At the beginning of the pandemic, I lost about a year’s worth of work—in a week. Before March 2020, I was a full-time speaker and consultant on women’s empowerment and how to advance your career. Once the pandemic hit, I was suddenly full of anxiety, wondering if I was going to lose my house if things didn’t turn around.
Eventually, I got my first gig. Yet while negotiating my fee, I found myself making every mistake I warn my clients about. I apologized for asking for my usual fee, offered to lower my price and tried to justify why they should hire me—even though they had contacted me.
I basically gave away my professional services for free.
Women are no longer just asking, “How should I ask for a raise?” but instead, “should I ask for a raise at all?”
The answer is a resounding “yes!” but with lots of caveats. If your company has just laid off half the workforce and the other half is furloughed one week per month, clearly it’s not the time to ask for a raise. If your organization is relatively secure and the value you are generating for your organization justifies an increase, you absolutely should ask.
The following strategies will empower you to approach salary negotiations confidently and effectively—regardless of what level you’re at in your professional career and whether your negotiation is in-person or via Zoom.
1. Know your worth.
Often women get painful pushback when we boast about our accomplishments. This sets us up to fail at salary negotiations. Years ago, a mentor of mine, who is a man of color, gave me this trick. He said:
“When I go into a negotiation, I close my eyes beforehand and imagine what I would ask for if I were a white man. I almost always ask for double.”
If this doesn’t work, think of someone you respect with comparable productivity, skills and experience. If you were advising them, what number would you come up with? Go with that number.
2. Ask for it unapologetically.
When I say unapologetically, I mean it. For many of us, this feels profoundly uncomfortable; yet there is a formula for bragging without alienating everyone around you. I call it the brag sandwich: humility, shameless brag, humility.
Compare these two brags:
“Things are going really well and I'm successful. My clients love the new report layout and said the graphics I designed were the best they’ve ever seen.”
Even if this is 100% true, it can be a bit of a turnoff in negotiations. Here’s the second brag:
“I am so grateful for the opportunity to try new things and the increased responsibility you’ve given me. Things are going really well, and I'm successful. My clients love the new report layout and said the graphics I designed were the best they’ve ever seen. Learning Photoshop was hard work, but I appreciate your trust in my vision for this campaign. It’s been really rewarding.”
Behold, the power of the brag sandwich. This person has communicated their brag, but in a way that shows humility and gratitude.
3. Use body language to project confidence (even if your heart is racing).
For many of us, talking about money can feel uncomfortable or even taboo. The key here is not to worry if you are uncomfortable. Even if you sweat, your heart races or your mouth dries, I promise you that this will not kill you. Get ready to project confidence by doing the following:
- Make direct eye contact.
- State your figure without breaking eye contact.
- Keep your head still if you feel you need to project a great deal of confidence and power. Smile if you feel a warmer approach will work.
- Ensure your posture is perfect whether you are negotiating in a remote zoom setting or a physical office.
- If your boss is trying to power play you (spreading out, unwavering eye contact, not blinking, interrupting, etc.) and you feel intimidated, mirror their body language.
4. Pay attention to not only what you are saying, but how you are saying it.
My favorite tool in a negotiation is silence. Women often fill silence to relieve awkward tension and to avert interruption. But silence is powerful and we need to embrace it. Pausing to collect your thoughts before answering a question, or inserting a pause after a statement you want someone to remember, adds gravitas to your ideas.
In addition to filling silences, many women talk faster than men. This is because we are expected to provide more evidence than men in conversation. We try to squeeze a lot of verbiage into the same acceptable amount of time when we are making a point. It is vital that when discussing your salary, you state your number with a steady voice and slow pace for emphasis. It may feel agonizingly slow to you, but it is probably just about right.
Finally, please keep in mind that you do not have to feel brave to do any of this. You have to be brave—being scared and doing what you need to do anyway. Be afraid, but ask anyway. That is bravery.