A Woman’s Guide to Negotiating a Pay Raise


As most Americans struggle to hold onto their jobs, the challenge is exacerbated even more for women wanting to climb the professional ladder or ask for a raise. Over 2 million working women left the workforce at the start of the pandemic to fulfill childcare and other obligations, based on a Department of Labor May report.

In fact, of those who aren’t currently working because of caregiving obligations, 80% are women, according to the Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion. 

As 70 percent of all U.S. working adults claim a pay raise is important to their households’ financial wellbeing in 2021, over 41% of all employed U.S. adults are not expecting one at all in 2021, a recent The Simple Dollar survey found. And women — specifically –  “are less optimistic about getting a pay increase in 2021, with 39% of women expecting a pay increase this year compared to 49% of men.”

Without the adequate compensation needed to afford life’s expenses, many households this year will have to take out loans or need financial assistance, further deepening the growing burden on American families. 

A raise during COVID is possible, and women throughout the American workforce are successfully asserting control over their professional careers and negotiating pay increases for their achievements. Here’s how to do it, from the women themselves.

Why women are paid less

COVID or not, women face many challenges when it comes to negotiating a raise. A lack of motivation to act assertively about pay raise is a key factor.  “Generally speaking, women are not taught to be as competitive and outspoken as men are,” says Alison Pearson, Head of HR at Hal Waldman and Associates. “With fewer women in leadership and higher-up positions, they are more likely to simply be grateful for their position as a woman than to worry about the money and what they’re worth.”

Ashley Quinto Powell, a career coach and revenue consultant sees the trend, as well. She mentors and coaches women through salary negotiations and says she has been “pleasantly surprised at the positive results, especially for senior-level women and women in tech.”

“Women tend to be more risk-averse,” Powell explains, “so it’s not surprising that women didn’t overwhelmingly ask for raises in 2020. There was a widely-held belief that we should be happy to have jobs at all, so don’t risk it by asking for more. That logic is largely wrong.” Women also negotiate less. 

In a 2018 study comparing pay between the genders, the U.S. Census Bureau found that women earn just 82 cents for every dollar earned by a man. And yet, the author of Women Don’t Ask Linda Babcock found that only 7% of women attempted to negotiate a job offer compared to 57% of men. 

Source: Institute of Women’s Policy Research

“Part of the reason men get paid more than their women counterparts is that they ask to be paid more, more often,” explains Kimberly Smith, marketing manager for Clarify Capital. “If you’re able to demonstrate your value with evidence and research to back up a pay bump, it’s important to take the initiative and start the negotiating process.”

If you feel a raise is due, there are still ways to negotiate one, regardless of COVID. 

How to negotiate a pay raise

A little preparation can go a long way in helping you to deliver a strong, confident pitch to your employer.

1. Prepare

Don’t be afraid to ask

For many, simply asking for a raise is the hardest part. “I had a co-worker once share with me that she’d never asked for a raise,” shares Smith of Clarify Capital. “She was under the impression the employer would bring it up to her when they felt she earned it.”

Janni Nilsson is the managing editor at Resumoo, a large resume writing service that works with recruiting and workplace issues. She says, “If you feel like you deserve more money for the work that you do, it is time to sit down with your employer. Let them know why you feel you deserve a raise and be open and up-front with what you want. The worst thing that can happen is that you get a no.”

Determine a fair amount

One struggle many employees face are feelings of guilt and empathy when it comes to their employer navigating difficult times, says Kara Loewentheil, J.D., creator of The Clutch, an online feminist coaching community. Changes within the company could help you determine what a potential raise looks like. 

“Maybe your employer had to recently lay off some of your team members, but that means you’ve taken on more responsibility and tasks, so it’s a good time to ask for a raise or title change.” Before you schedule the meeting, it’s important to do your research. 

Network where possible, and create relationships both at work and in your industry, so you know what’s fair to ask. A pay raise calculator tool can also help you get a beat on your industry.

Show your value 

From her position as head of HR, Pearson identifies three areas that employees should focus on during their presentation: loyalty, experience and value. What have you done for the company to prove your work and increase the success of the business?

Dedicated, hard-working employees have leverage in negotiations when they have professional achievements to show. Track your progress so you can establish a proven record of success in the week leading up to a possible pay raise request. 

2. Exchange

How to initiate the meeting

Once you’re ready to make your presentation to your bosses for a raise request, it’s time to schedule that meeting. For many, that’s easier said than done, however. Powell suggests that you consider timing, scheduling a meeting well before review time. 

As a salary negotiation coach, Kate Dixon of Dixon Consulting spent decades working at companies like Nike and Intel in the field of compensation. She also advises, “Make sure your manager knows that you want to discuss pay with them before you meet. That can help them feel more prepared.”

How to ask for the raise

“Start by knowing the market and focus on the value you provide. When you are familiar with market pay for the work you do, it’s easier to make a clear argument for making more,” Dixon says. 

Use neutral language to avoid polarizing effects and avoid words like “fair” from your side of the conversation. Instead, Dixon advises, focus on the facts. “Discussing your salary compared to the market allows you to focus on what’s really important without the same emotional charge to the conversation.” Another point worth mentioning is any additional costs that allow you to work, like childcare. 

“All these things can be negotiation pieces to pull out,” Pearson says, “as long as they show the boss that this money enables them to be more committed to their work.”

3. Bargain and close

Sometimes, it isn’t just about the money, and it’s important to remain flexible  — especially during a pandemic. 

“Sometimes not getting a raise is less about your lack of performance and more about lack of resources,” says Smith. “If your company isn’t doing well, the budget simply may not be there for a pay bump. Money is never the only thing on the table.” A new study from Personal Capital shows that men have more access to employer perks programs than women and are also more likely than women to be offered stock options and equity perks. 

 Negotiate other things 

Another example that Smith recommends is more time off. “Time is a huge bargaining piece and has tremendous value,” she says. “If there’s no room to up your pay, you can absolutely request for more time off. Most employers want to keep their employees happy, and many are willing to be flexible to do so, so long as you’re an asset to the team.”

Nilsson agrees, adding enthusiastically, “You can negotiate almost anything. Work hours, paid vacation, health benefits, workplace equipment, and more, but just make sure it is something you have earned or that you feel would allow you to improve your work performance.” Employees should also never underestimate the power of a title. It costs your company nothing, but it could pay off in spades in the future.

“A title change is a great way to have your professional progress recognized. Title changes are like accolades; they tell a story about our performance and how it’s being recognized within an organization, explains Smith. “It’s also a bargaining chip for future compensation within or outside of your company. While it may not be an immediate salary boost, it’ll position you better for one down the line.”

Have a plan B

Dixon also recommends developmental and training resources that could be very pricey if you were to pay for them yourself, including training classes, tuition reimbursement, educational tools and offering more time and resources for you to get professional accreditation.

“There are many things that your manager may be willing to provide when they’re not able to offer you a raise,” she explains. “Think about things that are of value to you, either right now or in the future.” 

If your management is unwilling to work with you, don’t be afraid to explore other opportunities. It never hurts to search the market to see what opportunities are available to you now that you have expanded your experience in your current role. 

We welcome your feedback on this article. Contact us at inquiries@thesimpledollar.com with comments or questions.

Image credit: Overearth / Getty Images



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