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How Women Should Ask For A Raise

Forbes logo Forbes 16-10-2015 Susan Adams, Forbes Staff

Why don’t women earn as much as men? Sexism certainly plays a role, but studies have shown that the majority of women don’t negotiate for a higher salary. According to a 2015 survey by Glamour magazine, more than half, 57%, of women have never asked for a raise. That compares with 46% of men. Another study, conducted in March 2014 by Citigroup and LinkedIn, found that only 27% of women had asked for a raise in the last year. Overwhelmingly, those who asked, got more money. Of the group who requested more pay, 84% got it.

For advice on how women should approach salary discussions, I interviewed eight career coaches, including five trusted sources in New York and three coaches in Silicon Valley, where there is a paucity of women in tech jobs. In Apple’s most recent diversity report, the company revealed that despite efforts to hire more women, only 31% of the workforce is female. The good news, says coach Lisa Stotlar, 51, who is based in Palo Alto and has been coaching for more than 20 years, is that the spotlight on gender disparity in tech can work to women’s advantage in salary negotiations.

But omen no one should assume that raises will come to them. Says longtime Columbia Business School coach Ellis Chase, 68, author of In Search of the Fun-Forever Job: Career Strategies That Work, “One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to assume that being productive, smart and working like a dog is going to get you recognition and compensation.”

So what should women do? I’ve boiled down the wisdom of the eight coaches to 12 directives.

1. Lean in. To borrow the title of the best-selling book by billionaire Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, women should pursue higher salaries and promotions, despite their reluctance and in the face of lingering sexism. I personally empathize with women who prefer to take a “mommy track” once they’ve had kids (I did that for some years after my son was born in 1996). But like Sandberg, coach Connie Thanasoulis-Cerrachio says that women are too quick to assume they can’t handle more responsibility, which can also bring a higher salary. She has a client right now who was earning $350,000 as a senior vice president at a financial services company. The woman’s bosses asked her to interview for a managing director job which could double her salary. But the woman didn’t want to pursue the opportunity. Thanasoulis-Cerrachio insisted she explore it. “I’ve never had to talk a guy into something like that,” she says.

2. Build relationships in your industry and your company: Coach Anita Attridge, who worked for 20 years in human resources jobs inside companies, including more than 10 years at Xerox, says she’s observed that women aren’t as natural at networking as men. One of her clients who was earning $300,000 at a pharmaceutical company, wanted to make a play for her boss’s job. But Attridge says the woman hadn’t been effective enough at getting to know the right people. “She had done a sterling job and made great accomplishments but she had no relationships with the people in the company who were going to be making the decision.” She didn’t get the promotion. Longtime coach Eileen Wolkstein, observes, “women tend to form relationships that are less up than across or down.” They’ll be friendlier with the administrative assistants than with the senior staff. Wolkstein also notes that there can be a hazard in befriending more senior women. “The sisterhood is not necessarily alive and well,” she says, and women bosses may feel they had to work hard to get where they are and younger women should pay their dues. Attridge notes that at Xerox, CEO Ursula Burns was a master at cultivating relationships across the board. “She did what a guy would do.”

3. Know your value. Relationships inside and outside your organization can help you do this. Money is still a taboo subject but Attridge suggests you get to know someone in HR who can help you at least get a sense of the range your job pays and whether you’re in the ballpark. Online sources like PayScale and Glassdoor are also great resources. New York coach Sarah Stamboulie suggests that women “do the math” to determine what they’re worth. Add up what you did for the company in the last year. Did you increase sales by $500,000 or contribute to a project that enabled the company to bring in a new client?

4. Talk up your accomplishments. Go beyond your boss and seize the chance to talk yourself up to others in a position to help you, says Stamboulie. Example: If you’re in the elevator with a senior manager and he asks you how you are, say things are great and you got the latest project in on time. Convey that you’re a team player by praising your boss.

5. Take advantage of a win. When you finish a project, successfully woo a new client or close a deal, consider initiating a salary discussion then, especially if your accomplishment helps your boss’s reputation within the organization. “Timing is really important,” notes Stamboulie.

6. Make a list of your accomplishments.  You should stay on top of this all the time. Document your achievements and praise from higher-ups. When you prepare for a salary discussion, come with specifics and numbers. You increased sales by 30%, you smoothed over a troubled overseas client relationship, you hired and supervised a new employee who has become a superstar. Chase says this is frequently a weak area for women. Overcome your fear of self-promotion.

7. Talk about your plans for the future. Too many people stop at what they’ve done in the past, says Wolkstein. Come up with a plan going forward. “You don’t just get paid for what you did,” she says. “You get paid for what you’re going to contribute.”

8. Keep emotions out of it.  Even if you feel like you’ve been treated unfairly and you’re angry that a male colleague with your job title and experience is making $20,000 more than you, keep your feelings in check. Otherwise you’ll put your supervisor on the defensive. “Nobody wants to hear, ‘it’s only fair,’ or ‘I need,’” says Chase. When you bring up a salary number, present it straight, without feeling. This is what you know about the rate for your level of responsibility. Don’t compare yourself to John in the next office.

9. Rehearse. Practice with a coach or loved one. As I mentioned above, women who feel that asking for a raise is the last thing they want to do should come up with a script about their accomplishments, plans and salary expectations based on the information they’ve gathered about what they think they deserve. Then practice that speech until you have it down cold. I’m not trying to give my coach-sources free advertising here but I do think compensation negotiations are an area where coaching can more than pay for itself.

10. Give them time to think. Stamboulie advises coming into a salary negotiation with a one-page takeaway. If the supervisor doesn’t engage you when you make your bid for a raise, step back and offer to leave him with some information. Make your presentation, put your sheet on the desk and say you’ll come back in a few days.

11. If you don’t get what you want, plan an exit strategy.  “Why stay where you can’t move?” asks Chase. “There is no job worth being miserable over.”

12. Be vulnerable. This advice may seem to run counter to everything I’ve written here about how women should lean in and push for what they deserve. But Mountain View, CA coach Ada James convinces me that the concept is worth considering. It comes from Brené Brown, an author and research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work who has done a popular TED talk. The idea is that the very act of asking for a raise makes you vulnerable. “You’re living a full and engaged life by putting yourself out on the line,” says James. “Showing up in the negotiation room is vulnerable.” Adds James, “You can be really strong and vulnerable at the same time. That’s what bravery is.” I agree.

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