The Art of Asking for a Raise

The Art of Asking for a Raise

Women have a much harder life than men.
They work harder and get paid less. 

How the heck does that work ?

I mentor a lot of women, and one of the biggest issues we discuss is how to get paid.

My friend SW is a high powered woman in Finance.

With bonuses being decided soon, all of us need to make sure we are getting paid. 


I asked SW to share her perspective on how to ask for a raise. Her advice while aimed at women, is actually applicable to all us (I learnt a bunch too). 


This is what she said:

With more than 16 years of professional life all over the world in my bag, I have experienced a lot. However, these experiences are no good if only stuck in my head.

Therefore, I am very excited to be sharing my perspectives as a senior female leader with all of you going forward. Firstly, a few words about me:
I was raised in Scandinavia, went to a boarding school and sent abroad on my own from the age of 10. Since then, I have done business pretty much all over the place, and call myself a “cultural chameleon”. My upbringing was that of a “good girl”. I followed it slavishly until the age of 25, at which point my personal revolution took off.

Ever since, I have been passionate about creating better professional lives for women, ranging from being a role model to giving women the “inside track” to all things career and personal development.

My career started with strategy consulting, followed by a still ongoing journey in the global insurance industry. I have always been on the client side of things, working a lot with Financial Institutions and a particularly deep passion for Alternative Investments. I’m married with no kids but a few horses serve as my adoptive daughters for now.

Here’s my first words of advice for you.  

How do I ask for a raise?
For women, I believe the most important thing is to ask for (if not demand) a raise – i.e the activity itself rather than the “how”.

Most women I’ve come across (myself included in earlier years) think that as long we put our heads down and work hard, our great contributions will be noticed and rewarded in due course.

This is one of the great illusions that cause women to still earn significantly less than men for the same job. Because men ask for raises. All the time. Loudly if need be. In a man’s world, this makes them come across as ambitious and self-confident. So, to get the money you want you have to ask for it in clear terms (i e be clear about what you want, don’t beat around the bush) and be prepared to do so several times (it is likely your boss is testing you for stamina).
Moving on to the “how”, as a woman I would invest a little bit more time than men normally do into getting it right. Not for any reason other than the fact that women still get judged harder on anything they do compared to most men, and therefore always have to be a little bit better to be taken as seriously. This means:

  • Research the facts: What are people your age with a similar education and previous experience earning, inside your company and externally? The Internet is a useful source, and so can your HR department be. Ask university alumni, friends or colleagues you trust for their input. This allows you to get a realistic view of the market, and to have some “evidence” to support your position.


  • Prepare your position: What have you done over the past 3-6-12 months that makes you worthy of a raise, apart from any gap compared to market standards? List all the contributions that you have made where your performance has been above average, and describe the positive outcomes and how they have benefited your team or the company. Rather than just writing them down, I would recommend preparing a slide or two to better visualize your achievements.


  • Set an amount: Aim for the stars and you may reach the treetops. Asking for a raise is often like a negotiation, which is why I would advise your “starting bid” to be 10-20% higher than what you are ultimately looking for. This will give both you and your boss some legroom to be satisfied at the end of the process.


  • Think about alternatives: Sometimes, it may be almost impossible to give someone a raise, no matter how deserving the person is. There may be central constraints (e g if trade unions are involved) or there may be cost cutting measures going on in the company. In anticipation, think about what you could ask for instead of a raise. A course to boost your skills? Membership in a professional organization? A subscription to a sector publication? Such things may be extremely valuable to you, without carrying the significant tax and pension consequences of a raise.


  • Secure backing: Make sure that your boss hears about your achievements not only from you, but also from other people in the company – preferably at your boss’ own level of seniority or above. That means that you need to consistently network outside of your own team or department, and build contacts with people who can help you. One of the best ways to get there is to volunteer for cross-team projects, which also enables others to see you in action – and means they don’t have to take your word for your quality. Tell these people about your plan to ask for a raise, and have them discreetly “nudge” your boss in the right direction.


  • Schedule the meeting and follow-up: Don’t wait for appraisal times. Show initiative and ask your boss for a meeting. This will put the ball in your court, rather than his/hers. Most likely, your boss will say “I need to think about this” which means that you also need to push for a follow-up after about a week or two. If your boss is procrastinating, cancelling on you, don’t give up but keep on rescheduling and pushing – that is how the guys get there in the end.

Many of the above actions may cause you to feel pushy or demanding. Good, you should – because men are pushy (they call it assertive) and demanding all the time – and over time it gets them what they want.

Throughout my childhood I was taught to be a “good girl” by my parents – quiet, kind, mild-mannered, unassuming, never greedy etc. Standing up for what I wanted (once I had figured it out) was a big challenge and it made me feel terribly uncomfortable at first. With practice, discomfort turned into joy and pride.
Have you asked for a raise and got what you wanted? If so, congratulations! Please share what you think made the difference. Or rather, have you failed miserably? Please share what happened and how you reacted. Don’t worry, I think we’ve all been there so you’ll get lots of sympathy from me!

Please let me know if you found my post useful and if there are any other aspects of asking for a raise as a woman that you would like me to cover. Speak soon!

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