Negotiating for a Raise as a Woman

This post may contain affiliate links to products I’ve used and recommend. If you click on the link and purchase the product, I am compensated (at no additional cost to you). 

View my full disclosure here.

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. 

Photo by Faye Cornish on Unsplash

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.

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

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

I’ve found a pot o’ gold with a new 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.

It’s Risky

Photo from

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, 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?





13 thoughts on “Negotiating for a Raise as a Woman”

  1. This advice is golden. So many people fail to notice the relationship with setting themselves apart and working harder and promotions in the workplace. I think a lot of this has to do with companies that no longer promote based on merit. I believe this is the worst thing ever to be one of those companies. Why? I think your hard work and even the lack of hard work needs to be rewarded. In industries where this does not happen it often leads to mediocre staff and mediocre customer service. Great post Deanna!

    1. Hey Andrea, thanks for stopping by! Yeah, there is definitely a correlation between working hard/setting ourselves apart and our income. I’ve always worked for small businesses. The upside here is that we are not trapped by corporate rules but the downside can be that small businesses don’t have as much room for promotions as large corporations. However, it has worked out for me so far.

      I hate to hear about companies not promoting based on merit. That will disincentivize anyone from working hard.

  2. Great post!! I hate how it has to be differentiated, like you said, but it is very helpful! I have been looking into getting the “Lean In” book that you mentioned! Great advice both from your article and within that book! Thank you for sharing.

    1. Hi Abby, yeah it’s unfortunate that the biases exist but the best thing we can do it know about them and work to change them, right? I hope you enjoy the book. After you read it, let me know what you think…

  3. melaniepartnersinfirecom

    Great post! It is really sad that women have to play this game though. Hopefully someday we will be able to be assertive without being judged harshly for it.

    1. Hello Melanie, I think if we as women can keep working hard and be assertive in respectful and communal ways (as Sheryl Sandberg suggests), the biases might come down. Thanks for your comment!

  4. Like Melanie said, it is SO frustrating that we have to play this game! The one point I have to disagree with is not comparing salaries with others – there have been a LOT of studies that women tend to be paid less in comparison, and in turn don’t know to ask for more. It’s important. Even if you get a raise, If you’re paid 20% less than someone in the same position, you’re still being paid too little!

    1. Sure is!

      I appreciate the rebuttal on comparison. I personally don’t want to know what my colleagues are making (it keeps my happiness quotient higher). However, there is a value in knowing what the overall market rate is for a similar profession so that we can know what to ask for in the first place.

      Thanks for stopping by & commenting, Angela!

  5. Hi Deanna,

    Thanks for writing this. I think a lot about what it means to be a woman in the work environment. Because I work in HR, I’ve been on both sides of negotiations.

    Early in my career, I was a terrible negotiator. For my first two jobs, I asked for so little money, that the orgs actually ended up giving me more than I asked for… oops.

    But I got better. In fact, in the last 4 years, I successfully negotiated my salary 4 times and increased my salary by 57% with my current employer. Beyond what you have here about demonstrating your value, I have some additional advice.

    Knowledge is power. Talk to your Manager or HR about what the company or organization’s “compensation philosophy” is – just because your are curious (Note: I’m really a nerd; I completely geek out over compensation philosophy, haha). Every organization should have one (unless of course it’s a start-up, and if it is you asking might spur them on to create one) – whether they have pay grades, pay bands/ranges for particular levels or expertise, or whether they peg their salaries to the market at certain percentiles. It’s probably also helpful to educate yourself on compensation philosophy generally, so that you are able to understand what they tell you.

    What I learned about my organization was that even though we are a non-profit, we peg our salaries to the 25th-50th percentile of the private sector market for comparable roles. After learning this, I was able to do the research that I needed to on public facing salary websites likes, to demonstrate that the work that I was currently doing aligned with a particular comparable role and would, thus, fit within a certain range of salary. Because I dramatically increased in responsibility each year (the company was growing), every year I was able to show the comparable roles and the range of salary that would be align with my roles and responsibilities. And I was able to frame it – as if I was “helping” them by doing the research on my own.

    It is so important that women negotiate salary, but we have to be so much nicer, more communal, and more helpful. Sad but true.

    Thanks again,
    Jessica (aka Mrs. Fioneer)

    1. Hey Mrs. Fioneer, which is a great name, BTW. I really appreciate you stopping by and providing such a thoughtful comment. I work for a small business and so we have no HR department and hence no compensation philosophy. However, as you so lovingly pointed out by my asking it might just make my company consider such a thing. Over the last two years, we’ve really been working hard to document all processes and protocols.

      I hope some of the women coming to my site, read your comment and/or if you ever write a post on this topic (you should), please let me know and I’ll spread the word. You have a lot of experience and wisdom to share on this topic.

  6. Pingback: 8 Tips to Help You Reduce Your Expenses - Ms. Fiology

Leave a Reply