How to Ask for (and Get) a Raise, Part 2

It’s a fact: Women are paid less than men. But thankfully, The Public Speaker is here with 2 tips on how to ask for a raise or promotion that won’t impact you negatively.

Lisa B. Marshall
4-minute read
Episode #164

Last week I started with a bold statement.

I said: “Women are less successful professionally and are paid less than men (by about a 1/3) for no reason other than gender.”

I explained why I believe this statement to be true and provided ample evidence to prove my point. Then I left you with a very important question: How does a woman successfully ask for and get an increase?

In a nutshell, when it comes to salary negotiations, the research that I talked about last week suggested that if you are a woman, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. In fact, I ended the episode by saying that even though a woman may get the raise she deserves, both male and female colleagues may not like her afterwards. Just check out the evidence of gender research by Harvard University professor Hannah Riley Bowles.

I’ve experienced this personally. Many years ago, I negotiated my compensation package for a new position directly with the CFO (not the hiring manager). It was an intensive and successful negotiation…or so I thought.

Unfortunately, the process also achieved an unintended result: The CFO didn’t like me.  In fact, he eventually directly told me so. Why? From his point of view, I was too aggressive in the initial salary negotiation. Looking back, I don’t know if I was too aggressive or not, but I do know for sure I wasn’t following what researchers now suggests women should do to get past this problem.

So let’s get started with Part 2 in this series with two concrete and practical tips to help women (and possibly men) ask for and get a raise, a promotion, or a bonus without suffering negative consequences:

Tip #1: Be Proactive and Ask

In a nutshell, my first tip is to take on highly visible, mission-critical projects, then ask for an increase once you’ve succeeded at them. Visibility is critically important—women typically vastly underestimate how important. Senior management generally doesn’t focus on routine work, they focus on problem-solving and performance improvement. It’s the non-routine special projects that command the attention of senior management. To accelerate your career, ask to be put on an important special projects team. Don’t sit back and wait for your manager to give you something new and exciting—go and get it!

Think about how you might be able to leverage your unique talents to make an improvement or develop a new process or method. Perhaps offer to lead a special projects team. Another option is to volunteer to represent your department on cross-functional teams, or to represent your company on cross-industry teams. The idea is to create opportunities to showcase your talents outside your immediate work group so that you will be better recognized and valued.

This means taking on visible projects at which you know you can be successful. Then, after taking on a new major responsibility, ask for an increase. After earning accolades, ask for an increase.  Even if you are satisfied with your current pay, ask anyway because even if the answer is no, it is an opportunity to review and highlight the value you bring to the organization.

Tip #2: Get a Sponsor

A 2011 study found that women underestimate the role sponsorship plays in their advancement and even those who do understand, often don’t pursue and develop sponsorships.

The study revealed that many women believe hard work is enough and getting ahead due to connections is somehow a “dirty” tactic. Women often believe that getting ahead because of “who you know” isn’t “playing fair.” According to the study, men typically don’t have this issue. Interestingly, the study also found that another reason why women are reluctant to cultivate sponsorships is because often this involves engaging older, senior men. Both the women and the men were concerned it would appear inappropriate.

Just to clarify, although the words “mentor” and “sponsor” are often used interchangeably, they are in fact different. Yes, both mentors and sponsors provide guidance and help make achievements more visible.  They often also expand the perception of the individual’s talent by helping to secure a place on high-visibility project teams. However, a sponsor is also held accountable for and measured on the development and success of that individual.

The key for women is to look for companies that actively foster meaningful sponsorship relationships or perhaps even push to initiate a sponsorship program at their organization that includes both men and women. 

Don’t be afraid to approach several senior level professionals both within and outside of your organization to become your mentor or sponsor. Successful professionals often have several mentors who help them out and guide them in different areas of their lives. However, be sure to recognize that mentors, and particularly sponsors, are giving you valuable time and risking their reputation and credibility. So it’s crucial that you bring value to them whenever possible and ensure positive results by putting all your energies into whatever opportunities they make available to you.

Next week, in Part 3 of this series, we’ll pick up from here with 3 more Quick and Dirty Tips for how to ask and get a raise. 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.