Even if you love your job and your boss, nailing down how to ask for a raise—no matter how much you deserve it—can be one of the more intimidating things you’ll do at work. And you’re not alone: Research shows that when it comes to the gender wage gap, a very real contributing factor may be the fact that women don’t request pay boosts as often as men.
In a survey of 2,000 people by Glamour, only 43 percent of women said they had ever asked for a raise, compared with 54 percent of men. Similarly, 39 percent of women asked for a higher salary when starting a new job, compared with 54 percent of men. The good news is more high-profile women are speaking out about—and acting on—their beliefs on this issue.
Actress Robin Wright recently made headlines when she revealed she demanded her salary be on par with Kevin Spacey’s for her performance in “House of Cards” (especially considering that, at times, Claire Underwood has polled as a more popular character with audiences than Frank Underwood). And an essay last fall by Jennifer Lawrence in Lena Dunham’s feminist newsletter “Lenny” similarly called out Sony for paying her less than her male co-stars in 2013’s “American Hustle.” Wrote Lawrence: “I didn’t get mad at Sony. I got mad at myself. I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early.”
Whether you’re minutes away from approaching your boss, or just starting to think about how to do it, here are a few tips from experts to help you ask for—and receive—the raise you deserve.
Get the conversation going early.
“Give yourself time to prepare by asking your boss and your HR manager ahead of time when would be a good time to discuss this,” says consultant Becki Saltzman, author of Living Curiously: How to Use Curiosity to be Remarkable and Do Good Stuff. “Ask them how it works out of genuine curiosity in order to understand the corporate culture—not just when you’re positioning for a negotiation. You can use their answers to time your negotiation to fit their recommendations—and feel free to remind them of their wise suggestions as you negotiate.” If you let them establish a time frame and system, and then work within it, you’ll be less likely to come up against resistance when you do ask for more money.
Don’t back down when it gets uncomfortable.
It’s natural not to feel like you’re in your element when you’re asking for a raise, but don’t let that stop you from starting the conversation and staying in it until you reach a satisfactory result. “Negotiations are a business transaction,” says personal branding and confidence expert Jess Weiner, CEO of the consulting firm Talk to Jess. “While it may feel personal, try not to allow it to color your confidence about what you bring to the table. Don’t back down or settle if you don’t get the answer you were looking for right away. It’s a dance. Stay in negotiation, listen, be open, and rely on your preparation to back you up.”
Go in armed with data to back up your request.
About that preparation: “Come into your negotiation with your homework done, along with your ask and your reasoning,” says Lisa Skeete Tatum, founder and CEO of Landit, a technology platform that aims to increase the success and engagement of women in the workforce. “Your homework is to investigate similar titles and levels of experience and know industry salary standards. Your ask is to know exactly what you want and have a specific request. And your reasoning is your explanation for why you’re a benefit to the company and a committed employee with a track record of success.” Whether that means bringing in notes with stats about your performance or examples or anecdotes of moments you shone or contributed value to the team, the more prepared you are, the better and more confident you’ll feel.
Realize that the negotiation itself can affect your performance review.
While it may not be said outright—or even consciously realized—people will take your ability to advocate for yourself into account when they think about your role in the company and individual job performance. “The lack of negotiating on your own behalf may lead to questions about your ability to manage, especially as you move up in your organization,” says Skeete Tatum. In other words, while your managers may appear to push back on your request, for financial reasons or otherwise, they’ll still respect you more for the fact that you asked.
Stay focused, confident, and curious, even if you’re turned down.
Remember that even if your managers don’t give you the money you ask for on the first or second try, you’ve still made progress for having the conversation and letting them know what you think you’re worth, and what you’d like to make. Saltzman suggests asking your three questions in the event that you’re turned down, to help better inform your next move: “If you were me, what would you have done differently in this salary negotiation? When do you think I should be excited about advancement in the company? Is there anything I should ask that I haven’t asked? Then, write down what you learn. It doesn’t hurt for your boss to see that you’re jotting down her suggestions,” she says.
All three women agree that even in the event that you don’t get the raise you ask for—which, over a lifelong career, is pretty inevitable at some point—the way you handle it is an opportunity not just to impress your managers, but to eventually get what you originally asked for (or more). “Don’t let the door close so easily,” says Weiner. “Ask for a reason if one wasn’t offered or request a productivity overview, then determine a timeline for revisiting the conversation.”
Your determination and persistence will make you look good and indicate to your managers that you value yourself and your own career in addition to the team and company that you contribute to—a healthy balance that every woman has to learn how to nail in order to get the salary she really deserves.