There's no sauce quite as awkward as asking for a raise — particularly when you're a woman asking for your first raise. It turns out, you have plenty of reason to sweat. Although the gender pay gap isn't breaking news to anyone — today is, in fact, Equal Pay Day, which raises further awareness about just that — women are often blamed for the wage gap themselves, with people citing the fact that women ask for raises less frequently or less aggressively than men. That "fact," however, yet another one of those pesky ~alternative facts~ we've all been on the alert for in 2017. As it turns out, women do ask for raises just as frequently as men. They just end up getting less money — and, as studies have shown, paying a higher social cost for negotiating than men do, even if they negotiate in the exact same manner with the exact same terms.
And even in the rare circumstance in which women are armed with that knowledge going in, on top of all the preparation you've done to psychologically amp yourself for asking for your first raise, the truth is that the situation never goes as planned. You can't predict how a boss will respond to you, or what your company's current situation is, or even how you yourself will react to having to self-advocate that way for the first time.
Adrian Granzella Larssen, Editor in Chief of career advice site The Muse, offered Bustle advice for tackling it head on. "One of the biggest mistakes women make in first-time raise negotiations is thinking it’s about them, not about the company," she wrote to Bustle. "And while money is a very personal thing, you don’t want to ask for a raise simply because your rent’s gone up or because you’ve been doing your job for a certain length of time. Instead, point to what you’ve done for the company—for example, additional responsibilities you’ve taken on, money you’ve saved the department, or goals you’ve exceeded. Remember, your boss is probably going to have to take your request to her boss or to HR, so you want to make it as easy as possible for those people to say yes. Sharing really tangible results will always help your case."
And hey — if you've asked for a raise, you're already braver than most people. A Payscale study from 2015 revealed that only 43 percent of Americans asked for a raise (to be fair, some got it automatically), which already sets you apart from the pack. And despite the lower stat, you should be asking for a raise at regular intervals, or for going above and beyond your duties. And if that first ask goes terribly wrong? At least you've learned what to do for next time.
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Bustle spoke with Kathryn Minshew, Founder and CEO of The Muse, for advice on just that. "One thing I’ve learned is that negotiation takes preparation and practice just like anything else," Minshew wrote to Bustle. "You need to do your research, practice communicating your ask, and mentally prepare yourself for the possibility of hearing no. Start negotiating for small wins in your day-to-day working relationships, and you'll be more prepared, relaxed and confident when it's time for the first big raise talk with your boss."
Of course, everyone's experiences vary across the board when it comes to asking for raises, especially first one. Here are 13 Millennial women's stories about doing just that.
"I asked my old boss for a raise after a promotion she had promised me had been delayed. She immediately became angry, and screamed, 'You think I don't know what it's like to be broke in New York City?' She was on a tirade about her struggles in NYC (on a six figure salary when I was making less than half) and I could not say anything."
"I asked for my first raise when I was 21 years old. I was working at AMC Theaters as a crew member, meaning I was the lucky gal cleaning up spilled soda and popcorn off the floor. I was making minimum wage for about five months and decided to ask for a raise. I explained to the GM that I felt like I deserved to be promoted to a supervisor position. In my application and in-person interviews I laid out exactly how I was an asset to the company. I was never late. I picked up extra shifts. I didn't call out sick. And most importantly I was great at costumer service. While they didn't give me the supervisor position, I did get a raise. It felt earned."
"I was at a tech company undergoing rapid growth and funding. My role (and the marketing department I was part of) was almost brand new when I was hired. After a year, our department was tackling and achieving our goals left and right and the company was flourishing. We'd grown out of "start up" mode, doubled our employees, and began offering competitive benefits and retirement options. Basically, this was a real company run by real adults with families and seemed like a secure place to work, not just a stereotypical tech start up.
Knowing the company was in a good place and my work had played a role in that, I researched salaries for my job in our area and realized I was being underpaid for my work. I also had some uncomfortable conversations with my coworkers in our marketing department about their salaries, resulting in us all realizing we were underpaid. (We were also all female.)
I raised the issue of a one-year review with my boss and was told "we don't do reviews here." A little shocked, I asked if I could organize a review for myself. I wanted to discuss my raise, but I also wanted to check in on my performance and talk about work goals for the next year as I had in previous jobs. My boss said yes.
I went on Reddit threads about asking for a raise, listened to podcasts by female recruiters and former HR personnel, talked to my other female friends in other companies and other marketing departments, and put together a quick print out for my boss of my salary research as well as my work's monetary impact on the company in the last year. After researching, I decided to approach my boss with a pretty big raise percentage based on the fact that I was underpaid for my role in our city compared to other companies. It was a big leap, but I figured why not shoot high, have them come back lower, and negotiate where I actually wanted to be.
Then I practiced my talking points and came to my boss. My boss listened, didn't comment much, and took my request to HR. Instead of responding with a different number, HR told me that the time for raise requests had passed, when we had already been told we didn't do reviews to begin with. So, when was I supposed to have asked? I had no idea. Throughout my entire time at the company, no one in leadership had mentioned anything about raises or career development until I asked, and then seemed offended when I brought it up.
I had worked up so much courage to ask, and immediately felt shut down. HR promised it would consider my request and come up with a career development track for our entire department. Months passed. Then I began realizing that whenever anyone asked about raises, we were pointed to all the great free things the company gave us, like snacks and free beer. I decided free snacks couldn't pay my rent, and started looking for another job.
Honestly, asking for my first raise was a mess, but it definitely gave me more nerve to negotiate a more competitive salary up front in my next job and ask detailed questions about companies' reviews/career development processes in interviews."
"I've never asked for a raise. Once, I earned one but so did the entire company. It was the first non-new-job raise I ever got, and I remember beaming over the idea that our work was seen as raise-worthy. Asking for a raise felt like an un-approachable topic at every workplace. The only other way I've gotten any sort of salary increase was to move jobs every year or two. For the last five years, I've worked at a union job where annual increases are built into my contract – usually about 2-2.5%, based on a formula. While I am so thankful to have these annual adjustments (whereas no other job I ever held offered this), it still just barely covers cost of living increases."
"As a teacher with 17 years experience, I've never had the opportunity to ask for a raise. My performance affects my job evaluation, but not my pay. School boards set up salary schedules. In states where unions exist, they can take part in salary negotiation for the group, but as a teacher who has worked in NC and VA, both "right to work" states, no unions exist to do this.
The amount of work I cram into a day — or the amount I don't; the effort exerted or not; the training I choose to go to or not; feedback from students on my effectiveness or not; my willingness to sponsor a club or not, to serve on a committee or not — none of these things gives me the opportunity to negotiate for higher pay."
"When I got my very first job after grad school at 25, the owner of the ad agency asked how much I would want to make. I said "Between $40k and $45k." So he responded, "Great. How about $40k then?" That taught me to NEVER give a range. Finally, when I was up for a raise a few years later, I went in and said a $15,000 raise wasn't enough. I was less scared by then, so my boss agreed to $20,000. What I found out later was that my equal partner (I work in a team) received $25,000. He's a man. So, the gender pay imbalance is real."
"My first job, post-grad, was at a small magazine publishing company. I was a staff writer getting paid a typical entry-level/staff writer salary, but needed to get side jobs to keep up with my new rent and other new adult bills.
Quickly after starting, I realized since this company was a small startup, getting a raise would not be easy. Instead, when I asked for a raise, I also asked for a new position. I knew the internet space and SEO better than my coworkers, so I pitched the idea of becoming the digital editor for all four magazines to my boss (who was also the only mail at our office!) and included a raise with the new positions and responsibilities. After I explained the new position, and the benefits that could come with having a digital editor, he accepted after our second meeting.
I would encourage anyone asking for their first raise to not let the fear of a "no" stop anyone from asking. If you believe you put in hard work much above your pay grade, explain that to your boss. Or, if you want more responsibilities, go to your boss with ideas of how you could use your strengths to benefit the company."
"The first time I asked for a raise I did an absurd amount of prep and rehearsed it over and over again in my head. And while I was offered a raise, it wasn't nearly what I wanted it to be — but instead of using my negotiation tips, I ended up chickening out and kind of making an ass of myself. I went in the next day and restated my case, and thankfully my boss was open to hearing about it, and even gave me some advice for how to approach the situation in the future."
"My first grown up raise was negotiated into my contract upon entry into that company. After favorable review after 6 months of working, I got a raise but I had to follow up with my boss several times. I ended up leaving that company because of the man they brought in to be my boss's boss. I felt he spoke down to me and every female in my department (which was 90% female) because of my age and gender, but it was never tangible enough for me to issue an official complaint to HR. Feeling helpless and angry, I found myself another job. When I went to my boss to give him my two weeks notice, he said he knew it was coming. He saw how we "didn't get along" and while my boss would defend my work, that's the only way he would stand up for me. He asked if his boss was the reason why I was leaving and I said yes. My boss then asked if he should bother trying to give me more money and I said no, though that would have been the time to negotiate for a raise. I feel confident that if I had asked for any reasonable increase, I would have gotten it in that moment in order to stay. But the money wasn't worth it to continue to be talked down to every. day.
In getting my new job, I, again, negotiated an increase into my contract. This time, however, I was seeking a total income for the year. They couldn't meet me on hourly but guaranteed two bonus payouts to match what I wanted to make, as long as I maintained a positive review for the year. This was probably the most nerve wracking thing I've ever done in the business world. I was negotiating with the woman who would be my boss's boss with the help of one of my coworkers at my previous company. He gave me a basic script to use on the phone but HOLY COW was I terrified for the moment when I would have to go off script and improvise, as it were. My coworker who was helping me, a guy, told me over and over to note my value and not be afraid, empowering me to pursue that value enthusiastically. Even after reading multiple articles on how to have that sort of conversation, I wouldn't have been able to do it without the support of that coworker, and I consider myself to be a confident and capable woman, especially with my background in performance. It was difficult to assign a monetary value to the work I was going to do. It felt somehow overconfident to say "Me and my work are worth this many dollars so pay me what I should make." It reads like the simplest sentence in the world, but all of my confidence seems negated once adding a dollar sign to my self worth."
"So teacher salaries in SPS and presumably in all other counties in the US are public record. My pay is determined based on a pay scale ladder that is updated with every contract the union negotiates with the district. (About every three years they renegotiate, and this is when cost of living/inflation adjustments are supposed to be factored in.)
Essentially, my pay is determined by my education and years experience teaching.
Because I have a Masters Degree, my first year teaching actually put me at about a $5,000 higher salary than my male colleagues who were in their third years teaching. Each year you teach, you get a slight increase in pay (300-500 a year) until about year 7 — then it starts getting closer to $1,000 a year. (This is seen in the document as you move down the column of your experience) I believe the thought process here is that around year 7, you become an expert teacher and thus warrant a greater pay, despite the fact that there might be better teachers with less experience. Many young teachers add this as a reason they quit the profession within the first five years-no matter how hard you work, you're not getting much pay increase. Some people have also pointed out the irony in that newer teachers usually do have longer hours because they are constantly creating new curriculum, whereas more experienced teachers, while reflecting and improving upon their craft, do at least have baseline materials to build off of.
But years experience is not the only factor: you can also "jump" ladder categories (moving horizontally on the document) by doing extra hours of education or professional development. In my first two years teaching, I did A TON of professional development--any time clock hours were offered, I went to the event. I would fill out a form showing I was there, pay the 2 bucks per hour, and send it all to HR to be filed. (I believe the money I was paying was to offset operational costs of filing all the clock hour forms, but I could be wrong.)
As such, after year two, I got a $2,000 dollar increase in salary — much more significant than the $300 I was scheduled for just getting one more year experience. The thought process here is if teachers are actively attending workshops and engaging with ways to improve their skills, the quality of teaching will increase more quickly.
So I did not have to talk to anyone! I was pleasantly surprised by an email from HR telling me my third year would have me placed on the next pay scale ladder. There are pros and cons to this system: I know I'm not getting paid less than a man with the same level of education and experience as me. It also makes talking about salaries less awkward — everyone can look it up for themselves! And talking about salaries is the best way to challenge unequal pay for equal work.
However, some people do argue that this very rigid system does not monetarily incentivize quality work. My evaluation each year determines whether or not I keep my job, but not my pay level. As such, I can be a "distinguished" teacher at year three and earn $35,000 less than an "aqueduct" teacher who has been teaching for more than 15 years. I think teaching lends itself to people who want to do their job well, because no one would stick with this profession with all of its demands/challenges and very little monetary/social prestige. But I could see this strict of a ladder system not working out well for industries who want to use salary as a way to produce faster, higher quality work. Perhaps a combination of set pay scales paired with specific bench marks related to work output would be better for businesses as opposed to simply years experience."
"The first time I negotiated a "raise" was when I was accepting my second job, which was almost exactly one year into my career. I had experience! I deserved it! I was offered $2k less than I was currently making so I decided to start extremely small and ask to match my current salary. It went something like this: "So, helllo, Mr. Executive Editor of a New York newspaper, I was wondering if there was any wiggle room in the offer you sent me?" He replied, "Are you asking for more money?" I replied something like, "Well you know I currently make a little more, so if there was any room to bump me up, that could maybe be great." He shut me down immediately saying he had no extra money to offer me. Shocking, I know. It took years asking for raises on a regular basis to be paid a reasonable salary for the work I was doing. Let's just say I've gotten better at negotiating and it started with saying the word "maybe" a lot less. Actually, never."
"After realizing that I was making less than most of the people on the same level as me, I was determined to get a raise. I read article after article on the best way to approach things, took notes to bring to my meeting with my boss, and was generally totally ready to get that money. Until, sitting across from my boss, I totally chickened out. I was too terrified to advocate for myself and ended up taking the standard yearly pay increase rather than fighting for the money I know I deserved. I'm sure if I was a man I wouldn't have been so scared, but, in the moment, I second-guessed my worth and ended up keeping quiet. I keep telling myself I won't do that this year but it's SO HARD to stand up for yourself."
"I had been working at my company for just over 2 years and my pay was crappy but it was the best I had gotten in my life and I didn't feel that I could ask for more. We were constantly told that corporate had issued a "freeze" on raises when anyone asked and I eventually found out that myself and three other female employees were making about $4 less than the other office administrators. There had been volatile arguments between a female employee and our local manager fighting for a raise for the admin staff but he always said his hands are tied and upper management wouldn't allow it. We got a new regional manager and one of the first things he did was meet with all of us individually. He outright told me that he didn't know how I had stayed at the company with such low pay and immediately raised me up the $4 to be more equal to the other employees doing half the amount of work I was. It was interesting to me that we had been told again and again that there was no possible way to get us any type of raise and then within a month with this new regional manager I was given a substantial raise. Another interesting fact is that another male employee hired after I was who is my same age and has the same amount of education was brought on at a starting rate of what I'm making after my raise. He does have a different title but is still administrative help and doesn't have a degree in this field either. I also believe I was only offered what I got as starting pay because another male employee who was hired the same week as me asked for more whereas I was willing to take a 50 cent pay cut (based on what I was originally quoted) to take this job."
To appropriately celebrate Equal Pay Day this year, hit up Bustle for more tips on how to secure a raise, whether it's your first go or your a seasoned pro.