When I blasted out to the world that I'm writing an article about women asking for raises, two things happened.
One: some career coaches got in touch to tell me their sunny stories of successful negotiation, and then proceeded to shout out their own mentoring business (your wish for free advertising is noted, friends). Two: closer friends texted me, or recounted over beer, the times that they felt totally lost or fucked over by this very same situation.
It unfortunately didn't surprise me to hear from smart, creative women who say they were written off for having a "bad attitude" or found themselves entangled in "maternity leave gone wrong." They told me about not having a raise in two years, or feeling in the dark about what male colleagues with the same experience are making.
This is not to say that those career coaches are lying. They're just paid to think about this stuff all the goddamn time. I think that was the biggest takeaway from my recent conversation with author and negotiation strategist Carrie Gallant, who is running an International Women's Day workshop on this subject in Vancouver today. Getting a raise is not a one-time conversation. As a woman especially, you have to play the long game.
"You have to talk to people to know what's going on—remember that you don't have to do it alone," Gallant told VICE. Instead of springing the question on your boss first, she advises to think about what "value" you've delivered. Make a practice of telling higher ups each time an achievement is unlocked. From there you can build a case, grab your work bestie, and practice saying it out loud. "Getting the words out of your mouth helps to dispel the fear."
I was already pretty skeptical of the "Lean In" gospel of Sheryl Sandberg, which suggests only seven percent of women actually ask for more money when they're first hired. Across my social group at least, it's just not true—we self-sabotage in plenty of other ways, thank you very much. Newer research out of Australia suggests that women ask for more money at about the same rate as men—dudes are just 25 percent more likely to receive it.
This has to do with bullshit internal bias that we all carry around, according to Gallant. Women are perceived as connectors, helpers, relationship people. When we break out of that role, it upsets people for some reason. "There is some foundation to some of these fears. It's smart to at least be aware of that," she said.
Gallant says you can use those biases against managers by using "we" and "team" language. "What I find with a lot of people, both men and women, when we get up to a job negotiation, it's all about us—what I need out of this. Managers want to know what is in it for them."
It probably feels a bit strange at first to frame your request for paid overtime as an exercise in teambuilding. If it doesn't feel quite right, you can say your ask for a raise is your own personal effort to fight the pay gap—that you're asking on behalf of all women.
Depending on how old and crusty your boss is, this has a potential for coming off as adversarial, which Gallant says is not ideal. Language like "I deserve…" can risk derailing your ask. Particularly when you're just starting a job and building relationships with new employers, they might rethink how you "fit" into the organization.
If this sounds unfair it's because it is. The bottom line is: you're probably going to encounter discrimination. Freelance creative workers are especially vulnerable when asking for more money, because clients can so easily walk away and find somebody else. For people in long-term gigs, there's always the risk that management will say no, and even undermine future attempts to move upward.
To keep your mind from getting too wrapped up in injustice, Gallant says you should constantly seek out what you could be paid outside your current gig. Talk to other employers, so you know what you could be getting elsewhere. With this knowledge handy, you can probably get away with asking for 5 to 10 percent more, if you can demonstrate added value.
That was the beauty of raising this question to friends and colleagues—almost every one of these conversations turned into a mini pep talk/planning meeting about how and when we're going to ask for a raise next. One friend committed to looking up comparable salaries outside her instructing gig. She reminded herself what parts of a curriculum she redesigned, and how indispensable she has made herself.
International Women's Day is as good a time as any to start those conversations. But for many of us, we need a push to think about this stuff more than one day of the year.
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