We all know we should do it, and hopefully, we all know we deserve it — but that doesn't make asking for a raise any easier. And though most of us have heard a lot about how asking for a raise is our right, we may not have received a lot of practical guidance about the mechanics of actually getting a raise: like, how do you actually know how much of a raise to ask for in the first place? What do you do if your boss turns you down? What if you're scared?
When I saw Cindy Gallop — advertising consultant and founder of the companies IfWeRanTheWorld and MakeLoveNotPorn — speak on a Mediaocean panel about women in business and media, I knew I'd found someone with the answers. Gallop, who's best known for her TED Talk about MakeLoveNotPorn, is one of those successful women who truly believes in helping other women. So when she finished speaking, I followed her advice to "not give a f*ck what anyone thinks of you," and approached her to see if she'd talk with me about one issue I know she's passionate about: exactly how to ask for a raise.
She was more than happy to, and we sat down to hash out the nitty-gritty of the best ways to ask for a raise.
1. Why Is Asking For A Raise A Feminist Issue?
Consider that when you ask for a raise, you're not just helping yourself — you are also acting on behalf of other women by helping to close the pay gap. "In a society, and in a work culture, where people’s value is being measured by how much they’re being paid, it is just very important to have that measure of your worth be there. As women, we don’t get taken seriously until we get taken seriously financially," Gallop tells Bustle. "Very simply put, if you do not ask for a raise, and if you do not ask for the most money you can possibly make in your job, you will not be valued."
2. What's The Best Time Of Year To Ask For A Raise?
According to Gallop, at most companies, the best time to ask for a raise is in the early fall, when they are potentially finalizing budgets for the year ahead, but still have plenty of money to allocate. (Of course, this might be different if your company works on a quarterly schedule.)
But even if you're reading this at the end of the year, Gallop says you should still ask for a meeting, or at least get something on the books for the next calendar year. You don't have to wait for your next annual review to start the conversation.
3. How Do You Know How Much To Ask For?
Gallop has a very simple answer: "You should ask for the highest number you can utter without actually bursting out laughing." Since you're going to get negotiated down from that number anyway, Gallop says it really is your best starting point.
In order to figure out what that number is, of course, you'll want to do a little bit of research. One option is simply to ask coworkers at your level what they make. When Gallop was working as an advertising agent in London, she did this once before a negotiation. "Because this is Britain, no one talks about money. They were so shocked, they just said it."
Of course, those coworkers might also be underpaid, so you'll want to check sites like Glassdoor to see what the average salary for your position is, both at your company and in your industry at large.
4. How Do You Find The Confidence To Do It?
So you've figured out what the highest number you can say without laughing is. Now how do you grow a pair of ovaries and ask for it already?
Gallop suggests you view this not only as a salary negotiation, but as a way to show off your ambition, negotiating skills, and general business sense to your boss. "If you do not demonstrate the same acumen, determination, commitment, organization, and negotiating skills, you are not demonstrating value to the company. Just think about it like that. This is a business conversation like any other."
5. What If You're Worried About Seeming Greedy?
Maybe you can see how it demonstrates your business sense to ask for a raise, but are still nervous — because you're afraid that you'll appear greedy. Gallop understands, but says you should trust your own intentions to come through in the meeting.
"It’s not just what you say, it’s the way that you say it. So, tone and visible attitude and behavior has a huge part to play in these dialogues, and when you adopt the right tone, the right approach, you can say anything and get away with it."
You should also remind yourself that this is how business works — no matter your field — and that this is a feminist issue. "Most men negotiate without taking things personally; some women do, but on the whole, women have enormous trouble doing that," says Gallop. "So the key thing is, this is all business. It’s a business environment; this is a business conversation. It is not about 'Oh my god! My boss won’t like me anymore if ... blah blah blah.' It’s about 'I want my boss to know that I’m a really tough business person, and if I get pushback from my boss I’m reminding him or her of that.'"
6. What If You'd Rather Have Greater Flexibility Or A Better Title Than A Higher Salary?
Gallop says it doesn't matter if this is what you're angling for — you should still lead with the raise. "The reason I say that is because you know you will not get the money you should be making over the course of a lifetime if you don’t lead with the money — and trust me, every godd*mn man is leading with the money. If you do not lead with the money, that leads to devaluing you, because you are perceived to be less good," Gallop says.
She adds that titles are often overrated. "Frankly, what you're called is irrelevant — this is generally speaking, and partly because many startups make up their own titles or don’t have them. We’re seeing less and less of the rigid corporate hierarchy. Cold hard cash beats out a title anytime."
7. What If You're Worried About Looking Ungrateful?
Perhaps you feel lucky to have your job in the first place, or know you're making more than most people your age or in your position. Maybe your job has recently given you other perks, and you don't want to appear unappreciative.
Gallop's advice is still the same. "Forget about that! All you are doing is operating with the kind of business consciousness that your employers want you to have — and if they have any issue with that, then they’ve got a huge problem and you can explain that to them very pleasantly and very calmly. Regardless of what the outcome might be, there is no way this conversation can go badly when what you’re saying is 'This is how I demonstrate my value to the company, this is how I would like to see that value rewarded, I am delivering all of these things.'"
8. What Should You Say If You're Told 'That's Not Possible?'
So you asked for the highest number you could without laughing, and were told, "That's not possible." Gallop says that's to be expected, so you should have your response ready, countering with "When will it be possible?"
If they say they're not sure because of budgetary concerns, say, "I’m very empathetic with your position. I understand. But I would feel good if we could put a timeline on that. What would be appropriate? Three months from now?"
If they offer you a percentage of the raise you ask for, you should still get them to agree to another date in the future where you can renegotiate for the full amount.
9. What Should You Say If They Tell You 'No One In Your Position Is Making That?'
This is when your research and thinking about what makes you a valuable employee pays off. Gallop says you can respond with, "I am not an industry average player in this position. I am doing exceptional work as displayed by [insert concrete accomplishments and assets here]. And I’m asking for that exceptional value delivery to be recognized."
10. What If You're Told 'We're A Small Company, So We Need You To Be A Team Player?'
Gallop says you should counter by saying, "Obviously, I enormously appreciate that this is a startup. This is precisely why I joined you, and it’s why I’m so passionate about helping this company grow and deliver against these business goals which are [demonstrate knowledge of the business's challenges]. I have personally contributed to those business goals [in these ways], and so all I’m asking is for exceptional performance to be recognized. I would really love to hear what you believe you could do to recognize that extraordinary and exceptional performance."
Saying this shifts the focus from your asking for something and your boss denying it — to your boss being put on the defensive by having to prove that they value your work.
11. What If You're Told 'We've Already Given You [X] Special Benefit?'
If they counter by saying that they've offered you more flextime, shares, or a better title instead of a raise, Gallop recommends that you respond by saying, "I’m enormously appreciative of that, and if what you’re saying is that you can not give me the pay raise, then I’m looking for [additional non-monetary benefit]. I would also like to set a timeline where we can revisit this conversation at what you feel will be an appropriate junction, when you will be able to give me that pay raise."
12. What If You're Told The Budget Has Already Been Set?
What if you're told the company has already set a standard pay raise that all employees are receiving, or that next year's budget is already set and can't be messed with?
Gallop suggests responding with, "I understand your position. I appreciate you sharing that news with me. Are there any extraordinary business conditions in which the board would be willing to make an exception if truly amazing value delivery was achieved?"
If they say no, you can counter by once again getting them to commit to another future meeting by asking, "In the new financial year, can we set a time at which we can revisit this when budgets are open once more and the board consideration is not there?"
13. What If You Get Nervous And Backtrack?
It's possible that when faced with rejection or pushback, you might start to lose your nerve, or even take back things that you were asking for. At that point, Gallop says, it's totally fine to use an exit strategy to get out before you agree to something you regret.
"You can say, 'I appreciate everything you’ve said, if you don’t mind I’d like to pause it here. I’d like to go think about what you’ve said and come back to you with a response.' That terminates the meeting and allows you to exit and regroup. And by the way, if you are having trouble negotiating with your boss, your boss may be quite relieved to have you do that."
14. Should You Keep A Record Of What Happened?
Gallop says it's absolutely essential you keep an email record of your negotiations. You can thank your bosses for the meeting, and say you just wanted to put down in writing what you agreed to. You can also state your intentions, if the agreement was that you would prove yourself in some way over the next few months before they reassess.
15. Should You Try Going Over Your Boss's Head If They Say No?
Gallop strongly advises against this, saying, "That never ends well." What you can do, however, is log the conversation with your HR department. You can say, “I just want to log for the record, that I’ve had this conversation and I don’t feel great about the outcome and I have asked that they reconsider. I’m just logging this for HR purposes." Of course, if you feel like your boss is discriminating against you or otherwise treating you badly, you should bring that up up and log it with HR, too.
And above all else, remember: You can do this. You deserve this. And this is nothing short of a feminist issue. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a meeting to schedule.
If you want to hear more from Cindy Gallop, you can check her out on Bustle's sex and relationships podcast, I Want It That Way, talking about her work with MakeLoveNotPorn.
Images: Bustle; Giphy; AZQuotes