The Wednesday Weigh-In: Negotiating that pay raise edition

Feministing readers are pretty familiar with the wage gap. The short story is that women still earn 77 cents for every dollar a man makes, and are paid less even in the same job, working the same hours. While institutionalized sexism remains the key culprit for this travesty, it’s also true that women are both less likely to ask for and less likely to receive a salary increase, which doesn’t exactly help the situation.

The problem is self-perpetuating in that women face a kind of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation when it comes to asking for more money. Studies show that women seeking to negotiate their salaries face a (highly sexist) dilemma: They have to weigh the monetary benefits of negotiating against the social consequences of having negotiated, which research shows are especially harsh for women.

…until now. Lady money seekers rejoice! A new study identifies a possible solution to this kind of wage gap catch-22, a way to counteract all those negative impressions you’re making by being a bitch wanting to be fairly compensated for your labor. And what is this utterly shocking, totally groundbreaking brand spanking new recommendation for women hoping to ingratiate themselves to the mighty dollar?

Be “feminine and apologetic.”

Huh. Where have I heard this advice before? Oh, maybe embedded in every single cultural and social message I’ve received since I was born.

The report, which seems to be well-meaning in the sense that it seeks to find solutions to the unsolvable state of Existing While Female, is used as the basis for this AOL News article as a resource to “devise clever ways… to ask for a raise” that will and help you “appear non-aggressive and feminine.” Such tactics include: mentioning how weird you feel about asking for a raise (self deprecate!); making the argument that your negotiating is actually good for the organization as a whole (it’s for the greater good!); asking your boss what he or she thinks about your raise; and blaming it on someone else.

It’s sad to me that even today, the most scientifically sound way for women to pursue equity and justice is by conforming to traditionally feminized gender stereotypes grounded in submission and meekness. So this week, we’re crowd sourcing some alternative tactics in our weekly weigh-in:

Have you ever negotiated for a pay raise or promotion? What tactics did you find successful? What advice would you give to others in the same position?


The Feministing Five: Lily Ledbetter

Romney campaign on whether women should be paid fairly: we’ll get back to you on that

Infographic: women still get paid less money!

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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Join the Conversation

  • David Casserly

    I’ve never negotiated for a pay raise or promotion, but have gotten several. My advice: unionize, or work in a public sector job or otherwise find a job that has a clear pay scale and automatic raises according to seniority or some other system. Studies show that the pay gap in public sector and unionized employment is something like 91%, and that’s probably because it’s harder to discriminate when there are clear steps you take to get a promotion or raise.

    • SamBarge

      Thank you. Unionize. That’s how you get power in the workplace.

  • Allie

    I tried to negotiate for a raise once. I was the only female of 5 supervisors at the company, but had the largest team and by far the highest revenue and profit margins. I started with the smallest team there but grew it from 3 employees to 35 in just under a year, increasing my profit margins to over 80% when the other teams stayed around 35%. In the 5 years I worked there, I never lost a client or a contract even though most clients were with us for 1-2 years. I regularly worked all night as a favor help the guys when they were overloaded since they all had kids and wives to go home to while I was single. In fact, I didn’t go on a date for over a year because I worked until 9 or 10 PM on the days I did get to go home, and worked from home on the weekends (no overtime for salaried employees in my state). I found out that the other supervisors were making quite a bit more than me, despite my outstanding numbers and the fact that I had more experience and a four year degree the others lacked (one was at almost double my salary). I was told that since I didn’t have a family or kids to support, I didn’t “deserve” to make as much as the guys. My boss also said that I wouldn’t be considered committed to the company until I was married and under more pressure from home to stay put. I was so angry I was afraid I’d blow my top and end up getting fired for the things I wanted to say. I went to the local EEOC, but was told I had no standing because the jobs were not exactly the same (we had different customer sets). I’m at another company now where I leave at a reasonable hour and working for an AWESOME woman, but still in the same male dominated industry. I’m so afraid I’ll get a similar response that I’ve never asked for a raise or promotion.

    • fyoumudflaps

      I am mad for you too. Ridiculous company.

    • honeybee

      Perfect example of how messed up it is that people are willing to kill themselves working for these faceless evil corporations. I would never work that hard or put in that effort until AFTER I had already validated the company

      And even then I value my personal life too much to ever work like that. there is simply no reward for it. No matter who you are. Everyone I know who worked like that always burned out eventually and/or regretted it later when they woke up one day to realize so much of their life had been passed by while they wasted their time at work.

  • Anjasa

    Be confident – they’re not going to fire you for asking for a raise or a promotion. They might not have given you one because there’s a policy in place not to offer raises, or because they didn’t know you wanted more authority and responsibility. Don’t assume that people are thinking about you — always make sure to look out for yourself and demand what you deserve.

    I knew one woman who, after I told her of how I negotiated a 30% increase over a starting salary, told me that she still wouldn’t ask. Even knowing that she’d been offered the job and that they were just hammering out details with her, she’d have taken the lowest salary offer just because she didn’t want to ask.

    Be prepared – Find out what other people are being paid, in your company, in your position, and how often they’re given raises and promotions. Make your argument as supported as possible.

    I knew someone who nearly talked herself out of a higher starting salary because her last job was underpaying her by a lot. Had the employers been less reasonable, she would have lost thousands of dollars a year just because she lowballed herself.

    • natasha

      Unfortunately some workplaces ban discussion of salaries amongst coworkers, so there can be punishment for attempting to find out what your colleagues are making.

  • Kasey Weird

    The strategy I would tend to prefer (and full disclosure: I have never negotiated a raise – my current job is really good about giving good, regular raises) would to first request a performance review. I don’t think it matters whether your place of work has a formal procedure for this; having, in words, the ways in which the company values you is a great starting position from which to negotiate a raise. And if you get specific complaints, you can work on fixing those, and then come back to the table later with a strong “see how much work I’m doing to be the best possible employee” position.

  • froggyness

    I have never had any luck with a direct approach, no matter how stellar they admit my performance to be or how valuable my experience. I guess I’m not being girly enough about it. The one exception (which has worked several times) is wedging “wow- that’ s more than I’m making” into the back-office discussion when hiring a new guy for me to manage. That usually (but not always) shames them into a raise… to the new guy’s starting salary + ca 1%. Not glorious, but it’s better than making 10-20% less than my inexperienced managees…

  • jessica

    My approach was to prepare first with the evidence that I had earned the promotion. For my organization that meant ways I had exceeded my job duties and also ways that I was working above the level of supervision designated for my job title.

    Then I asked my boss “What exactly would you need to see from me to consider moving me to the next level in my job family?”

    When he responded with a list, I provided examples of the various ways I had already met each of his requirements.

    • Christie

      This is a FANTASTIC approach! I’ve never thought about it like that. I too have been lucky and each time I’m about to ask, I’m given one before I have to make a grand speech. My review is coming up next week so I’ve been mentally preparing for how to ask and how much to ask for. Thanks for this idea!

      • Lori

        I love this idea too!

      • jessica

        Thanks! I figured either way I had something to wo
        rk with.

  • James

    Just a thought… I’ve always wondered if there’s a “perceived willingness to find a new job” factor that affects salary. Are men more likely to find a new job if they don’t feel like their current job values them enough, or are they more likely to be perceived as willing to find a new job if you don’t pay them enough? Nobody wants to pay their employees more than they have to, but paying them too low means risking losing them along with all of the value and experience that they bring to the organization.
    Thinking of froggyness’s example, were they shamed into paying her more, or were they afraid of losing her if they didn’t give her a raise?

    • Christine

      I think this is a good point. In my experience, it seems as though male/female couples tend to move around to accomodate the man’s job more than the woman’s job. This points to a man’s greater flexibility in general to change jobs. Maybe employers pick up on this, even if subconsciously, and know they are less likely to lose a female employee who is unhappy.

  • Heidi Hoover

    In the 1990s, I worked for a tech consulting firm, my first job out of college. I started as the office manager, and worked my way up. In three or four years, I was a project manager, and discovered I was making far less than another person who had been hired as a project manager, like $20K less. He had more experience and was older, true, but I figured I was paying the penalty for rising within the company–with every promotion, I’d get an incremental raise, but no big jump. So I girded my loins, went into my boss’s office, and said I was not getting paid enough and wanted a raise. He said I was getting paid what an entry-level project manager makes, and I argued that I was not an entry-level project manager (I had managed a project a year earlier, when I didn’t have the title). I told him I could go out and find a job to pay me what I was worth (because I felt the low pay was due to rising within the company) and ask the current company to match it or I would leave, but that I didn’t want to play that game (this was a bluff; I had no idea if I could find another job doing this–maybe I could have, maybe not). He asked what I thought I was worth. I gave a number $20K more than my salary at the time. He laughed at me, and I said it’s what I thought I was worth. He said that was of limited relevance. I said that nevertheless that was what I wanted. I didn’t get the $20K raise, but I got a $10K raise, and I believe that if I’d asked for $10K, I would have gotten $5K. I was pretty proud of myself.

    In my current job as a rabbi, I hired a negotiator (who happened to be a man) to help me. I didn’t get exactly what I wanted, but I feel comfortable with what I did get.

    Women: Negotiate! Ask a man what a job is worth, if you have to, to know that you’re asking for what you should be asking for. You’re worth it! The same boss I asked for a raise (who was, by the way, an awesome boss from whom I learned a huge amount and was quite close to–the best boss I ever had) told me once that when he posted a job and asked for resumes and salary requirements, women would consistently list salary requirements 30% lower than men’s, with the same qualifications. This was in the 1990s, and I don’t know how much change there has been. But what hasn’t changed is that most employers won’t look out for our interests financially–they want to pay as little as they can get away with. We have to own our rock star-ness and make them pay us what we’re worth, or as close to it as we can get.

  • jessica

    It definitely was a factor for a friend. She asked for a well deserved raise/promotion, but nothing was done until months later, when she informed him that he was a reference on her application for another position. Then the boss fell over himself getting the pa
    perwork done.

  • ronda

    I have worked for the same company since I graduated from school. It is a large company that only does raises and performances during the same time of year every year. End of year self-assessment in January, then all the bosses get together in February and March to discuss pay raises, bonuses and promotions based upon how much money they have, etc, then in late March/early April, managers must talk with each employee and tell them what their new salary is. Everyone gets a few percent each year (except 2008, but, yeah).

    In any case, when I feel I’m ready for a promotion, I go in for a one-on-one at around mid-year with my boss and/or his boss (it’s always a man in my industry…sigh) to discuss it. I tell him that I believe I’m deserving of a promotion during next years reviews. I briefly lay out the reasons why. Then I ask honest feedback on whether he thinks that’s likely, and particularly for any input on what I need to accomplish in the next six months in order to prove that I’m ready to level up. This has worked for me all three times I’ve tried it in the past 9 years. Granted, I really was ready for promotions all three times, and I really was performing above my current level. I may have gotten the promotions anyway — but maybe not. In any case, I set the expectation, got a list of objectives to accomplish where the boss wanted to see growth, completed those objectives, and got my promotions.

    For the record, there was no feminine eye-batting or demure apologies or shrinking violet act involved.