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How to ask for a raise & why you should



Illustration of a dollar bill with a woman on it on a pink background with The Feminista logo in the corner

Happy Monday, Feministas. And happy Labor Day! Hope you’re enjoying a nice long weekend and taking a much deserved break from whatever it is you do to pay the bills or make a living or make meaning in your life :) 

One of the happy legacies of feminist history is that, when less than a century ago our options were limited to stay-at-home wife/mother or to a select few “women’s jobs”—a.k.a. teacher, typist, secretary, waitress, nurse—women are now free to pursue the same kind of careers and lives that men always have. Or not! Praise be.

So how can we honor that hard-won privilege? Well, given that the gender pay gap is still very real in 2021 (women currently earn 82 cents for every dollar a man makes), we’d like to formally invite you to consider your worth in the context of work this Labor Day. Are you being fairly compensated? Do you advocate for yourself? Is it possible that you deserve a raise? In most professions, women finally have their foot in the door; now, let’s go and get what we deserve. 


Closing the gender pay gap, one woman at a time

At the moment, we do not live in a world in which equal work begets equal pay. The average woman is paid less than the average man, and when you start to break things down by race and ethnicity, it becomes clear that the wage gap for women of color is even larger. But why is this still the case?

For one, it’s a matter of opportunity. There are certain gender-based inequities that put women at a disadvantage from the get-go—we’re talking access to education and disproportionate household/family responsibilities to unconscious bias and even outright discrimination by institutions and people in power. These kinds of built-in patriarchal problems make it harder for women to get jobs in the first place, but also to advance within the career they’ve chosen.

When it comes to the matter of pay specifically, the problem seems twofold: women aren’t asking for enough, and when they do, they’re not getting it. Sexism at some scale exists in almost every workplace because the misogyny inherent in society does not simply disappear within those walls. And as a result, women are constantly put in a position to negotiate their power and manage appearances; we’re careful not to come off as too demanding or bossy when we express confidence or competence, or not to come off as fragile or weak when we offer kindness or empathy. 

Most of us are so familiar with this kind of subconscious internal calculus that we may conclude we’re better off not asking for the raise, that we’d rather not complain about working overtime or taking on responsibilities outside of our scope of work—we’d rather not rock the boat. These are, of course, generalizations, but the reality feels widespread enough that we think it’s worth addressing. And no, we can’t control what our bosses will do if and when we ask for a raise, but we can try and try well. Here are a few practical tips on how:


Step 1: Know your worth

An essential starting point in any salary or hourly rate negotiation is to understand what others in your position are getting paid—both in your market and at your organization. Online resources like GlassDoor and PayScale can offer a lot of insight into the former—what people in your field and area are making—but when it comes to your company in particular, it can be useful to speak with someone on the inside.

Consider scheduling a meeting with HR, and plan to ask about the salary range for someone at your level. They won't be able to tell you specifics, but even a ballpark can give you a better idea of what you could/should be making, and they can sometimes offer insight into the salary negotiation process as well. 

If you've gotten to know any of your peers, consider asking if they'd feel comfortable exchanging wage and benefit info. Money has traditionally been a pretty taboo subject among friends and coworkers, so if that doesn't feel like a realistic option, that's okay, but it's certainly easier to ask for equal pay when you know more intimately what equal actually looks like. 

 

Step 2: Bring proof 

This may sound simple, but making a list of recent wins and accomplishments, and times when you went above and beyond the normal scope of your job requirements can be useful not only in building your confidence and determining how much more you ought to be earning, but also to have on hand in the midst of negotiations. 

There's no shame in bringing notes—it actually shows you're prepared for the meeting and serious about taking your career to the next level—and no matter how well you have your strengths and achievements memorized, it's always nice to have some talking points on hand to keep the conversation on track and to build evidence that supports your request.

 

Step 3: Be unapologetic, but diplomatic 

Let's get real: salary negotiations can be terrifying. There's a reason some people prefer to just avoid the discomfort of that conversation and process altogether. But not asking can lead to the kind of resentment that can sour any working experience, so being clear about what you want and need in return for your work actually benefits everyone involved.

When you walk into your yearly performance review or request a meeting with your supervisor to discuss your salary or future with the company, keep that in mind. Think of it as an important part of your job—making sure you can continue to deliver on what's expected of you and potentially even more for pay that's actually fair—and go in confident and unapologetic, having prepared appropriately, with a number in mind and proof to support your request for a raise. It's also part of your boss' job to field these kinds of requests, so remember: you're not stirring up trouble or being a pain by simply asking. 

If you feel as if you've been treated unfairly up to this point—maybe Peter down the hall is making more for the same or potentially less work than you or your research has made you realize that you were offered too little when you first got hired—do your best to leave out the specifics and focus on the future. Let them know that what's typical for the work you do appears to be more than what you're making, and that you'd love to see that reflected in your salary given how hard you work and how much you'd like to stick around and build your career with the company. 

 

Step 4: Prepare a plan B

Part of the reason salary negotiations can be so tricky is that there aren't always resources available to pay people more; sometimes the answer can be "no." In that case, it's important to have a backup plan or some other options ready to discuss. Does your company offer any other benefits, like PTO or transportation/parking reimbursement? Consider asking for more days off or  if there's any potential to put a performance-based bonus structure in place. 

You can also give your boss or supervisor a little time to think about it. Consider leaving them with a one-sheet of everything you discussed, as well as your current and proposed salary, so they can consult their higher-ups or reflect on your request. If you don't make any headway in your first meeting together, make another appointment before you go for some agreed-upon time in the future, maybe 6 months or a year down the road, to revisit the conversation. Even if they cannot or are unwilling to make it work this time, it's important to let them know it remains important to you.

 

Step 5: Keep it up & empower others

It would be lovely if our employers called us into their offices on a yearly basis and offered us raises in accordance with our experience and expertise and output, but—*sigh*—that is rarely the case, ladies. So make a habit of tracking your accomplishments, gathering info on salaries for people in positions like yours, and sharing tips and tricks with other women in your workplace. And if you ever find yourself in a position of power, empower the women who work for you to advocate for themselves and get what they deserve too. It's all about sharing the wealth.

 

Thanks for reading, Feministas. See you next week for more of The "F" Word, our weekly newsletter and blog on all things feminist, from activism to fashion and beyond. Want it delivered? Scroll down, sign up, and we’ll send it straight to your inbox.

 



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