Straight Talk For Women (and Men) About Asking For a Raise


No woman ever thinks she is making enough money - especially if she is young, single, and living in a metropolitan area with countless exciting places begging her to spend money.

As it turns out, over the past 40 years (since I was young, single, and employed at my first low-paying job), women really have been at a disadvantage on the wage scale — paid, on average, only 78% of what a man makes for the same work. 

Of course, none of this applies if you are already a highly paid, high-powered, well-connected Wall Street investment banker, say, or heiress to the family fortune. But if, like most of the rest of us, you have recently graduated from college and are attempting to adjust to life in a cubicle farm — or even looking for a cubicle farm to accept your services, pay attention.

It's only natural that you are going to want a raise at some point in your career. Managers know this and most are prepared to discuss the possibility, but most will not actually grant you the increase in pay you are seeking. It is good to be prepared for all eventualities, as Dr. Marie McIntyre remarks in her article, "How to Ask for a Raise."

Dr. McIntyre's advice is straightforward: Understand the company policies, the company financial health, choose your time wisely, focus your presentation on selling (not begging), etc. Her last point is to "use leverage" — as in, have another job offer at a higher salary already in your pocket. This is important for two reasons: the first is to demonstrate how serious you are about your request for a raise and the second is to continue to be employed once you are shown the door. Employers already know about this tactic.


So, why are most raise requests turned down?

Most companies only increase pay once a year — after your annual review. Have you heard the term "merit pay?" This policy ties your increase directly to your performance as specified by your manager on your review. Good companies/managers have written job descriptions with your goals spelled out for you in advance. Not-so-great ones will mess with you on your review so the goalposts are constantly in motion — and you never can quite win.

Even worse, nearly every company has bought into the notion that since inflation virtually no longer exists, nobody ever needs a cost-of-living increase just to keep afloat. But what nobody will tell you (except a former manager) is that what the geniuses in corporate financial echelons have really done is replaced COLA with merit pay.

Did you get a "merit" increase last year? Was it, oh, about 3%?

Here's what typically happens: The CFO tells the CEO what percentage of profit he's allowed to allocate to "merit increases" for the year. That percentage is almost always in the neighborhood of the annual rate of inflation but nobody ever mentions that. The CEO tells his directors, who tell their managers and so on throughout the reviewing hierarchy. It is indeed possible for an outstanding performer to get a raise that is higher than the "magic number" but in order to do that, the individual manager who authorizes it also has to short everyone else — and justify doing it. That's why they play all those games with your annual review.

So, be patient, you'll get your raise after your review — assuming you "earned" it by performing at your peak — it just won't be as much as you think you deserve.