How And When To Ask For A Pay Raise And Leave Out The Karma

Handshake with a smiling businesswoman in the office

In a recent event supporting women in technology, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella committed the ultimate foot in mouth faux pas and said to the group comprised predominantly of women, "It's not really about asking for a raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will give you the right raise."

He went on to imply that women who did not ask for a raise had a superpower, and that karma would reward them for their restraint. In his defense, he immediately attempted to backpedal and claim his message was misunderstood. However, I think his message for working women has resounded quite clearly.

I appreciate the Microsoft CEO's belief in karma and its impact on a woman's bottom line; however, to date, karma doesn't seem to be working very well for women.

A recent AAUW study revealed that as of 2013, women were paid 78 percent of what men were paid, and this disparity spanned occupations and geographies. In fact, in Nadella's own industry, men earn 40 percent more than women and men with advanced degrees earn 73 percent more than their female counterparts.

I know some people were surprised to hear the Microsoft CEO's comments. I don't find it surprising in the least. I think that Nadella revealed what women, especially those in male dominated industries, have to contend with every day. We run a fine line between working as a team player and building up our "superpowers" vs. fighting for fair pay and treatment.

What Nadella so poorly communicated is that there is a negative perception amongst male leaders when a woman asks for a raise, and she is better served keeping her mouth shut.

I personally asked for a raise and promotion six years ago when I was working for a large bank and my boss replied, "Why are you always complaining?" It seems as though Nadella thinks the same way.

It is not always safe for a woman to lean in because when she does, she runs the risk of being viewed as a whiner or complainer. That label will not serve her well, especially if she works for someone of Nadella's mindset.

After 14 years in financial services, I don't believe karma is running HR, perhaps it has a minor position, but I do believe there are very specific steps women can take to ask for a raise.

Tips for asking for a raise other than karma

Tip 1: Understand the market

Before you even contemplate asking for a raise, you need to understand the market for your particular job. The U.S. Department of Labor releases an immense amount of data on wages by job type and geography. You should research these numbers and compare them with your figures. We all may think we are worth more pay than we are receiving; however, the statistics may prove something different.

Tip 2: Ask during the appropriate time

Most companies provide performance reviews of their associates on a quarterly, semi-annually or annual basis. During this review process is the best time to broach the subject of a raise, because the company is likely reviewing your compensation anyway as part of your performance review.

If you work for a company that does not provide performance reviews, then schedule time with your boss and ask for an informal review process to get feedback on your performance and also broach the compensation conversation.

Tip 3: Make a convincing argument

During this performance review meeting, make sure you have everything necessary to prove to your boss you are worthy of a raise. Collect all your performance data or anecdotes for your work ethic and accomplishments. Use the information you found from the Bureau of Labor if you need to.

It is your job to make an argument for a raise that is impossible to deny. If you can't find enough supporting details, then maybe it's not time for you to ask for a raise.

Tip 4: Leave the drama at home

My raise request was poorly received because my boss felt I was acting too emotional over the decision. I have heard of other people asking for raises because of personal hardships at home or out of financial needs. It's hard not to get emotional when you are discussing the value your company places on you; however, the best way to get the result you want, a raise, is to present a case for yourself with nothing but the facts.

Your boss does not want a sob story with a raise request. He or she wants a compelling argument for why you deserve more and why the company needs to pay you more. Discuss your case with friends and family beforehand and get feedback to ensure your argument is logical and not emotional and it will be received in a much more positive light.

Tip 5: Understand your company's policies

I worked for most of my career for a large bank, and the compensation packages were pretty well defined for job type and position. After a few years of witnessing these trends, I came to the realization I was merely a line item on a spreadsheet and my individual worth would never get rewarded as long as I fit into that cell on the spreadsheet. It was one of the reasons I left the large organization.

Sometimes people get frustrated with their compensation; however, it may have nothing to do with the individual and everything to do with the corporate structure, and if that is the case, you may waste a great deal of time and energy worrying about something that is not within your control.

Karma may have a part in compensation; however, you don't want to rely on karma alone. At the end of the day, I think it's important to constantly assess your own value and worth and to make sure you are doing everything within your power to maximize it with your employer. If you have outgrown your employer's compensation structure, then maybe it's time to find a new one.
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