It’s no secret that asking for a raise is uncomfortable. Money is a taboo subject that tends to be avoided, no matter if you’re at a dinner party or your boss’ desk. But during a year when the world has been turned upside down, millions have lost their jobs and companies find themselves either thriving or sinking, the subject of money has gone from feeling taboo to practically off-limits.
We’ve seen these pressures come to life, when asking for higher compensation became even more complicated during the pandemic. According to a survey conducted by the Harris Poll for Glassdoor that polled 1,400 employed U.S. adults in March of 2021, 65% of adults chose not to ask for a raise during the pandemic, with that percentage rising to 73% when looking just at women.
It’s time we all advocate for ourselves and for fair wages, and we’ve got the perfect person to lead the pack: Carey Anne Nadeau, Co-CEO and Co-Founder of LOOP, and a member of Washington Life Magazine’s Top 25 Women in Tech.
Nadeau has witnessed firsthand how impactful unfair pay in the workplace can be, and she knows that having the proper negotiation tools is crucial in the professional world. “I was working at the top of my field, in an institution that I regard very highly still to this day, but I was very dismayed when I realized that in my dream job, I was being paid about $30,000 less than a man who I had recommended to the company the year prior.” They had the same qualifications and resume, down to the years of work experience and organizations worked for prior. The only difference? She had additional administrative responsibility.
“My role included an administrative function in my title, and that somehow gave me the distinct disadvantage of being paid about $30,000 less to do more work than my equivalent.” She had been promoted twice during her time with the company, so there was no question that she wasn’t a hard, valuable, worker.
She went to HR. She told them with no hesitation, “This is wage disparity.” But the response she received was that she had to choose—between keeping her mouth shut or walking out the door. Well, she did walk out the door, with her head held high and lucky pen in hand. But she would never stay silent, quit advocating for equal pay, or stop teaching others how to best negotiate their own fair wages.
We could all benefit from taking a page out of Carey Anne Nadeau’s book, and today we can, as we get all her best tips and tricks to most effectively ask for a raise.
Don’t just rely on the statistics of what others are making…show them why you’re valuable
The first piece of advice most traditionally given when answering the mystical question, “How do I ask for a raise?”: Research what others are making and bring it to your boss on a silver platter. “I think that's helpful,” Nadeau says, “but not compelling.”
She explains that if your employer has a good sense of the market, they already know how much comparable employees are earning, and they are making a strategic decision to pay you a certain wage. This strategy is likely based on many factors, a large one being the value they believe you bring to the company. Therefore, to get that raise, it’s important to demonstrate that your value is even more than they perceived. Prove that through your work, you can make, and save, them cash.
“You think it's going to take six months to train me? It’s only going to take three.” Nadeau gives as an example. “That's hugely compelling to me, because it's cost savings that I can now model my expectations around your production differently.”
Yes, come to the table with that sticky note pinned in your brain of how much you think you should be compensated. But don’t just slap the sticky note on the table. Give a creative pitch that shows just how much you’re worth and how many dollar signs you can bring in. “Show me how you're going to grow the company bigger or faster, and I'm going to be willing to pay you more money, because you're more valuable to me,” Nadeau explains.
Start the conversation right after a success
Although a common tendency is to hold off on asking for a raise until a performance evaluation or benchmark time period, Nadeau would argue that you’re more likely to receive a raise if you ask right after a strong demonstration of your abilities—if you just had a successful event, landed that big client, or had any career win.
“In this moment, I want you to think about whether my compensation reflects my performance,” Nadeau role plays, giving an example of what to recite to an employer. “Then you're in a good position for that employer to think, ‘Wow, you know what? She's kicking ass and taking names? Maybe I would consider the raise.” Waiting to start the conversation until the end of the year may feel more appropriate or natural, but the truth is that we must be our own biggest and best advocates, which starts with gaining the recognition we deserve after a career success. This method will feel less formulaic and more compelling to an employer.
Get creative with how you negotiate more money in your pocket
Nadeau importantly notes that there are ways to bring home more bacon that don’t involve a straightforward salary increase, whether that be more paid time off, equity in the business, or another form of compensation or money saving that you feel would directly benefit you.
This option is especially useful as the pandemic completely transformed working conditions and changed what support people need. For working mothers whose children are home schooling or can’t go to daycare, “they can ask for things they didn’t have before, like a co-working space or a cleaning service,” Nadeau suggests. Rather than focusing solely on increasing the dollars on your paycheck, bring creative options to the negotiation table.
Don’t shy away from asking for a raise in the COVID-era
There’s no denying it. “The timing is kind of shit,” Nadeau admits. But just as it’s a difficult time for some businesses, it’s not an easy time for the employees who are forced to take on more work. And if you’re doing more, you should be paid more, too.
“If you believe that you have fewer resources, more demands on your plate, and less time to complete the same tasks, you should be compensated more for them,” Nadeau says. “Just like the economics of supply and demand would say, your value has risen.” Therefore, while it may feel difficult or awkward to ask for more compensation in a time when your company is struggling, you must remember what you and your time are worth.
“This is a business transaction,” Nadeau reminds us. “It’s much harder and costlier to hire an additional person than it is to give someone a 10% raise.” The salary increase is worth it to the company and worth it to you, so don’t get caught up in whether or not it is an appropriate time to ask. If you believe you’re putting in more work and being undercompensated, it’s always an acceptable time.
If you’re struggling to build up the confidence to ask, see this as an opportunity to learn
For anyone, walking up to your boss—or Zooming through their screen—and asking for more money may never feel normal.
The go-to advice you may receive when hoping to build confidence in that setting? Fake it til you make it. Walk into their office with a confidence and self-assurance that isn’t yours, and assert that your worth is much greater than is being recognized.
“That is bad advice, in my opinion,” Nadeau says. “I think it's just better to acknowledge that we're all learning, and no one is ever qualified.”
In reality, everyone is learning and navigating and doing a little bit of pretending, every day at work. If you need an extra boost of confidence to get the courage to ask for a raise, remember that the person on the other end of the table has had to do a lot of question asking, growing, and learning too. When asking for a raise, approach the conversation from a place of curiosity and of opportunity, rather than fear or end-all-be-all.
“It's never a hostage negotiation,” Nadeau assures. “This is an opportunity to learn.”