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Firstly, I think the title of this article should just be negotiating for a raise. Period. However, apparently, it’s a bit different for women. So, ladies, this one is for you! Would like some tips on how to negotiate for a raise as a woman? Yep, me too. Let’s explore this together
Sage Advice on Asking for a Raise
I worked in restaurants basically from the time I was 16 until I was 36 years old. At some point, I worked myself up in the ranks of serving to be a server in a fine dining restaurant. Furthermore, I became the assistant manager and wine sommelier of that fine dining restaurant.
Servers at this fine dining restaurant were paid a high hourly rate rather than being tipped. Members were charged a service fee but servers didn’t receive a commission. Occasionally, we’d receive additional tips but that was the outlier rather than the norm.
Early on in my career at this restaurant, I asked for a raise. I did it all wrong. How did I know I did it incorrectly? My boss was kind enough to turn it into a teaching moment:
Me: I am having a difficult time making ends meet on my current wage. Can I have a raise?
My boss: Don’t come to me and ask for a raise because you need it. Come to me and ask for a raise because you deserve it.
It was brilliant and sage advice. I’ve never forgotten it. My boss, of course, had a longer discussion with me on this topic but it all stemmed from that one sentence. That is the sentence I remember most. He basically told me to work hard and set myself apart and then come to ask for a raise.
Applying the Sage Advice
I took my boss’ advice literally. I set myself apart and worked hard. Eventually, I asked him if there was more work I could take on to earn more hours and hence increase my pay. He offered me to come in and weed the beautiful garden in the summer months. I did it.
I also became the most conscientious and highly requested server. How? By treating the members with care and respect. Furthermore, I worked to make their fine dining experience phenomenal. We had an awesome chef so I knew that area was covered. All I had to do was be congenial, attentive to their requests, make recommendations based on my knowledge of our food and wine, and see their experience to completion.
Moreover, I tried to make my boss’ job easier by doing what he asked, showing up, and doing things he didn’t want to do. Eventually, I was promoted to assistant manager and finally the wine sommelier. And I received raises without asking for them.
The other nugget of wisdom this boss shared with me was in reference to comparison. I don’t remember how this conversation came up but I probably asked how much I was making in comparison to someone else.
My boss told me that what other people made was none of my business nor was it any of their business what I made. More sage advice.
“Comparison is the thief of joy” – Theodore Roosevelt
As a result, I’ve always tried to focus on my work, my performance, and my salary.
Transition to the Business World
The above experience I shared had nothing to do with being a woman. I suspect he’s given the same advice to the male servers.
As I’ve moved away from restaurant work and into teaching and eventually business, I now recognize that I never negotiated for a salary. Why? I suspect it had something to do with my insecurities and lack of self-worth.
Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, anyone?
Even after getting sober and landing my current job as an account manager, I came at it from the scarcity mindset. I was still in a lot of debt and felt like I needed them more than they needed me. Fortunately, my new boss saw potential in me. Furthermore, he talked to my former boss who gave me a rave review. I was hired and I accepted the salary that was offered.
Through the early years of this career, I was simultaneously tackling my debt. I employed career hacking and drove up my salary. I tried to make my boss’ job easier by doing what he asked, being fully present and doing things he didn’t like to do.
You know what? I got raises and bonuses without asking for them. Every time I did, I’d tithe off the top and put the rest towards my debt.
Eventually, my debt was paid off.
Shift in Mindset
Something happened as I paid off my debt. Well, to be honest, a lot of things happened in my life as a result of getting out of debt. The biggest thing is that my mindset has shifted from scarcity to abundance. I’m above the line and think about money differently. I know my value and am learning to place a higher value on my time.
Furthermore, I view money differently in my life and the life of our company. I’m continually looking at things from the angle of:
- Will this be good for the company?
- Will this help us grow?
- What is the most efficient use of my time here?
Within the last year, I was asked if I preferred receiving bonuses or raises. In the past, I would have chosen a bonus because I always needed money. Now, I think about the long-term result and recognized that a raise will compound annually. I chose to receive raises.
Women and Negotiations
Now let’s drive down to the granular level of what occurs when women negotiate for a raise. So far the career advice I’ve shared can be applied to anyone. Most of my raises were given to me without negotiations. I’ve had some amazing bosses.
However, there is a time and a place for negotiations. Perhaps I’ll need to negotiate in my future. Furthermore, the argument could be made that I’d be further ahead in my salary had I negotiated from the beginning. Maybe not.
Women who negotiate face a risk that men don’t. To go further into this I refer to Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer at FaceBook. She has studied it, lives it, works it, wrote a book about it, and created a community around it. Lean In is the name of her outstanding book and community. It is a book that I believe all management thinkers should read.
Sheryl Sandberg talks about how women who negotiate risk their reputation. When a woman negotiates hard, she can come across as bossy and aggressive which in turn can have a negative effect on her career. However, men are often celebrated for the same negotiation tactics. A man can walk in and say I deserve a raise with little effect on his reputation.
According to Emily Amanatullah, a business school professor, research shows that managers want to work less with women who negotiate during an interview.
Ugh, so what do we do with that?
Sandberg talks about how we combat this bias by learning to negotiate communally. Sheryl is quoted as having said, “I want to be clear, I’m about to give advice that I don’t want to give because I don’t want these biases to exist. But the best way to get rid of these biases is to get women to negotiate well,”
If we can frame our requests around a greater good, we will have greater success.
Isn’t that basically what my boss at the fine dining restaurant told me? “Don’t come to me and ask for a raise because you need it. Come to me and ask for a raise because you deserve it.”
How can we be deserving of a raise? We deserve raises by being of value to the company we work for. How can we be of value to the company we work for? We provide value by being efficient and driving up revenues. Furthermore, we need to know what’s expected of us, beat, track it, and report it.
Go here for some action tips on negotiations.
Final thoughts on asking for a raise as a woman
Through the years I’ve learned a thing or two about being a valuable employee. To be honest I never really looked at from the standpoint of being a woman. I naively thought if I provide value, I’ll be rewarded for it. In reality, that has happened.
I think my naivety and work ethic has paid off. My boss recently told me my stock is high at the company. Furthermore, we are on the same page with my salary goals. I plan to work for it.
The big difference in my work today is that I recognize my skill set and know where I’m of the most value for the company. I delegate tasks that will distract me from how I best serve the company. Furthermore, I’m embracing technological changes which provide efficiencies.
Finally, I recognize my value. If I’m ever in a position where I need to negotiate for my salary, I will. Now that I’ve read Lean In and know the possible risks I face as a negotiating woman, I’ll do it thoughtfully, communally, and respectfully.
Hopefully, my work will make a small impression towards changing the bias women face.
Now it’s your turn. Women, I’d love to hear from you – the good, the bad and the ugly. What have you experienced in your careers and negotiations? Do you have the salary you know you are worth? If yes, how’d you get there? If not, what are you doing to get there?