work is stressed, and there are fears that layoffs are coming,” she said. “My boss knows that I know this. So if I still ask her for a raise, will that make me seem totally tone deaf?"
In these terrifying times, personally, I'd be lying if I said that thoughts of my future earning potential were occupying much of my current head space. Mostly, I just feel lucky to have a job. But for the sake of myself, Emily and women like us, I have to wonder — will the men in our workplaces be asking themselves if it’s “okay” to ask for a raise right now? Or will they just ask for them?
While I fully admit this is speculative, my gut feeling is that, no, a majority of men won’t be wrestling with this dilemma. That’s something I had verified on a very micro level, at least, after posting on an online database for reporters: “In light of the current economic state, do you still intend to ask for a raise at work?” The first reply came from a man who identified himself as David and had little doubt as to where he stood, made all the clearer by his response’s subject line...
“I am still employed (for the moment) and had previously planned on asking for a raise when my annual performance review comes up, which is in the near future. And I am planning on asking for a raise,” David wrote. “Why? First, because I deserve one. I work very hard for the company I work for, I generally give them the financial results that they want, and there are a variety of other factors involved in why I think I deserve a raise.”
Still, David acknowledged the sensitive situation that his company, like so many others, is in.
“I do realize that my company is suffering because of the coronavirus outbreak — sales and revenue are down, and will probably continue to be,” he added. “With that said, if the company comes back with an offer of a raise that is lower than what I expected but still a raise, I would make that concession and accept a lower amount. That's because I understand how business works, but I also want to be rewarded for my efforts in the recent past.”
If, unlike David, you’re debating how your boss would receive a request for higher compensation in this current environment, remember that wanting more money for the hard work you do isn’t personal. It’s a matter of business, and chances are, it won’t seem as out of the blue to your manager as you might be fearing it will. I heard from one male hiring manager, Elmer, who further spoke to that.
“Yes, I’ll push through with the request (for my pay),” he said. “Amidst all the commotion with the virus scare, my company is still an organization. That said, an organization will only be successful if well-compensated people run it. Otherwise, you’ll have a workforce full of undriven and unmotivated people.”
Plenty of women still fully intend to ask for the things they want from their companies and don't see the coronavirus as a reason not to. In the FGB Community, one woman said that she was “absolutely” still asking for a raise and expected to at the very least have a serious discussion about it with her boss.
“Managers and executives are still wanting raises and promotions, too, especially the men,” she wrote. “The money is there in many industries. It just depends on who they want to give it to… it never hurts to ask. I would never assume. They are counting on women to always think of others and not want to say the wrong thing.”
By not asking for a raise right now, she reminded FGB community members that you could be setting yourself up for a loss of income with lasting implications.
“Skipping a year or even a few months can hurt your salary and growth potential in the long run,” she wrote. “It's like compound interest. If you miss an increase now, next year’s increase will be calculated on a lower number. If you apply for another job, they will see this more junior role and not the title you could have had. I know that situations vary, but the money is there in most companies.”
Still on the fence?
“Think of the money being saved on travel expenses,” she added. “To put things into perspective, a silly little executive dinner or just after dinner drinks can go into the thousands... per meal/night. Are you worth a meal or two or more? I know I am.”
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