How to Ask for (and Get) a Raise? Part 1

Women are paid less than men. But why? The Public Speaker digs deep into the most current research, uncovering why a gender bias may be responsible for the limitations on women’s professional success.

Lisa B. Marshall
4-minute read
Episode #163

Today, I’m talking about how a woman should ask for raise. If you’re a man, you might be thinking, “Hey, wait a minute, I could use a raise too! Why is this just for women?” Sorry guys, this two-part series is primarily for the gals, but keep listening and you might learn something, too. .

Ok, I’m just going to say it. 

Women are less successful and are paid less than men (by about a 1/3) for no reason other than gender.

I know that statement is controversial (and I expect tons of comments and plenty of emails about it). However, there is significant research that supports its accuracy. In this two-part series I’ll first explain the research that supports my statement, then in Part 2, I’ll provide practical concrete steps for how a woman should ask for a raise, a promotion, or a bonus. 

So I’m going to say it again because it’s important: Women are less successful professionally and are paid less than men for no reason other than gender. Here’s why I stand behind that statement:

Gender Bias in the Workplace

A June 2012 study shows that of the Fortune 500 executive officers, only approximately 14% are women and only about 4% are CEOs, despite the fact that women make up about 46% of the labor force. Even when you look at data comparing men and women who work the same number of hours in the same job titles, a wage gap persists. In the highest-paying jobs, there are also large and consistent discrepancies. For example, female doctors and surgeons make 29% less than male doctors and surgeons.

One reason for this is that bias exists. Research confirms it. Check out physicist Leonard Mlodinow’s his excellent book Subliminal in which talks about this bias extensively.

Usually bias, or social categorization, is not intentional; it's just part of our "pre-attentive" or subconscious processing. Commonly we put people into groups by age, gender, occupation, and race. We do this because it allows us to make decisions more quickly. Historically this has kept us out of danger and allowed us to focus on other, bigger things.

Female doctors and surgeons make 29% less than male doctors and surgeons.

Combine this tendency to categorize with a basic desire to feel good about ourselves and we have a natural tendency to appreciate, value, and favor traits similar to own. Perhaps more importantly we also naturally, negatively stereotype “others.”

Like it or not, the vast majority of CEOs, senior executives, and board directors – those influencing high-level hiring decisions – are men.  Men can have gender bias just as women do. For men, bias leads to the perception that men will be more aggressive and successful in their job performance than women.

The Solution to the Gender Bias

The obvious solution? Balance this male bias in the executive suite with more representation from women. Women need to help other women progress in their careers to the highest levels.  And that means more women need to ask (and get) promotions!  

But here's the problem: In general, women are not good at asking for promotions, bonuses, or raises. Research suggests that, in fact, most women prefer to work hard and wait for someone to notice.  But that just doesn’t happen in this day and age. Leaders are often busy addressing problems, so each worker needs to purposefully shed light on their own professional success and then ask for promotions and increases based on that evidence. 

The problem is that again bias can get in the way. Remember I mentioned earlier that we often negatively stereotype “others”? Well, due to our bias we may attribute the success of an “other” to luck rather than skill. So even if a woman achieves results, she may not get the proper credit for work. 

But, let’s just say she does get the credit and she decides it’s a good time to take the plunge and ask for raise. Unfortunately, the model for asking for a raise is often learned from a man. And research shows that if a woman follows the same “ask for a raise” script as a man, she may fall prey to yet another gender stereotype and suffer a backlash.

Disparity in Gender Perception

According to recent research, forcefulness is desirable in men, but unseemly in women. So if a woman asks for raise using the same words and same tone of voice as a man, she may be perceived as too demanding. According to Harvard professor Hannah Bowles, a woman may be perceived as overly demanding, less agreeable, or significantly less attractive in salary negotiations.  Bowles goes on to say that even though a woman may get the raise, both men and woman won’t like her afterwards. Obviously, this is career-limiting!    

So all this leads to one very important question: How exactly does a woman ask for and get a raise without tanking her career in the process? 

I’ll talk about that next week in Part 2 of this series.  

This is Lisa B. Marshall, passionate about communication; the more you learn, the more you earn.


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About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.