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Closing the wage gap for women: Effectively asking for a raise

For most women, the mere thought of asking for a raise at work or a promotion leaves them quaking, sweaty and positively nauseous.  Getting over this requires a mindset shift, said Ashley Louise, co-founder of Ladies Get Paid at the organization’s day-long conference at The Riveter this weekend.

Close the wage gap for women

Speaking during the Salary Negotiation 101 session, Louise said that a set of irrational beliefs is behind this common reaction. “Many women think that their boss won’t like them if they ask for a raise, something men rarely do,” she said. Other women believe that they are lucky to have a job which makes them likely to underprice themselves to be competitive.  Louise urged women to price themselves in a way that reflects their worth.

“If you are at a point where you are negotiating, you are in a strong position, whether you’re applying for a new job or asking for a raise,” she said. Louise concluded that everyone in a negotiation needs to feel good at the end of the process. “You won’t feel good if you feel underpaid,” she said.



There are 74.6 million women in the civilian labor force.

Almost 47 percent of U.S. workers are women.

Female workers, on average, earn around 80 cents for every dollar a man makes. The gap is even wider for women of color.

Women in King County earn 76¢ for every dollar earned by men, compared with 78¢ for Washington state as a whole


The first step when asking for a raise: Understand your market value

It is critical that job or promotion seekers prepare when going into a salary negotiation. “This can be nerve-wracking because you don’t know what the process looks like,” she acknowledged.

For Louise, it’s impossible to be over prepared.  “Collect a ton of information that will help you understand what your value is. Look at PayScale, Glassdoor and your alumni network. Cast as big a net as possible of people you can ask how much money they are making.”  Louise pointed out that it is important to contextualize this information by looking at company size and location as well as years of experience. She said that recruiters and headhunters can also tell you what your salary range should be based on your experience.  “Just talk to everyone about your money. Especially talk to white men to find out how much they’re making. Why? Otherwise, we’re just a bunch of underpaid women talking to other underpaid women,” she said.

How to get comfortable asking how much money people make:  Practice asking the question: “Here’s the ballpark I’ve found, am I off-base?”  or “What is the ballpark of how much you make.”

Know your numbers

Now that you have an idea of what your target salary should be, Louise said the next step is to pick three numbers to anchor the negotiation. “Start by setting the highest salary number you can say with a straight face. This is your ideal scenario,” she said.  The next number is the lowest acceptable number. “Anything below that and you are walking. This is the most important number.” Finally, set a number in the middle that you would be happy to take.

“When you think about your no-thanks number, think about your lifestyle. What do you need to be you and to be happy? Land on a salary number that gets you there,” she advised.

What if they say they don’t have enough money?

Many women realistically fear that they will be told that the company doesn’t have enough money to meet their salary requirements. In these situations, Louise said it is important to look at non-monetary benefits or full compensation.  “Only bring this up once you’ve finished talking about money,” she said. Non-monetary benefits could include the flexibility to work from home part-time, higher sales commissions, an education or conference budget, stock options, a title change, extra vacation days and more. “Women often ask us how their company can afford these items if they say they don’t have enough money to give them a raise. What they don’t realize is that these items come from a different budget.”

Louise urges women not to be afraid to ask. “The worst thing that can happen is that you stay in the same situation. In the end, you’ll need to be clear about whether, if your requests are not met, you can stay in the situation or get another job,” she cautioned.

Be prepared to toot your own horn

Louise said every woman preparing for a negotiation should keep a list of wins and quantifiable successes. “This is powerful leverage when asking for a raise . Remember to talk about the future. Why?  Men tend to get raises based on their potential and women get raises based on what they’ve done.” Louise rerecommended staying focused on what you’re going to do moving forward, and what the organization will be getting in exchange for the extra money they will be paying you.

Another great way to demonstrate value, she added, is to outline other compelling things that are outside of your job description (a super power) that adds value. “If you’re a good networker, for example, you are out there making your company look good and that is valuable,” she said.

It’s go time: negotiating the salary for a new job

In preparation for the conversation, Louise said it is important to question how rational your assumptions are. “Ask yourself how likely is it that the thing you are scared of is going to happen. Then consider the other side. The recruiter you are talking to is trying to get you to work there.”

Role playing the conversation can be extremely helpful.  “Practice saying your high number out loud. Then neutralize your fears by writing them down.”

Many women fall foul of the double bind during salary negotiations: the perception and penalization of women who appear to act outside of the social norm of how they are expected to behave. Louise offered two ways to combat this phenomenon. “Start by speaking communally by saying something like ‘This is how I am going to make the company more money’ and always remember to adopt positive body language,” she said.

How much are you currently making?

Many women face the situation where a potential employer asks for their current salary. According to Louise, this is a no-no. “This perpetuates the wage gap for women. Instead, tell them what you think is an appropriate number for the work you will be doing.”

If they low-ball you, she said, it may not be the right fit for you. “If you know what you should be making, look at the other things that are important that can make up for the salary.”

Louise urged women to avoid negotiating over email. “If at all possible, negotiate over the phone, Skype or in person,” she said.

Negotiating to get a raise at your current job

Preparing your manager in advance for a conversation about getting a raise is key. “Don’t spring this on your manager. Instead, let them know that you would like to have a conversation about your future at the company and your compensation and then set a meeting,” she recommends.

Start the conversation by describing how you have already taken on additional responsibility. Include emails and testimonials from customers, co-workers and other allies to back your claims. Louise says that if the response is there is no budget, ask when they will have funds. “Some companies only give out raises once a year. Ask when salary and promotion decisions made.  You may find that you have to have a conversation in October for a February raise. What’s important is having an open conversation with your manager,” she said.

What if your manager says that no one else is getting a raise? Louise says it’s time to look again at full compensation to find other ways of sweetening the deal for yourself.

Having another offer in-hand can be an effective negotiating tool. “But, if your company chooses not to match that offer, you have to be OK with leaving. Don’t bet on a job you don’t want, she said. “If they won’t budge after you’ve negotiated as much as you can and you don’t feel good about it, start looking for a new job. Sometimes, things don’t work out.”

At Sugarbird Marketing, we are committed to supporting women in the workplace and women business owners. This is why we have created The List, an intentional community of women-owned businesses in Seattle.

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