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15 Women Discuss How They Asked For A Raise At Work

Lean into better pay.

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Asking for a raise can sometimes be scary.

FOX/ Glee

When you've never asked for a raise before, it can feel really intimidating. And you're not alone in feeling that way.

“The thought of asking for a pay rise fills me with dread," a 29-year-old working in the publishing industry tells BuzzFeed Life. "I think this is largely a self-confidence thing. Even though I have often felt like I'm doing two or three people's jobs for the price of one, I look around me and think, 'But I'm not working as hard as so and so...', which stops me in my tracks.

“I have noticed that male colleagues seem to find it easier to talk up their achievements – and I imagine this attitude helps them enormously when the time comes to ask for a raise. I feel like I need to just fake this attitude in order to compete, but I resent having to behave in a way that doesn't feel natural. I would like somebody to notice the hard work I do, rather than have to shout about it!”

So how can you ask for the raise you deserve?

1. Be very clear on why you deserve a raise.

Sian Butcher

Bee Barker, a senior digital marketing manager, says clarity is important when asking for a pay increase. “Be very clear on why you deserve a raise," she advises. "Raises are rarely going to be awarded if your only reason for asking is 'because I've been here the longest' or 'because someone else in another team got one'. Although these factors might have attributed to you asking, keep that to yourself and focus on having some clear and persuasive ways that you are worth paying more for.

“Think about ways you can prove your value. This might sound odd, but you ARE valuable to your team and your company. Obviously it's easier in sales or marketing roles as you can clearly prove where you have financially boosted the business and therefore use this as a strong argument. However, if you're an amazing team assistant then perhaps your value is in the fact you ensure everybody in your team is working to the best of their ability. If you write amazing copy, find out how this can be tracked back to a successful campaign. Think about the ways you have gone the extra mile or picked up additional projects. If you have stretched your job spec or remit in any way then you are adding value, and it's those aspects to highlight.”

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2. Think about things you've done that have added value.

Sian Butcher

Asking is essential. “I'm in a job now where we're given fair pay rises each year, if the business can afford it," a 26-year-old working in digital media says. "Our contracts state that pay rises are discussed at annual reviews, so at my first one I was all geared up to ask for a raise. Then I got given one that was more than I was going to ask for! Because of that clarity and fairness around rises, I don't feel the need to ask any more, though if it wasn't forthcoming in a review, I would want to know why.

“In my last job, though, I always felt overworked and underpaid – so I tried to ask for raises as often as I could. I think I asked for four in the two years I worked there, the first one two months in when they changed my job title from the one I'd applied for. Each time I asked, I remembered a conversation with a friend from school to psych myself up – we'd talked a few years before about how women don't ask for pay rises as often as men, and that's how they get left behind on salary. So I would think of this friend, and tell myself to be brave for all the women out there who weren't getting raises each time I wanted to ask! And it worked – by the time I left I'd increased my salary by 50% from when I started.

“Top tip: Think about things you've done that have added value, and how much more than your job description you're offering. That's why you deserve more money! My least successful attempt to ask for a raise was done with an argument along the lines of 'I do loads, and also I'm trying to buy a house.' From that I learnt: Your employer doesn't give out money based on your personal circumstances, so don't even bother.”

3. Keep it business – don't make it personal.

Sian Butcher

Don't feel scared to approach your boss. “When I've been successful at getting raises, it's because I've just been super ballsy," a 33-year-old journalist says. "Yes it makes you feel sick with fear confronting your boss to have the conversation, but keep in mind that holiday/house/car you're aiming to buy when you go into the meeting and just get it done.”

Keeping it about business is important. Don't bring emotions into it – be cool, be calm, be awesome. “Never say why you want the raise – keep it business, don't make it personal," the journalist adds. "Otherwise you're into sob-story territory and you risk losing your boss's respect, unless you have a super-tight relationship with him/her.”

4. Be confident in your skills and your worth.

Sian Butcher

It's all about having the chutzpah to go for a raise, Jean Hannah Edelstein, who works in communications, says: “At the beginning of my career it never crossed my mind to do any kind of salary negotiation – I understood that I should just feel stupidly grateful to have any kind of job at all. I worked in publishing at a salary that was low enough that I was always doing work on the side to supplement it in order to afford to live in London to do the job.”

Be confident in your skills and your worth and remember you were hired for a reason. “The next phase of my career was as a freelancer," Edelstein says. "Again, I just accepted whatever money people would offer me, I suppose because I didn't really believe that I was better than the next person who could do the job. I even felt bad chasing late payments from people who'd commissioned me because I was afraid they wouldn't hire me again. I had low confidence in my skills and lower confidence in my market rate.”

5. Work with your colleagues and fight for a fairer deal together.

Sian Butcher

“In the 1980s when I was on Islington council and we brought in things like workplace childcare and increased maternity leave, everyone thought it was Loony Left madness," Margaret Hodge, Labour MP and chair of the Public Accounts Committee, says. "Thankfully things have moved on since then, but the progress we have made on childcare and the right to request flexible working would not have happened without a strong group of women ministers and MPs coming together and really pushing that agenda.”

Hodge says that nowadays, it's about sticking together: “So my advice to women, whether in negotiating equal pay or achieving greater equality in the workplace more generally, is to work with your colleagues and fight for a fairer deal together. That way you put forward a strong, united voice, and you support each other rather than going it alone.”

6. Value yourself and your contribution.

Sian Butcher

Be bold, and don't fear asking for a decent amount, Jean Hannah Edelstein says: “The first time I negotiated a salary was when my manager at a freelance gig offered to turn it into a permanent job, four days a week. He asked me how much I wanted to get paid and I calculated it based on what I'd be making per hour as a freelancer. The boss called me into a meeting room and said, 'Do you realise how much that salary is, pro rata?' and I said, 'Yes,' and he said, 'You cheeky bitch.'

“That has stayed with me. Every time I need to negotiate a salary now, I remember that man and then I ask for at least 25% more than I expect to get, and that's what I always recommend to other women: When someone asks you what your current salary is, don't tell them the salary you do have; tell them the salary you want to have. You'll probably get it. If you don't get it, your new employer will understand that you value yourself and your contribution, and they'll be more likely to give you a raise in the future. If they call you a cheeky bitch, then don't work for them.”

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7. Get any verbal pay increases in writing.

Sian Butcher

Got that raise? Great! But make sure you follow up with an email or written agreement, a 33-year-old journalist says: “Like so many people who start off on the bottom rung in magazines, I did find myself taken advantage of. I was promised a raise during a meeting, which never materialised. When I questioned it, I was told it wouldn't be possible within the time frame I'd originally been told. I ended up getting it six months later.

"At the time this was a total disaster for me – I was earning pennies and the couple of hundred quid a month extra would have been life-changing, or felt like it at the time. Moral of the story is, always get any agreement in writing – follow up a verbal meeting with an email and ask for a written reply.”

8. It's normal to feel uneasy about asking for money.

Sian Butcher

Asking for a raise might not always feel like the right thing to do when you're just starting out, a 28-year-old NHS worker says: “When I was younger I would have never asked for a raise – so awkward and scary! I think in the first few years of entering the professional job market – well, I'm talking about 10 years ago, when rents in London weren't quite so high – a modest salary still represented an exciting ticket to freedom and independence and I was just grateful to be employed. However, as you get older and build up experience and confidence, as well as expertise, negotiating your salary starts to feel like another necessary step towards being a proper grown-up.”

Also, she adds, raises may be more or less forthcoming depending on what industry you work in: “Working in the NHS can mean little room for salary negotiation due to strict rules. I was recently promoted and my proposed pay increase was somewhat disappointing; however, I get a huge amount of satisfaction from what I do and money isn't the main driver for me right now.

“I think it's normal to feel uneasy about asking for money – you feel like you'll be seen as greedy, demanding, difficult etc. – but it's important to know yourself, understand what you have to offer, and be clear about the value you bring. And if you don't ask, you definitely won't get!”

9. Sometimes getting a raise just isn't possible.

Sian Butcher

"I'm a postdoctoral researcher and I'm basically in the same situation as before as a PhD student," a 30-year-old science worker says. "I get a fixed amount each month that can't be discussed. It's quite a different system to industry, where you can discuss your wages, ask for raises and have a good chance for getting a raise if you've shown good work."

But if you love your field of work, it doesn't have to be all bad. "Despite these seeming advantages," she says, "I like the system in academia because science is competitive enough anyway. So it's nice that at least all people at a certain stage in their career earn roughly the same. It would be hard anyway to reward good work in research with money, because often long and hard work doesn't translate directly to success (i.e. good publications). Money is also not the driving force behind most scientific work. You don't spend weekends in the lab to hope for a pay raise. On top of that, it's rarely your group leader or university that pays you, but an external research grant that – again – has fixed amounts for certain positions."

10. Look at things from a long-term perspective.

Sian Butcher

“No one told me when I was younger that it's fine to not earn much money in your early/mid-twenties, as long as you can earn enough to get by," a 32-year-old in media says. "Concentrate on building a solid career foundation first and then when you've got that, then the money should follow. Work for the best places and don't worry too much about position for the first few years.”

But remember, what seems like a lot to you probably isn't to a company. “Having said that," she adds, "companies always have money and a few grand isn't going to make a huge difference to their budgets, so always aim high when quoting salary expectations and asking for raises. I remember in my first job literally thinking what the minimum I could live on was and quoting that as my salary. Dumb move!”

11. Do your research and talk with unions and colleagues.

Sian Butcher

Depending on your sector, asking for a raise can sometimes be difficult, especially in government-funded areas. “Working within publicly funded arts organisations, the possibility of even suggesting a pay rise in light of 60% cuts seems ludicrous," a 32-year-old in the arts industry tells us. "But when rents rise higher in London than your wages for five years running it's time to talk frankly with your boss.”

You can take things into your own hands, she says: “It's taken me years to be able to do this but here's a few things that have helped me. 1) Do your research and talk with unions and colleagues. Artists and arts workers should sign up to the Artists Union England. 2) Be frank, honest, and open about what you bring to your organisation and pass the question over to your boss. Ask them how you will be able to increase your pay. 3) Have regular appraisals."

Most importantly, “Never see your wage as a value judgment on you as a person.”

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12. Bring materials to convince your boss that you're worth it.

Sian Butcher

Make your raise about your company and easy to link back to your performance, Bee Barker says: “Tie in to business objectives. If your company has some overall objectives for the year, think about the ways that your role is tying in to these and supporting them (be creative!) because if your manager has to have your raise approved by higher powers then it's this type of information that will make it an easier sell and demonstrate your loyalty and awareness of the overall vision.”

Bring materials to convince your boss that you're worth it, she advises: “You need to be as confident and convincing as possible and make your case watertight. It will be more impressive if you seem absolutely prepared and like you've given the meeting a lot of thought. Make notes, create a PowerPoint, print out the key facts – whatever you think works for your specific manager.

“I know these conversations can feel excruciating, especially if you're a modest type, so my advice is to make it clear what the meeting is about when you set it up (even if it's something vague like 'I'd like to discuss my recent work and future goals') so you can't psych yourself out asking once you get to the pivotal moment. Trust me: SO many people have done that – myself included! And again, this is where having notes and printouts will spur you on.”

13. Be realistic about your raise prospects.

Sian Butcher

Be realistic about your prospects – if it's just the nature of the company you work for to not to award pay rises, don't take it personally. “I've always worked in companies with fairly flat team structures," a 29-year-old in retail says, "so it's often been difficult to get a promotion and the pay rise because there just isn't anywhere to progress to. Over time what I've learned from working in the media and ecomm industry is that most companies aren't particularly good at nurturing and rewarding talent. As a result the turnover is high.”

If a raise looks unlikely then make a plan for what else you can do, she advises: “For me, I've never had to broach the subject of asking for a pay rise. It was evident from watching my colleagues and friends struggle to get theirs that it was just never going to come easily no matter how much I felt I deserved it. So I diverted my energies to getting demonstrable experience on my CV and then applying for higher-paid jobs at other companies. I've never known anyone to get a satisfactory pay rise at the company they work at – with the exception of an ex-boyfriend who was particularly savvy and brazen when it came to getting ahead.”

14. Change is good.

Sian Butcher

If you're feeling dissatisfied, look around. “A surefire way to get a raise that I've witnessed several times (not just to me, but to other people who've worked for me), is that if you get offered a better-paid job somewhere else, and your current company want to keep you enough, they will more often than not match the new offer," a 29-year-old working in fashion says.

"Never go down this route unless you are 100% prepared to leave your current job. But, if you've already asked for a raise in your current job and they're not playing ball, then why are you staying? Because the people are nice? Because an opportunity might materialise if you stay there? Nonsense. Change is good. I think you should leave anyway. Five years down the line it's unlikely to make any difference. Your career will go where it's going in any case IMO.”

15. Hey, freelancers, it's fine to decline work.

Sian Butcher

Writer Anna Hart has learned to balance a love of her job with negotiating better rates: “I absolutely love my job as a freelance writer, to the point where I'd probably do a lot of it for free. I mean, who wouldn't want to interview Chloë Sevigny about vintage shopping, or go behind the scenes at a fire festival in Shetland, or rhino-track on foot in Namibia? But as you'd imagine, this attitude doesn't exactly make for shrewd negotiating skills. In fact, I only toughened up because two years ago my partner went back to college, so I was earning for two.”

Hart says that if you're freelance, there's nothing wrong with saying no once in a while: “This is what I've learned in two years of being my own badass agent: You don't need to say yes to an offer – a job, a commission, a project, or anything – right away. In fact, thinking it over just shows you're considering it thoroughly rather than impulsively agreeing. And you have to tell people what you're worth; they aren't going to jump to a flattering conclusion themselves. And when you start declining projects and offers that don't excite you, quite often they come back with bigger and better projects. I still feel lucky to be doing what I do, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't be paid well for doing a good job.”

16. Prioritise assertiveness.

Sian Butcher

Even before women enter the workplace they can be conditioned to be less assertive, Jo Swinson, the minister for women and equalities, says. “It’s about how we raise our girls and what expectations we set for ourselves. One of my favourite parts of my job is visiting schools but when I do, 9 times out of 10, the first hand up to ask a question is from one of the boys. From a very early age girls are socialised not to put themselves forward, not to put their head above the parapet, not to have that confidence, so it is any wonder that 20 years later when it comes to negotiating a pay rise or putting themselves forward for promotion, the women might be less likely to do so?”

New legislation coming into place should help employers reduce unconscious bias which can sometimes hold women back, the Liberal Democrat MP claims. “The pay gap has fallen, but women still basically work for free for 57 days a year – which is absolutely outrageous in 2015. The coalition government is today [Tuesday] changing the law to make large employers publish their pay gap. It will force companies to ask themselves difficult questions and give women the information to challenge their employer where they are not being properly valued and rewarded.”

Having high expectations of yourself and other women is something that should be embraced. “We have a responsibility to challenge those gender stereotypes and to challenge ourselves," Swinson says. "It is all of our jobs to encourage and nurture the female talent of the future and not to ask less for ourselves than we would expect for our friends, our daughters, or our mothers.”

17. Put together an unbeatable plan.

Sian Butcher

Want that raise? Put together an unbeatable plan. “Push for an actionable personal development plan and keep referring back to it throughout the year as a way of keeping track of your accomplishments," a 29-year-old working in retail says. "Vocalise the fact that you want to get ahead and be promoted in your development conversations with your manager – in other words, leave them in no doubt that you want to get ahead and you want to be remunerated for it.”

Pick something that you can own, she advises: “Strive to do one thing that makes you indispensable to the team – takeover doing team budgets, for example. In other words exceed expectations. It'll make asking for a rise easier. If you're not getting what you want, look elsewhere. Spending a solid amount of time working for one company has its perks, but actually I've been able to demonstrate that I have much more varied experience in interviews because I've moved around more.

"I've had friends say things like, 'I just want to spend three years in this role then I'll look for something else.' This doesn't work for me because promotions and pay rises within companies are often capped – at the BBC there used to be a pay increase cap of 5% if you got promoted. However, people coming from outside the company to do the same role can negotiate and have more bargaining power. I've been able to increase my pay by £8–10,000 in a single job move before. Finding the balance with the frequency with which you move jobs is important though.”

18. Find somewhere that understands your worth.

Sian Butcher

Find a job and workplace that will give you the tools to move forward in your career and payscale. “I still haven't asked for a raise," a 29-year-old working in government says, "mainly because I haven't really had to – the only time I felt I was being underpaid was when I was in a dead-end job that wasn't making the most of my skills, so I quit and found something better and well-paid instead. After that I moved on to another job on the condition that my current pay would be matched (it was). This was my first experience of not only negotiating my salary but asserting my value.”

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